“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 lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
This first letter of John is a gem! In crystal clear language John writes what it means to be a believer. What it means to have communion with God. What it means to walk in the light. What it means to share in the salvation which we have in Christ.
Yes, John calls the believer to break with sin and darkness, to walk in the light, and to love the world no more! Perhaps, we could leave it at that. Conclude: ‘this is well put’. Crisp and clear, period.
However, that is not the intention. God’s Word addresses each one of us and demands a response!
The apostle John draws the antithesis very clearly, that contrast between the love for God and the love for the world and its worldly lusts. Those two are diametrically opposed. They do not tolerate each other but are mutually exclusive. It is impossible for someone who truly loves the Lord Jesus to display, at the same time, a love for the world. The love of the Father is not in this person, says John.
That is sharp and clear. No room is left for half heartedness, for compromises, a little for God and a little for the world. Here the apostle John highlights the antithesis, not as a prophet of doom and gloom or as a promoter of Anabaptist ‘shun the world’ ideas. No, on the contrary, from beginning to end this letter is a letter of deep and passionate love. The love of God focused on the salvation of His children. This is simply the language of Scripture. He who believes and seeks his or her salvation in Christ is not allowed to tinker. Christ demands our whole being. Antithesis – not to burden life but to liberate it from the bonds of evil, for now and for eternity!
This means: break with the world. What world is the apostle speaking about? John speaks about the world outside of God’s covenant promises, a world not shaped by a love for Christ’s commandments. It is a world shaped by rules and laws which defy and reverse those wholesome laws of God. In essence it is a revolt against God and a total rejection of His Kingship. Yes, we know some laws and rules are upheld and acknowledged as useful and expedient, a necessity for a society to function. This does not take away that the world and all her cultural expressions are basically anti-Christian. It is the world we live in; it is our modern 21st century.
Since the fall into sin our society is subject to decay. This process of continual decline will become more apparent as we approach the day of the Lord. On the one hand we hear the Word of the Lord being preached to the ends of the earth; on the other hand we observe a society in serious decline. Despite the tremendous developments in science and technology there is ‘growth’ in decay. History shows many examples of this. For quite some time the Scriptural norms and values were respected in the Western World but since the French Revolution (1789), with her motto of “no God and no master”, these values have been speedily and systematically undermined. Science, political science, visual arts, music, they all increasingly elevate the position of man and make this the focus of their activity rather than the honour of God. Biblical norms, values and created order are purposely ignored. Man is created to serve His Creator; however, modern man serves their own gods, with great passion.
This should not to surprise us. The Bible tells us that all this is going to happen, yes must happen as signals of His eminent return on the clouds of heaven, when all things will be renewed. At times we can be so busy with the matters of this world that we forget that this world is destined for fire and that Christ will create a new world for us.
Do not love the world
Then we have the apostle John with his serious warning: “Do not love the world”, keep the world at a distance and focus on the kingdom of God. The apostle warns “his children” old and young, the parents and the youngsters, very sharply and penetratingly: “do not love the world”. Why not? The answer is because it is impossible for a true Christian to love the world. If Christ lives in you and the love of God is visible in your life then the glitter of this world has no attraction for you. If you do not resist and ignore the sinful attractions of this world and its anti-Christian philosophies you show a double mind and you pretend that you have never heard the gospel. You show that you do not really know or understand the light of God’s Word. Do not love the world.
Ongoing reformation has to shape our life. Our whole life needs to be a return to the Word of the Lord, tenaciously holding on to it and a staying close to the Word of the Lord. That’s what we mean with ‘ongoing reformation’. That is our Biblical calling. This is what the apostle John is making clear to us; this is what each church member needs to think about. Of course, first of all we need to get our doctrine right so we know Who God is and how He revealed Himself. We need to find out in which way the Lord is pleased to be served, also how he wants us to conduct ourselves in everyday life. In all these things we need to return to Scripture and stay close to it.
Is this all? As long as we go to church faithfully and study Scripture regularly and attend the Bible study clubs? Is ongoing reformation completed when we, together, with not too many issues, present ourselves as the church of Christ?
We need to be very aware that deformation goes hand in hand with an increase in world conformity. Time and again we see in Scripture that deformation comes about because we do not maintain the antithesis with the world. Bit by bit we copy and become accustomed to a worldly lifestyle; a lifestyle which focuses on the things of this world instead of the things to come. A letting go of Scriptural principles and a worldly lifestyle are the two sides of the same coin. Often those who try to uphold a Christian way of life and steer away from the ungodliness of this world are branded as old fashioned.
We also need to examine ourselves. Is the way we spend our time very different to the way the world spends its time? Is the upbringing of our children really different and do we show the image of God in this? Do we focus on the love of God and also on His wrath? Do we witness of His promises and demands? Do we spend our monies responsibly? Do we reject worldly music? Do our youngsters reject the worldly lifestyle? Do we read different books and magazines? Does the way we dress ourselves reflect godly standards? Do we truly help each other in living in faithful covenant obedience? Do we care about each other and show patience with each other? Do we have a good understanding of the various offices in the church? Do we really know what it means to listen and to obey? How is our use of language, word choice and how do we respond when we are angry or disappointed?
Perhaps you find all this rather negative and somewhat harsh. Surely there are fruits of faith in your life and office bearers may observe this with gratitude. Thankfully so!
At the same time, if we are honest, very honest towards our covenant God, there is much that can be improved upon; there is still much work to be done. Ongoing reformation is not finished, never will be finished.
We need to make this a focus in our mutual discussions and at bible study clubs. We need to research very seriously what this means for our everyday life. Not just for the Sunday or the Bible study evening, but every day of our life there needs to develop a growing awareness that we need to hate the sinful world and become more and more godly in our walk of life. It will help us to develop good Christian habits in what we read and how we dress, how I go to the table of the Lord and what sporting activity our children get involved in. There are still so many things in which our love for the Lord can and must become more obvious. We need to do this together, support and encourage each other in seeking to develop a wholesome covenantal lifestyle. In this we need to set good examples for the youth of the church.
Ongoing reformation in doctrine and life means going back to the source of light: Scripture! Together we are on our way to the new heaven and the new earth. Do not love the world! Fight the good fight to do the will of God. Maybe some will argue: but this is impossible, we‘ll never reach perfection in this life! We are not allowed to think and speak like that. Such a defeatist attitude makes us vulnerable to a worldly way of life. Remember, our Lord Jesus Christ rejected the sinful world perfectly and completely so He is able to give back to us a world without sin. Those who believe in Him may have part in this already today. Despite all our many daily sins and shortcomings we may receive a foretaste of this life of perfection if we truly detest the world and all its lust and live holy before Him. This world of sin will pass away, but in Christ there is an eternal future for all God’s children.
[i] De Bazuin, Vol. 5, No. 23, 17 June 2009. Translation by H. Ballast.