Message 14, Do Not Love the World:
The Apostle John warns us not to love the world, and our fallen tendency to view the world as an ultimate end in itself means that we must fight against our dark inclinations to set our hearts on this age and its pleasures. But God created the world to glorify Himself, and as we make Him our ultimate end, we can identify the sins that manifest our love for the world and enjoy the Lord’s creation in an appropriate way. Rev. Kevin DeYoung calls on the Lord to restore us to a high view of the world as the arena of God’s glory, and he describes how Christians, in pursuing the light of God, can identify and fight against sin in the world while loving our enemies and blessing those who curse us.
It is a real privilege to be here for the first time, and I want to just extend my thanks and appreciation to Dr. Sproul for his ministry and the many sermons and books that I have benefited from and illustrations I’ve stolen, some that I’ve given credit to and others that the Lord knows. But — it is great to be here. I want to begin by saying I’m sorry. I know it was almost 80 degrees before I got here and it will be 80 degrees once we leave.
Tomorrow. I do have a daughter named Elsie. Not Elsa, though it is sort of like that. We arrived in Florida and it was barely above freezing and now it’s gotten to be a balmy 50 degrees just in time for the Michiganders to arrive.
But none of my friends and colleagues back home are feeling sorry for us because 50 degrees is still about 65 degrees in the plus direction from where we were, so buck up. But if you were looking forward to some warmer weather it will be probably here as soon as we get on the plane to head back to Michigan tomorrow.
Several years ago Mike Horton began an article on the Kingdom of God by noting how confusing it was to grow up singing both, “This World is Not My Home.” And, “This Is My Father’s World.” “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heavens open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” That makes sense there’s some good verses that could support such a theology.
But then you turn in your hymnals — and that one probably wasn’t in the hymnal — but then you turn over and you sing, “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.” So which is it? We’re just passing by and this world is not our home. There’s nothing here for us, or is it that we look all around us and the birds are singing an ‘E’?
Perfectly. Which one is it? And of course the answer is, yes, it’s both. Because those songs are using the word ‘world’ in different ways just as the Bible uses the word ‘world’ in different ways. Words have a semantic range of meaning; that’s just a fancy way of saying that words can mean different things and different words can overlap to mean the same thing or sometimes to mean different things.
So I was helping my fourth grader with some homework recently and he was learning some new vocabulary words and beginning to learn that words can have more than one definition, so we had to match up the use of the word ‘recall’ in a sentence. And it was saying to recall something is to take something back.
Well, I was looking at it and a little bit stumped by his assignment, because I was thinking to recall something is to remember or to recollect. But sure enough, went back and they’re learning that the word can mean both of those things.
And so if we are to be smarter than a fourth grader, when we read our Bibles, we have to understand that words have a range of meaning. And one of the crucial ones in the New Testament is this word, ‘world.’ It is the Greek word, cosmos, the word is used 186 times in the New Testament by my count, 77 times in the Gospel of John, 23 times in 1 John and another time in 2 John. 101 ‘cosmos’ in the New Testament and there are three general meanings, especially when we look at John’s writing.
First, cosmos can mean the world as the sum of all created things, the universe. John 1:10 speaks of all things were made through Him, the world was made through Him. The world, that is, all created things. The universe, that’s one definition.
Second, cosmos can mean the world as the dwelling place of man, that is Earth. John 3:19 says, “Light has come into the world.” Or first John 4:17, “As He is, so also we are in this world.” So there, the world, not so much as the whole universe, the sum of all created things, but this Earth, into which the incarnate Son of God came. Did you like that? I didn’t even end with a preposition. That was from this afternoon.
Third, cosmos can mean the world as the dwelling place of sin and sinners, that is, fallen creation. And here we have further delineation, we have two different halves, two different sides of this same coin, fallen creation.
World can mean fallen creation in subjection to the evil one, the ruler of this world, John 12:31. First John 5 said, “The whole world is under the control of the evil one. He is the one who is in the world.” Therefore John 17, “We are chosen out of the world.” And 1 John 3:13, “The world will hate us.” This is the world as the fallen creation in subjection to the evil one.
