Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world, John tells us. If you do, then the love of the Father is not in you.
The problem with some of us is that we turn from the world before we turn to the Father. And then, when we eventually do turn to the Father, we make the mistake of thinking that we have already (rather conveniently) forsaken the world. We may even conclude that we have some advantage over those poor souls who have not yet dealt with the issue of “not loving the world”.
If we hold to such a view, we have never come close to understanding John’s words. In fact, we may love the world very much whilst thinking that we have forsaken it.
The key to understanding John’s words is found in Jesus’ words: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). “Loving the world” does not mean loving something that exists apart from you. Rather, it means that you love something in which you live and of which you are a part.
What I mean is this: You cannot separate the idea of your own “life in the world” from the idea of “the world”. The two are inseparable. And so, “loving the world” means loving some or other relationship, dynamic or interaction that exists between you and the world. This could be anything, and it differs from person to person, but the common denominator between all of them is what Jesus refers to as “your life in this world”.
It is this thing that you are not allowed to love. It is this thing that you are told to hate. It is impossible to not love the world whilst loving your life in it.
Some of us turn from the world as one would turn from a bad business partnership. Perhaps we have been disillusioned by the loss of a loved one. Perhaps by war, disease or poverty. Perhaps we are sick and tired of the rampant materialism around us. Whatever the case, it is not that difficult for a thinking person to see through the facade of life and to adopt some or other countercultural agenda to express his or her misgivings.
They are all around us: Some become Greenpeace activists, others gangster rappers. World haters are as plentiful on the worldwide web as are the utopian experiments that have preceded it. From Babel to Woodstock, people have tried to reengineer society. Tupac Shakur has become the spokesman for many of his generation when he sings: “It’s just me against the world, baby.”
The point is, while all of these people turn against the world, none of them turn against their own lives in this world. And so their turning away from the world in one way always ends up as a turning back to it in another way. Paul Gauguin became sick of the pretentious Parisian art scene and fled. But he still had his life in this world, and so he was forced to find an alternative place for it. This he did in Tahiti, where he reinvented himself by indulging in sexual exploits with prepubescent peasant girls. Tahiti may be the exact contrast of Paris. But it is still in this world. Gauguin merely swopped one life in the world for another. He may have told himself that he had escaped, but he hadn’t. He died at 54, his body racked with Syphilis and poisoned by alcohol. He loved his life in this world, and so he lost it.
The same can be said of countless other efforts to flee the world. It never works. Indeed, it cannot work. You can no more hate the world than you can flee from it by trying to jump to the clouds. There is a law that will bring you back. You may not end up in the same place where you left off, but you can rest assured that you will return. Hating the world in one way will always lead to loving it in another. That is why burnt out CEO’s become tree huggers and billionaire heiresses philanthropists.
And so it is simply impossible to turn from the world before one has turned to the Father. You may think that you have seen through the world and that you did so all by yourself, but you are deceived. The world lives on happily in your new life. God is little concerned with that which you have turned from. He is interested in what you have turned to. If it wasn’t him, then you have simply traded in old idols for new ones.
A Religious World…
The error above is by no means restricted to the sad world of those who have forsaken obvious forms of worldliness for subtle ones. On the contrary, its worst manifestation is in the area of religion, and the reason is clear to see: Religion, more than any worldly form of otherworldliness, provides a way to turn against the world without turning against your life in this world. This is because religion provides a substitute life that appears to be more non-worldly than any other. And so religion makes it more possible to hate the world, whilst loving your life in it, than any other pursuit.
Ever wondered why billions of people are happy to turn to religion without seeing the need to turn to Christ? The answer is simple: Religion does not need Christ to facilitate the great escape from the world. It can do so all by itself. To escape one’s life in this world is a different story. For that you need Christ. And the reason is clear to see. To escape from one’s life in this world is to escape from your very self. And that cannot happen without Jesus Christ.
What Jesus commanded was a peculiar thing. To hate one’s life in this world is to hate the symbiosis that exists between the world and you. It is to understand that there is a demonic and vile interplay between the human soul and this dark, evil age. It is to understand that the two feed on one another, and that they cannot exist without one another.
Many Christians believe that the so-called “world” was created by Satan. Of course I am referring here to the wicked world system, not the planet we live on or the people on it. The Greek word “kosmos” is used in Scripture to refer to all three, and we are only using it in the sense of the world system. Let us not be confused. The most famous verse in all of Scripture tells us that God loved the world, and he was not contradicting himself. He loves the people, and he has created the planet as a depiction of his glory. But he hates the system, and that is what we are commanded to hate.
When Paul called Satan the “god of this world” (literally “age” in Greek), this is what he had in mind. And so it is not difficult to see why people think that Satan created this wicked world system.
But he never did. We did. This world is nothing but a projection of our hearts, tailor-made to suit our desires. We birthed it. We invented it. We hold the rights to the patent. Fallen humanity created this world in the same way a man takes a piece of wood or clay and shapes it into an idol. Satan never gave us Hollywood. We did. Satan did not give us Wall Street. We did. Satan did not invent the Mafia, or the Third Reich, or the porn industry. We did. And astonishing as it may sound, we did all these things, and keep on doing them, for the very purpose of reacting against our very own former systems that have failed us. Whether it’s Hefner’s house of bunnies or Hitler’s Aryan race, we all seek the Utopian kingdom that will help us to escape a world that has failed us in some or other way.
The reason why Satan is the god of this world is not because he has created it, but because we have elected him. You don’t need to create a country in order to be its president. What you need is to win the hearts of the people. And this Satan did. He rules through us, not apart from us. We created this world as a result of our allegiance to him. He rules our hearts, and so everything we do is from him, through him, for him.
This is why it is impossible to escape the world, and sheer idiocy to suggest that a human being can do so. We are not in the world. The world is in us. The reason why Christ set his kingdom up in the hearts of people and not in Jerusalem is that the problem has never been in Jerusalem. It is within us. That is where the change of rule should take place.
When we flee the world, we take it with us. We may become desert monks, but we will only transplant the world in the process. It is not what goes into a person that makes him unclean, but what comes out.
“For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”
The first step to forsaking the world is to hate your own life in it. It is to see that your very soul has been baptised in a way of thinking and behaving that is corrupt from its beginning to its end. It is to see that you yourself are the contamination, the primary shaper of the bricks that make up Babylon. It is a deep need to cease existing in your present state, a passionate desire for a new life altogether.
In short: It is to see Christ as the fullness, glory and beauty of God, and the desire to be dissolved in him. There is no other passage out of this world but through Jesus Christ. He is the Ark. He will take you to the new world. He will take you through the waters of death and judgment. In them he will bury you and everything associated with you. And out of them he will birth a new creature, conformed to his image and likeness.
The only way to ever stop loving this world is to believe in Jesus Christ, to know him and to love him with all of your being.
All other efforts to do so are futile. It is as simple as that.