When I first became a believer, I was fortunate to be swept up by an older believer and mentor into a men’s group where I first learned how to do life as a follower of Jesus. I was just glad to be around a group of men that I esteemed so highly. Looking back, I cringe at the things that would come out of my mouth. I was in sales at the time and I did well and as a result, lived a very materially-driven life. Breaking that pattern was hard, mostly because I didn’t realize how deeply it influenced my life.
Embarrassingly, I can remember one meeting in which I brought in a brochure for a car for the guys to see and declared my commitment to acquiring the car. My horizon at that point was just filled with this car. I am so grateful for these men in my life because rather than chastise me they gently guided me toward Jesus and away from the car. They encouraged me to fill my horizon with my hope of being with Jesus and living to magnify Him.
Had I continued to set my heart on that car, I would have acquired it and soon after needed to set my heart on some other depreciating asset. In pursuing Jesus, I would set my heart on something that has produced greater joy each day of my life since. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with my wanting to buy a car, but there was something wrong with where my heart was placing value. They introduced me to the idea of setting my heart upon pursuing eternal value rather than temporal and diminishing value.
In 1 John 2:15-17, John talks about what it means to set our heart on diminishing value and its impact on our relationship with Jesus. Starting in v. 15 John gets right to it and makes the claim that if we “love” the “world” or the things in the “world” then the love of the Father is not in us. That is a powerful statement filled with language that has perplexed me as I have grown and matured as a believer. So, what did John mean? One thing is clear – loving the world (whatever that means) will deny or disrupt our relationship with God. To understand this, let’s begin by defining terms.
What is the world? As a new believer, I would often hear folks throw this term around pretty loosely. I am not sure everyone I heard using this term understood what it meant. When I would ask, I would often get a frustrated or emotional response followed by a definition that differed from the last person I asked. Most of the responses I received were in the line of the world being the entire geography that exists outside of our Christian bubble. Often times the sense I got was that we are not to associate with, do business with, or have deep relationships with those outside the bubble of our Christian community. This was really confusing to me because I was reading in scripture that we were not to isolate from the world, but rather to be agents of transformation in the world drawing those far from God near to Him, c.f. Matt. 28:18-20. Moreover, it couldn’t simply refer to people because John in His gospel 3:16 says that God loved the world and sent His Son. What I have come to understand about this term is that it does not just refer to the people and institutions outside of the bubble, but to the people and human social structures/culture under the power of the devil.
What does John mean by love? The problem still remains though. There are really 2 teams in the world. There are those who belong to Jesus and those who knowingly or unknowingly belong to or are under the control of the Devil. So, in some sense, it is true that the world can refer to people outside the bubble. I think what is important to understand is what John means when he says we are not to love the world or the things in it. As I cited earlier, John recorded Jesus as saying that God loves the world. So which is it – are we to love or not to love? We love God the Father and what He loves, Jesus the Son, our brothers and sisters in Jesus, even sinners as it pertains to our desire for them to be redeemed because we love redemption (c.f. Jn. 3:16). What we don’t do is love in terms of desire that produces participation. We do not love the pursuits of sinners, sin itself, unrighteousness, that which sets itself against God. What we are talking about is devotion or, more specifically, what we devote our hearts to, c.f. Matt. 6:24. We are to be in the world but to remain set apart to God not conformed to the world or contaminated by it, c.f. Jn. 17:17-18. Devotion to God by conforming our lives to His Word rather than to the temporal value of the things under the control of the Devil designed to draw us from God sets us apart as belonging to Him.
John gets specific about the things in the world we are not to love or devote ourselves to. We are not to devote ourselves to the desires of the flesh, whatever that means or the desires of the eyes/the pride of life, whatever that means. These are the identifying marks of pagan life in the same way that knowing God and overcoming evil are the markers of those that belong to God. Again, I think we need to define terms.