But there’s another side to that coin. The world, as the fallen creation, can also be the object of God’s affection, His love. “God so loved the world, God sent His Son into the world that we might live through him.” First John 4:9. “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” Which does not mean He is the wrath absorbing substitute for all people in all places at all times, but it means He is the propitiation for peoples everywhere in this fallen realm.
John 1:10, you maybe didn’t see this before. John 1:10 actually, I would argue, uses all three instances of the world in one verse. “He,” that is, Christ, or the logos, “was in the world,” that is, He was on Earth, “and the world was made through Him.” That’s the universe. “Yet the world did not know Him.” That is, this world as the fallen creation. World has at least three distinct meanings in the New Testament and in John in particular.
So we see that both of those church songs could be right. The people in this fallen world are to be loved. The system of this fallen world is to be categorically rejected. If you cannot understand both of those things at the same time, you and I will not become mature Christians. You will have people over here who are very fine at saying we must love the world — God so loved the world.
And so they want to redeem culture and they want to transform the world, and they have all sorts of things, and we need to go see this movie, and we need to have the finest stuff and the best stuff because the world. And they forget about the verses that talk about the world under the sway of the evil one, a place filled with temptations and dangers.
But if on the flip side we only understand the world as a place in control of the evil one, then you’re bound to be a very cantankerous sort of person. ‘Look, the world is evil and that’s why I don’t love anything or anyone in the world including you. Just trying to be biblical.
OK? Those are not the people you want serving on the elder boards of your church.
But if you’re not discerning they go to a verse, “The world is under the control of the evil one.” Well, it is. We’re going to talk about that, but the world as the fallen system is to be rejected even as the Father has a love for His lost people in this world and so seeks them out that while they were still a long way off, Jesus said in Luke 15, the Father ran to this prodigal who was returning home.
I want to talk in the 41 minutes and one second remaining from a text in 1 John 2. The title that was given to me was ‘Do Not Love the World,’ and so I want us to spend our time mainly thinking about that third definition of the world as the fallen creation and how we are to run from and reject this system under the sway of the evil one, and then at the very end I want to tie it back to this love of the Father that He has for us and for His fallen world.
We’ll be working mainly from these three verses in 1 John 2, verses 15, 16, and 17. “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 pride of life, 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.”
The main idea here is very easy to spot, you don’t need an advanced degree to see it. What is the big idea in this paragraph? Do not love the world. And the fact that John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit needed to write this to these congregations, and that we now centuries later God designed for us to read it, suggests that we all have running in us an inclination to do this very thing.
No matter how many Ligonier conferences you’ve been to, we have this running through the human heart. No matter how long you’ve been walking with the Lord Jesus, that we need to hear again, “Do not love the world.”
You see up in verses 12, 13, and 14, this stylized almost poetic section which John addresses three different groups and he repeats himself. He writes little children, fathers, young men, and then again, children, fathers, young men. That’s an important part of the groundwork to lead to this command in verse 15, “Do not love the world,” because he wants to remind us of our identity in Christ.
Listen, no matter where you are in your walk with Jesus, you’re in one of these three places because these are not age markers so much as they’re maturity markers. You’re a child, a newborn Christian just starting out, you’re a father, a mother, you’ve been doing this a long time, you’re a young man, a young woman, you’re in the thick of the battle. You’ve been going at it long enough you can’t see the starting line behind you and you hope that you don’t see the finish line quite yet in front of you.
And don’t you love what he says to the young men in verse 14, “I write to you because you are strong.” You know, as we talk to our kids or we talk to our grandkids or we try to encourage our friends, sometimes we tell them, “I want you to be strong, I want you to be a man, I want you to be a woman, I want you to act like this.” And that’s very appropriate, very biblical, but I love what he says here, sometimes you tell people what they’re capable of and that’s the inspiration they need.
Listen, listen young men, you’re strong. OK? What I’m going to tell you here is not impossible for you, and that for many of us is the first step on sanctification, because we have believed this lie, this kind of (as one author put it), ecstatic failurism that all we have as Christians is just one unbroken series of spiritual failures in our life.
