What World Are We Talking About? What is the world, anyway? Why does the Bible come down so hard on “worldly” Christians? How can the Bible say that God made the world (Acts17:24) and loves the world (Jn. 3:16), and then tell us not to love the world (1 Jn. 2:15)? Is this a contradiction? No, but it does need some explanation.
The Bible uses the word “world” in three different ways. First, it can mean the material universe or earth, which God created. This is how the word is used in Acts 17:24. Second, it can mean the world of mankind, as in John 3:16. God loves the whole human race. Third, it can mean the affairs and things of this earth. This is how the word is used in 1 John 2:15-16, and this is the primary meaning of the word “world” throughout the New Testament.
Other verses show us that when the Bible mentions the world in this third way, it is speaking of something intangible which is operating behind the scenes of the visible affairs and things of this earth. First Cor?inthians 2:12 refers to the “spirit of the world” and 1 Corinthians 3:19 speaks of the “wisdom of this world.” Furthermore, three Scrip?tures in John tell us that Satan is behind the scenes and is the “prince” or “ruler” of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Even though Satan was conquered at the cross he is still operating in this world until judgment day. First John 5:19 says that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
The world, then, that Chris?tians are not to love, is a satanic system. It is not something we can escape from by living in a Christian commune or in isolation as a Christian hermit. Neither is it a written list of don’ts that can be kept or broken as some kind of measure of our worldliness. No, it is a system that extends itself into all areas of living. Think of organized crime as an illustration. It is a system which seeks to extend its infiltrating fingers into all areas of business – in any legal or illegal way available. Similarly, the world system extends its tentacles into all areas of human activity – studies, jobs, sports, even religious activities. Con?sciously or unconsciously we are confronted with the world system through philosophy, art, music, technology, the mass media, etc. The world system literally penetrates all of our culture.
How Can We Rightly Live In It?
The way to recognize the world system in our own situation is by its three principles of operation – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). Paraphrased, these three principles are selfish pleasure, selfish gain and vanity. Do we recognize any of these principles in our own lives or areas of activity? Of course we do! This is the world system at work. Satan has designed this evil world system to appeal to our fallen, sinful nature. And he is quite successful! Satan’s normal way of tripping up the growing Christian is not to send out a bunch of demons to attack us. His world system is enough to arouse those ungodly desires within us which lead to sin (Jas. 1:13-16).
Our involvement with the world is not just confined to what we might consider “big areas” such as materialism or illicit sex. The world system also reaches into those more subtle areas of our lives. What is our true motive for wanting success? Why do we try to get the best rooms or beds at the weekend retreat? Why do we subconsciously manipulate for the better seats on the bus or in the car during long trips? What are our real reasons for talking a lot at Bible studies and small group sessions?
How then are we to “keep ourselves unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27)? The simple scriptural answer is to have more faith and more love. First John 5:4-5 says that it is our faith that overcomes the world. The more we walk by faith, the less the world system will appeal to us. Materialism, for example, is not a hang-up for the Christian who, by faith, recognizes that the present possessions on earth are garbage compared to the eternal inheritance that awaits us as co-heirs with Christ. It goes without saying that the more we are in love with the Lord Jesus, the less the world and its attractions will arouse responsive chords within us.
When a husband and wife are deeply in love, adultery is unthinkable. It is significant that God looks on friendship with the world as spiritual adultery (Jas. 4:1-4). When we are deeply in love with our Lord, the world system loses its hold on us. No longer are we entangled with this world’s affairs (2 Tim. 2:4). No longer are we conformed to this world’s way of thinking (Rom. 12:2). Rather, our lives are completely tied up with the One we love. We hang on His every Word and obey it out of love, not law!
Victory over the world is not easy. In fact, Jesus said that we can expect hard times (Jn. 16:33). But Jesus also said in this same verse that we can take heart because He has overcome this world. As we follow our Lord Jesus with more faith and love, we can be sure that we will be kept from Satan and his world system (Jn. 17:15-16). Fur?thermore, it is only a matter of time before this present evil world will be no more. It is on its way out! First John 2:17 says that “the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” What a promise! Let’s live in the good of it.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org