“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. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
One of my all-time favorite books is C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The villain in the movie was the White Witch and she had taken over Narnia. What was once a beautiful and lush land had now become a place “where it was always winter, but never Christmas” under her control. In the scene where we are introduced to the White Witch, one of the four siblings, who were to become the rulers of Narnia, inadvertently ran into the Witch and she seduces him to do her bidding of bringing his siblings to Narnia so she could attempt to kill them.
Of course she didn’t tell young Edmund her plan, rather she flattered him by telling him that he would make a great king and perhaps, if he were to bring his siblings back to Narnia, he could rule over them. Edmund fell for her deceit and would eventually see the evil intentions of the White Witch, but only after it was too late and he and his siblings found themselves in dire need of rescue by Aslan (the Messiah-like hero of the story). Even though this is fictional tale, it is frighteningly all too true and the reality of the fallen world in which we live.
The apostle John has been encouraging his readers in their faith, but part of the encouragement he gives is a warning. He actually gives a command in verse 15, then gives the reasons in the next two verses. The command is this: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.”
When John uses the word “world,” he is not talking about the physical world. We use the word similarly when we refer to the “world of sports” or the “world of politics.” It is the system, ethos, or culture that is opposed to God. He makes this explicit when he says, “For all that is in the world…is not from the Father but is from the world.” The Bible often warns us against following the world. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3).
Similarly, John says that the world is this: “…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of possessions.” God has given us desires like hunger, thirst, and weariness, all of which are good. There is nothing wrong with eating, drinking, or sleeping. But when the flesh controls these desires, they can become sinful. Eating is good, gluttony is sinful; drinking is good, drunkenness is sinful; sleep is a gift of God, laziness is shameful.
The desires of the eyes refers to the corrupt appetite of our old, sinful nature. The basic thought of this is greed or the desire for things. Eve saw that the fruit was “a delight to the eyes.” David “saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.”
The pride of possessions is the desire to outdo others in the things I possess. We buy and buy, not because we need these things, but because they give us a certain standing where others will be impressed. If my reputation or my public image matters more to me than the glory of God or the well-being of others, the pride of possessions has become the object of my worship. Our pride of possessions is reflected in whatever status symbols are important to us. When we identify ourselves in terms of degrees, annual income, cars, the size of our house, the neighborhood where we live, the size of our bank account, etc., we are falling prey to the pride of life.
So what is the answer? John first reminds us that “the world is passing away along with its desires….” We need to fix our gaze above the horizon of this world and onto Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). That means a commitment to spending time with him, that we might listen and learn as he speaks to us in his word.
And second, “…whoever does the will of God abides forever.” This is not teaching perfectionism. John has already taken the axe to the root of earning God’s favor through obedience. “If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Rather, it is a life of confession and repentance, recognizing that to which God calls us, seeking to do that will, and looking to the satisfactory work of Jesus on our behalf, and the gift of the Spirit to aid us in obedience, and finding forgiveness when we fail. This path of sanctification, which is a “work of God’s free grace” will lead us all the way home.