And of course it is true in one sense, that’s why we listen to it. It’s true in one sense that we are more broken then we realize, we are more feeble than we realize, we have more sin. And the closer we get to the holiness of God, the more we see our own imperfections. And yet, God wants you to hear this, ‘You’re strong. Do not love the world. And I’m not giving you something that you cannot in some measure do with the Spirit’s help.’
“Do not love the world,” He says, “or the things in the world.” What are those things? Very helpfully, though challenging, in verse 16 He gives us those three things. That famous sequence, that so-called trinity of evil. “The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and pride of life.” Or an earlier edition of the ESV said, “Pride of possessions.” Let’s spend some time on each of these.
The lusts of the flesh. That is the desires, the cravings of our fallen nature. Sexual immortality, impurity, sensuality, revenge, fits of anger, dissension, division. If Christ-likeness is to love your neighbor as yourself then fleshliness is to love yourself so much more than you love your neighbor.
You’re waking up in the morning thinking what will gratify me, what will make me feel good right now? That gets to the essence of sin. What will be pleasing? What will be delightful to me? I have fleshly desires and now we have come to such a place in the church and certainly in the culture where not only are we not allowed to reject those desires, but you are suspect if you would tell someone that they ought not to embrace those desires.
Who are you? Why do we have desires except to embrace them? Aren’t you born that way? And of course, the response is, “Sort of.” We’re all born twisted in ourselves, but you can be born again a different way. Yes, you may have been born that way; I don’t know all the reasons we are the way we are and the inclinations we have. Certainly we believe as Reformed Christians we come into the world with a sin nature that is strong and pervasive, but there is hope that you can be born again a different way.
Are you and I eager to give in to gratify the desires of the flesh? We may be more eager than we think. Just consider, for example, sensuality and some of the things that Paul says in Ephesians 5. Speaking of sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, he says, “These things should not even be named among you.”
The NIV says, “Not even a hint.” One commentator says that Paul indicates that believers should not only shun these sins but also avoid thinking and talking about them. Are you that vigilant, am I that vigilant?
I remember it wasn’t too long ago I was driving to work and I was listening to talk radio. Wasn’t looking for anything particularly bad. Just a normal local talk radio, what’s going on with news. And the newsman started to give very important breaking news update about the Kardashians.
If you don’t know who they are, God bless you.
So here’s what goes through my head, and I hear, “Coming up next, important news about the Kardashians.” And I barely know who these people are but I live in the United States and so I hear of them. And the first thought is, “I can’t believe we live in this world, this is absolutely ridiculous. Who cares about this?” And you know what the second thought is? “I wonder what it is. Man, I wonder what this scandal is. That’s kind of interesting. I maybe need to pray about it or something.”
I think, though, God was getting at my conscious before we even got there to say, “Look, Kevin. I can’t imagine anything good coming from you staying tuned for this breaking bulletin.”
They are not on the membership roll at University Reformed Church, they are not under my spiritual care, and yet we have that in us. You go through the checkout line in the grocery store, you’re sort of curious, you look at it and you say, “Oh, I thought that person was dead 30 years ago, but maybe they are alive, I don’t know. It’s sort of interesting.”
Paul warns against this filthiness, this foolish talk, this crude joking. Verse 12 he says, “It’s even shameful to speak of the things that the pagans do in secret.” One commentator says, “Talking and thinking about sexual sins creates an atmosphere in which they are tolerated, which can promote their practice.”
So there’s all sorts of Christian — and I was one of them — was saying last week, “Look, do not see this movie.” And I won’t name it, I won’t dignify it to name it but you probably know what I’m talking about. This movie that came out just in time for Valentine’s Day. And everyone’s, “Why, well, you didn’t even see it.” I know I didn’t see it, that’s the point.
You don’t need to get philosophical about this stuff. You don’t need to go and see it. You don’t need to say, “Hm, I wonder what’s going on in the culture.” No, you don’t do that with some of this stuff. You run from it, you flee sexual immorality.
And some people in major Christian publications said, “Woah, let’s not be so quick. Yeah, sure, this doesn’t look very good, but shouldn’t we be slow to form opinions?” No, some things you can be very fast to form opinions because you’ve had a lifetime hopefully of following the Lord Jesus and having your mind renewed according to His Word.
