1 John 2:15-16 (ESV)
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.
It is a little bit bizarre to think of the world as an enemy. In a real sense though, we must recognize that the forces that exist in the systems of the world are aligned in such a way that they subtly oppose the Jesus as the Lord of all. In the New Testament the world “world” (Greek – kosmos) is used in several ways. It can be a reference to the planet, the entirety of creation. John 3:16 says that God loves the world. It can also be a reference to the whole of humanity on the planet, all the people in the world. We live in a fallen world with broken and depraved people, and in a real way, Jesus died for the entire creation and for the whole world (1 John 2:1). Yet, in a negative sense, the Bible uses the idea of the world as a reference to the organized systems and structures that live in opposition and rebellion to God. Apart from God the world will have differing priorities, values, lifestyles, and tolerances.
In the passage above, John defines the systems of the world with three ideas. First, he says that the world consists of the desires of the flesh. The world is strongly influenced and driven by sensual desires. Every once in a while you will hear someone bemoaning the fact that the world is saturated with sexual images and ideas, and will express how things are different now than in the “olden days”. Truth is that the world has always been saturated with sensual desires and images. Whether it is sex, food, drink, the drives that God created are twisted and then become normalized. The world not only pushes us toward the normalization of these desires, but it also ridicules anyone who will not accept sinful lust as normal and acceptable. The lust of the eyes is an expression that communicates the idea that the world pushes us toward the drive for more. Our eyes see what the world offers, and we want it. The pride in possessions is a self-exalting pride in one’s accomplishments, power, money, and stuff. The world exalts these things, but for the follower of Jesus, all of these challenge our allegiance to Jesus as our Lord.
So how do we respond to the world’s challenge? First, we are commanded to love Jesus and not to love the world. This is interesting, since Jesus loved the world. But Jesus love of the world is different than the way we tend to love. Jesus love for the world was redemptive, he would die for the world. But he did not allow the values and idolatry that is accepted by the world to taint his single minded commitment to the purpose of God. When we love the world in this way, we live like Jesus. But way too often, our love for the world is actually an acceptance of the sexuality, greed, values, governmental systems (I could go on) that make up the world’s system.
We are also told not to allow the world to shape us. In Romans 12:2 Paul says that we are not be conformed to the patterns of the world, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Being conformed here is the idea of being pressed into a mold. Every watch kids push play-do through a mold. The pressure forms the stuff into its image. The world is always trying to force us into a mold. We must realize that we are always being transformed into someone’s image, either that of the world or the image of Jesus.
Finally, we must realize that being in Christ means that we have been crucified to the world and the world has been crucified to me (see Galatians 6:14). Victory over the world as an assault to our faith means coming to the realization that we died to the world when we became alive in Christ. We are in the world, but are not to be of the world.