What is the flesh? Are we just talking about our skin? For years I heard people refer to the flesh and I wasn’t really sure what they meant and I am sure many if not most did not understand what they meant either. I wasn’t sure when folks told me that I needed to deny my flesh if they meant I was supposed to lock myself in a closet or beat myself. What John means in referring to the desires of the flesh are the desires rising from our fallen nature, c.f. Gen. 3:6-22, i.e. spiritual apathy, the lust of the eyes, desiring to be gods, which result in a broken relationship with God and man as illustrated in today’s gender confusion and cultural isolation. John is saying that we are not to devote ourselves to our internal desires that are driven by the lie that “God does not love you” and so it is incumbent upon you to be a god and control your own destiny.
It has become in vogue to marginalize sin, to eject it, or recharacterize it as a product of social/psychological conditions. However, our social and psychological conditions are the constructs which reveal the nature of man. In other words, the culture today would have you believe that you are innately good and therefore any sin you commit is not really on you, it is the product of your environment. You are a victim of circumstance. In reality, your environment will serve as little more than a mechanism to expose the sin that already exists within having been passed down from Adam and being a part of your very nature.
If you don’t believe me just have some kids or if that seems like something you are not ready for, spend some time with those that have some kids. Just last week I was watching my kids play. My youngest daughter, Arie, to the outside observer, is a happy child and she is just beautiful to me. However, I also know from being around her (and this is true of myself and all my kids) she is a sinner in need of Jesus. She is not innocent. As she was playing with her sisters, she determined that she wanted something one of her sisters was playing with and so she grabbed a blunt object and began to hit her sister with it until she gave her the toys or dropped it from the beating. Now, I think or hope you would all assume that she did not learn that from me or Elizabeth. Arie had not observed me or Elizabeth beating one another to get what we wanted. This was a revealer of what lies within her as does in each of us. The flesh is the sin nature the internal marker of our sinful self apart from Christ.
What are the desires of the eyes? I think this term is a little easier to understand and clear in its meaning. It is that which man accomplishes and possesses. Unlike the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes are those things produced by the world outside of our sin nature that appeal to that sin nature and assault our senses.
As I said before I used to be in sales and in the Lord’s kindness I did well. I remember my dad once telling me how proud he was of me when I had made a big sale that significantly increased my compensation. At that moment I realized this was an opportunity to give glory where it was due and I told him that all I had was from God. He absolutely lost his mind. Not because my dad was evil, but he was blinded by the desires of the eyes. He didn’t understand and to him to give credit to God was ridiculous. Was it wrong that I had acquired wealth… no. What was wrong was that what I was being berated for was not devoting myself to that wealth.
What we see in the span of 3 verses, (c.f. 1 Jn. 2:14-16 see also 1 Jn. 5:19), is an unholy trinity of the devil, the world, and the flesh. All of which John warns us not to attach our hearts to and devote ourselves to. Why? Devotion to a culture controlled by Satan to appeal to our sin nature is incompatible with devotion to God.
In verse 17, John answers this most important question: Why does it matter that our devotion be to God and His Word? Whatever we attach our hearts to, whatever we devote ourselves to, apart from our hope in Jesus Christ and devotion to living for God’s pleasure by understanding His character and His will in His Word, has diminishing value. The only lasting value, the only eternal value, can be experienced in our devotion to Jesus and His Word as a part of how we do life, 2 Cor. 4:18. Devotion to Jesus has an eternal value that the world, the flesh, and the devil seek to deny through diminishing value. Apart from Jesus Christ, the best that this life has to offer is as good as it will ever get and that isn’t saying much!
“There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” – C. S. Lewis
What are you most devoted to in your life?
1. What are you most devoted to in your life, e.g. what do you make sure you set time aside for daily?
2. Write out a schedule for each day next week.
3. Set aside time in that schedule to be in the Word every day. Use that time to read 1 John.
a. What is John saying? Make observations and ask questions.
b. Determine what John means, come to conclusions from your observations, look at commentaries, and ask other believers about the questions you have.
c. Determine how what you have observed and interpreted should change your understanding of God and how you should do life.
4. Each day make one change to how you do life based on what you consume in God’s Word.
Our Altamont campus is currently going through the series 1 John: The Freedom of God’s Love.
Join us for our Sunday services @ 10am at our Altamont campus in Livermore (6749 Southfront Rd. Livermore 94551).