And I’m just going to sound this trumpet as long as I’m somewhat young. I got a lot of gray hair, but I’m only 37, and so people cannot just write me off as, “Oh, you’re just old and sort of fuddy-duddy and you just don’t …” No, I’m not. Well, I was kind of born that way, but I’m not entirely. And so as long as I still can say that at my relatively young age, I’m going to say it.
Matthew Henry the good Puritan said, “A good man will be ashamed to speak of what many wicked men are not ashamed to do.” And let’s not be too quick to let ourselves off the hook. There are all sorts of things that, just, good, nice, ordinary Christians like the kind we have in this big room, things that we tune in. Shows that we love to watch, movies — “Well, it’s PG-13, how bad could it be?” And then later we tell our friends, “Yeah, it had a lot of bad — it was so bad I almost walked out five times.”
Almost? Of course, it would be simplistic and untenable, even unbiblical to suggest that you cannot watch sin or read about sin without sinning yourself. The Bible depicts, it explains all sorts of sin but it never titillates with its description of sin. It never paints vice with virtues’ colors, it does not entertain with evil unless to mock it. And the things that we allow ourselves to watch. The fleshly desires we gratify.
I think that if our fathers and mothers from centuries ago could come and visit us in our day, in this land, in the church, there are two things they would be most, most surprised about. One, our fabulous wealth, and two, the degree to which we are so comfortable with sexual sin.
It’s not that people didn’t commit sexual sin; no, that’s been around forever and ever. But the degree to which we are publicly comfortable with it, and even as Christians the things that we watch and the fleshly desires that we gratify. And we excuse it by saying, “Well, it wasn’t that bad.” And we become dulled to what we’re actually viewing, what we’re actually watching.
If you — now, just a thought experiment — don’t think about it too much — but if you were walking by a park and you saw there on a park bench a young couple, a guy and a girl, and they were really going at it. They’re kissing and they’re doing all sorts of stuff, and I won’t describe it in any more detail, but they’re doing — now, now you just, you got that scene, would you call up your friend, maybe your girlfriend, your husband, say, “Hey, there are two people just really making out in the park, grab a chair, let’s sit down.”
OK, now you say, well, that would be weird, and they — no, but what if these people say, “We do this every day in the park and we love for people to come watch us, that’s why we’re here. Absolutely, pull up a seat.” Would you feel comfortable pulling up your chair and just, “Alright.”
And yet somehow, if we pay ten bucks to do it and we watch it on a screen as big as your house, that’s just normal. No biggie. Sensuality, immorality, the things that we have gotten used to would absolutely not pass muster for the apostle Paul, let alone our God. We gratify these desires of the flesh, these lusts from within.
John goes onto a second category of things in the world, desires of the flesh, and then he talks about the desires of the eye. So, if the flesh is speaking roughly of the lust from within, these are the lusts from without. The temptations that comes through the eyes: greed, envy, jealously, sexual stimulation.
You remember the garden and the women saw the tree was good for food and a delight to the eyes. We sin because it looks so good. Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange. That’s what I learned from David Wells, one of my favorite professors at seminary. Worldliness is whatever makes sin look normal and righteousness look strange.
Look, I’m not at all an anti-intellectual, I’ve never been accused of that, I believe in education, I’m working on a degree, I believe in all that, I believe in the importance of understanding the worldviews around us.
But let’s be honest, most of us and most of the people we come in contact with, it isn’t any direct contact with Freud or Darwin or even the new atheists that is infiltrating their belief system. It’s the stuff they’re flipping through on TV, and the stuff they’re putting in their ears and all of the world around them, all of the thousands of ways in which, in twenty-first century America worldliness looks normal and righteousness looks so very strange.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Hays Code. The motion picture production code of 1930. It’s famous, you could look it up, the Hays Code, it was not some golden era of Christianity in this country, there was racist views, and couple of them filter into this document. But it’s a really fascinating read. 1930, “A code to govern the making, and talking, synchronized in silent motion pictures, formulated and formally adopted by the Association of Motion Picture Producers and the Motion Picture Producer’s Association in March 1930.”
And it goes on, there’s about 12 pages. “No picture should be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence, the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the sight of crime, wrongdoing, or evil.” Does that happen? “Sex. The sanctity of the institution of marriage in the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationships are accepted or common. Adultery, sometimes necessary plot material must not be explicitly treated, justified, or presented attractively. In general, passion should be so treated that these scenes do not stimulate the lower and baser elements.”
What would be shown today if it were not meant to stimulate the lower and baser elements? It goes on. There’s a section on vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, costume, dances, religion, titles, repellent subjects.
It goes on and on to make the case that motion pictures are a very important form of art, it says at one point that clergy members should not be put in a negative light so that religion will be thought less of. Well, they’ve never seen any of the Jane Austen movies. “Reasons underlying the particular application, sin and evil enter into the story of human beings, and hence in themselves are valid dramatic material, but in the use of this it must be distinguished between sin which repels by its nature, and sin which often attracts.
Impure love must not be presented as attractive, it must not be the subject of comedy so that we laugh. It must not be presented in a way as to arouse passion, it must not be seen as right and permissible.” And it goes on and on and on.
That was 1930, written by whomever was doing the motion pictures. This is no church body, and yet I think many church youth groups would run afoul of those sort of requirements. In what we watch, in what we show, in what we do, in what we take in our eyes.
See at least they understood that entertainment has this normalizing effect. That’s how this happens. It’s not from a single supreme court decision, it’s not from a treatise, it’s not from a best-selling book, it’s the stuff that you just see enough times and then you think, “Well, that’s normal.” And then you laugh at it, and then you think, there’s nothing that could be too wrong with it. And then whatever intellectual arguments you still have tucked away somewhere, they’re losers by that point, because sin has been made to look normal and righteousness now looks very strange.
So when we watch TV — isn’t all that often — but I watch sports, my wife watches HDTV, which is like sports for women sort of.
And I hope that there are legitimate reasons for watching both of those things, but even something that seems as innocent as that we must be aware of all the ways in which worldliness could be creeping in. You watch enough sports and you begin to think this is really, really what matters.
One time, this is how bad I am, one time I watched a documentary on bowling. And, about the pro-bowlers tour and all the like, in-fighting and political jabs and all the stuff going on. And they talked in such reverential tones about bowling — now, no offense to all the bowlers here, but it just seems sort of laughable. Really? Who takes bowling this seriously? But then I thought, we have eight networks. I mean, how many shows around the clock talking in these same very serious tones. It’s just a different sized ball and not as heavy.
And you shoot it or you throw it or you kick it or you run with it. It’s the same stuff and everyone is on there in suits, and for some reason, whatever is in our culture, pastors don’t wear suits, people talking about sports do. That’s how it works.
And I don’t usually wear a suit on Sunday, OK? I wear a tie, wear a tie. Just got this suit for you all.
But it does say something, doesn’t it? All the ways in which worldliness can be creeping in, or all of the shows there that you watch, and about the house hunters and what the renovations they’re doing and pretty soon you think, “Oh, why do I have such a miserable little house? I need some of these, you know, imported marble tiles. I could use a Greek column or two.”
And you begin to think that that’s normal. The lust of the eyes, the desires of the flesh, the pride of life. It’s the word ‘bios,’ translated in 1 John 3:17 as the ‘world’s goods.’ So it could be a reference to possessions, the stuff you get in life or more broadly just to life. We’re being warned here against the lie that says your life is actually about you. That the way to make yourself happy is to spend as much time as possible trying to make yourself happy.
When actually, if you want to make yourself miserable, not to mention those around you, get up each morning with one singular purpose in mind: “I must be happy.” Now, if you add to that I must be happy in Christ, then you’re onto something, so just wanted to make sure in case John Piper’s listening, that I said that.
So yes, yes, happy in God, happy in Christ. But if you get up — if I get up and I say, “My goal today is to think about Kevin. OK? I need to think about Kevin, I need to worry about Kevin, I need to make sure everything’s OK about Kevin. Alright, so when I’m talking to you, enough of me talking about me, now you talk about me, OK? Alright?”
And it’s so subtle and it’s all around us, and it’s inside us, this selfishness, this self-centeredness. Isn’t it amazing what Jesus says when He tell us not to worry in Matthew 6, “Do not worry what you will eat or what you will wear, for your life is more important.” There’s more to life than that stuff, Jesus is saying there is more to life than living. It’s true, we’re going to die. So don’t make it your goal in life, your singular goal in life, “Above all else I must stay alive.” If that’s your goal, you’ll fail.
And yet the world around us says, “That’s it. There’s a new diet, there’s a new exercise, there’s a new pill, there’s a new something, move to Florida. There’s something.”
“You don’t have to die, you can live forever.” And Jesus says, “Look. I will give you all the food and all the drink and all the clothes that you need to live as long as I want you to live. And when I don’t want you to live, you won’t live. I’m in control. You are here for a reason that is more important than to keep living.”
So he says, “Be consumed with the kingdom and seek first His righteousness. Be passionate about seeing God’s reign and rule over your life and your family and your church and the lost peoples of the world. You’re not a pagan after all.” That’s what Jesus says. What are you living for? Where’s your pride? Isn’t it amazing Paul says, “I boast. If I’m going to boast it’s in the cross. I boast in a lot of other things.”
How do you fill in the blank to this sentence? “If I only had ‘blank’ I’d be happy.” If I only had that job, if I only had 500 more square feet, if I only had a better vacation, if I only had some new clothes, if I only had a higher GPA, if I only had my children walking with the Lord. Even good things. Do you see though? Whatever you put in that blank, that’s your pride, that’s your life, that’s your God.
The world says, “If it feels good, do it. If it seems good, take it. If it will make you look good, go after it.” Have you ever considered how uncanny it is that these three things in the world John describes match up almost perfectly with the three temptations Christ faced in the wilderness. For 40 days He didn’t eat, and the Devil says, “You hungry? Why don’t you turn these stones to bread? You got desires of the flesh, don’t you? You deserve to eat. You see, the kingdoms of this world and their glory? Just bow down to me and they can be yours. You got the desire of the eyes, right?”
Incidentally, I found a church website one time, that the banner written across the church website, said, “If you will worship me it will be all yours.” Which sounds nice, but it’s quoting Satan, so don’t put that on your church website. That was the lie that the Devil told Jesus. The flesh, the desires of the eyes. “You’re the Son of God, right? And cast yourself down here, and you’ll get all your angels, they’ll do tricks, they’ll bear you up. Jump off this temple, the angels will save you and everyone will know you’re the Son of God.” Pride of life.
And if that’s what the Lord Jesus faced, we should not be surprised that we face the same. The desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of life.
We must not love the world and the things in the world. Why not? Look at verse 16 and 17, he gives two reasons. Verse 16, he says, “Because what’s from the world is not from the Father. If you love the world the love of the Father is not in you.”
Love for the world and love for the Father are mutually exclusive. You can’t say well, I can maybe go halfsies, or I’m a Christian, there’s a lot of people who think being a Christian means you give God like 55 percent, world 45 percent, but I still give God 55 percent. No, sort of math exists here. “If you love the world the love of the Father is not in you.”
James 4:4, “You adulterous people, do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” You see, 1 John is trying to tell us among other things, how we can be sure that we’re Christians. And there are three signs, the theological sign, do you have faith in the Son of God? The moral sign, do you obey the commands of God? And the social sign, do you have love for the people of God?
Those are not the three grounds by which we are saved, that is, faith alone, but these are signposts as you’re marching through life to show that indeed you are moving in the right direction. You are on the path marked Christian discipleship, marked eternal life. Do you see these three signs? Faith in the Son of God, obedience to the commands of God, and love for the people of God.
Of course, we won’t do these perfectly, that’s not the idea. First John 1 says if we say we’re without sin we deceive ourselves. Calvin says, “The Apostle is by no means inconsistent with himself since he has before shown that all are guilty before God, he does not understand that those who keep His commandments holy satisfy the law, no such example can be found in the world. But …” And I love this line, “But that they are such as strive according to the capacity of human infirmity to form their life in conformity to the will of God.”
Is your life marked by that? Not sinless perfection, Calvin says, but that you are striving “according to the capacity of human infirmity to form your life in conformity to the will of God.” Words like ‘striving’ have become bad words in some circles. Even seen as anti-gospel words. Calvin did not think so. Paul did not think so when he said in 1 Corinthians 15, “I tell you the truth, I work harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that is with and at work within me, striving.” Don’t fall into the antinomian heresy.
If we had time you could — we could look right at 1 John 1:5-10. We see the perfectionist lie (you’re not culpable), the legalist lie (you’re not forgivable), and the antinomian lie, that says I’m not accountable. So many of us, maybe we grow up with one or the other, and we start falling off into the other direction. So, maybe you grow up with a kind of legalist church background, or parents that you think were legalist, or that was just sort of the way you related to God and it was always, “How you doing? What are you doing? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh?”
Just like this car that we rented here. It’s a brand new car and so it’s got all sorts of wheels — what am I saying? Bells and whistles — that’s how you put the words together. Bells and whistles, and here’s what this does, and I don’t know how to turn it off, someone tell me.
It goes, “Ding, ding, ding.” And the little light comes on, “You have exceeded the speed limit.” That’s a bad invention.
Like, this, just — you know, a little bit over, and then if you go down again; really it starts to encourage you never go below it, because then it won’t know that you went back above it. That’s kind of how the legalist works. That just sort of, “Ding, ding, ding. You just sinned, just letting you know.”
It’s — some of you think you need to be that in each other’s lives. OK, there’s a difference between an accountability partner and being a nag. OK, you cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit in everyone’s life. So you pray, you preach if that’s your calling, you teach; the Holy Spirit’s got to convict. So some of us, we just have this, and it’s just kind of like our whole life, we’re just, “Ding, ding, ding, shouldn’t wear that. Ding, ding, ding, shouldn’t do that. Ding, ding, ding, I don’t like you today. Ding, ding, ding.”
It’s just all of that. It’s just this kind of legalist. So we need and we love this message of, “Alright, you’re not perfect. You’re messed up, but God loves you. Amen! Amen!” The Bible’s a big book. And the Bible says a lot of things, and in 1 John alone, God will not let us just stay there. He also wants to guard against this antinomian heresy, and so he says over and over in 1 John, “If you confess to know Him but you’re not holy, you don’t know Him.” Because, how could you have the love of God being formed in you, if there is no love of God flowing out of you?
What is that quote, that line from A.W. Tozer, who could put things in such an inimitable way, he said, “Plain horse sense ought to teach us that any profession that means nothing to the one who makes it means nothing to God either.” And isn’t that the case?
Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will have a warm feeling in your stomach all the time.’ Is that what He said? ‘If you love me, you will be very expressive in worship.’ Or, ‘If you love me you will wear suits to church.’ What did He say? “If you love me, you obey my commandments.” And if you don’t, He says the love of the Father is not in you. It’s a hard word but it’s a necessary word. From the antinomian controversies in Reformed circles in the seventeenth century, to the lordship salvation controversies of the last century, to more recently, sanctification debates. Or what you will hear and we have already heard in the sexuality debates.
You will have many people saying, “Look, I still affirm what the Bible says about sexuality, but look, nothing we do can interrupt our relationship with God, and so who am I to judge how somebody else is living their life? Yes, I believe that the Bible still says that it’s wrong, but if that’s the behavior they’ve chosen to be involved in, then I can’t say anything against it.”
“If someone tells me they have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ in the way I understand it and have experienced it, they still know Jesus regardless, regardless of what types of behavior they’ve chosen to be involved in.” That’s the lordship controversy all over again. You can have Christ as Savior, you don’t have to have him as Lord. You can follow in your heart and not follow him in your footsteps.
“If the love of the world is in us, the love of the Father is not.” And do you see in verse 17, the other reason why we must not love the world, is because what is from the world is not going to last. He who is from the beginning who has neither end nor beginning, there never was when He was not. He will last. The stuff you’re clicking on, the stuff your eyes are lusting after, it won’t last. We’ve all heard these sad stories. Some man, some women throws away decades of reputation, years of fruitfulness, gospel opportunity, for a half hour in a hotel room.
Now, praise be to God when there’s genuine repentance for sins even as such as that. There is genuine free and full pardon to be made. But listen, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. We all look at that and say really? For a half hour? Why would you throw away a lifetime, why would you throw away everything you built up, everything the Lord’s done for you. Why throw it away? What a bad trade. And then we’re all tempted to make the same trade. Because what is this lifetime compared to eternity but just a fleeting half hour.
And I don’t think that in heaven our loved ones who have gone before are experiencing regret for our sakes. Whatever they’re experiencing, it’s perfect joy. But if they could, perhaps there would be like that story in Luke 16, “Would you go back and tell my brothers? Would you go back and warn them? Would you tell them that Christ is worth it and the world is not?” It’s not worth it, doesn’t last. We are no less crazy to throw away eternity for a few days or months or even a few years of worldliness.
And so the contrast is between the love of the Father and the love of the world. And this is where I tie things back together in the remaining minutes. You see, Christian discipleship, yes, there are dos and don’ts, there’s no way around it. Put on, put off; the commandments say though shalt not. There are dos and don’ts in the Bible. And we should not act like there are not, and we should not be sad that they are because every do and every don’t is a reflection of the perfect character of God. And if you have no interest in obeying the law of God, you have no interest in looking like God.
But that’s not the only way and not the best way to describe what the Bible is about. The Bible is a tale of two loves, and we see it here so clearly in these verses. You have in one corner the love of the world. And it looks good, but it does not deliver, it does not satisfy, it does not last. And then you have in this corner the love of the Father who keeps His Word, keeps you fulfilled, and keeps you going. This is my Father’s world. God so loved the world, the love of the Father is pure, is self-sacrificing, it gives and it expands. It is in every way the opposite of the love of the world.
The love of the world is self-serving, it is impure, it takes and it constricts. The more of the world you get, the less of a human you become. The more of God and the Father you get, the more expansive your own soul grows. The answer to worldliness is ultimately not less love, but more love in the right direction.
You see, God is not a Buddhist god. In Buddhism, the idea is to sublimate your desires. Desires are bad, cravings are bad, the way to reach some state of bliss is to get rid of your cravings, you shouldn’t be having these desires.
And some of us, let’s be honest, we’ve sort of adopted this kind of Buddhist mentality, that’s not what’s in the Bible. Jesus, and here we see in 1 John all over the place, he’s saying, “Look, you’ve got desires, you want to be first? I know you want to be first. You want to have no more pain? I know that. You want to live forever? You want something that lasts? Those are good desires. The world is not going to do it. The love of the Father will.”
And so you fight desire with desire. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. How do you overcome sexual temptation? How do you not watch those things that you’re used to watching? It’s not enough to just leave here and say, “Man, I feel really bad about myself, I won’t do that again.” It won’t last. But if you believe “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God,” and you believe in your heart that to see God is better than to see all of those other things, then you just have a fighting chance. And it’s that sort of mindset that leads John to say, “I write to you young men because you are strong.
I write to you fathers because you know Him who is from the beginning, you’ve seen the living God. We’ve born witness to Him and he’s beautiful, and delightful. And so surely, surely you would not choose the fleeting things of this world when you have pure delight with the Father.”
So really, two questions. Who are you, and what do you want? Are you a Christian? Most of you are, some of you aren’t. If you are, you are in Christ, and if you are in Christ you are seated in the heavenly places. And if we are seated in heaven how can we live like the Devil of hell? Who are you? And what do you want? Because if you want to last, if you want something that’s eternal, if you want something that will satisfy, the world will not give it. God is here to give you good news. You will not find who you are and you will not find what you really want in the world. Only in the Father.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, what a privilege that we can call you our Father. Adopted as your children, born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God. And behold what manner of love the Father has given that we should be called sons of God.
Remind us who we are and help us see what we really want. Would you help these dear people, and start Lord with this very imperfect preacher that we may not love the world or the things in the world. But we may so live and love that it would be evident to all and to ourselves that the love of the Father is in us. And that when His love is in us we will be pure and we will persevere forever and ever. In Jesus name who makes it possible, amen.