One area where we are to be actively involved in spiritual battles is against the world. The term world has several different meanings in Scripture. One of the meanings is the physical world we live in. One of the other meanings is the organized system that is in opposition and rebellion against God. It is the morally and spiritually corrupt system that is opposed to God and His reign. So what this means is that we are to fight against the things of the world. What does that mean? Look to see how the Apostle John describes it.
“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.” 1 John 2:16 (NKJV) In this familiar verse, John lays out what I would call three elements of what is in the world that we are to fight against.
The Lust of the flesh
The lust of the flesh has to do with things that we can touch, taste, smell hear and see. Usually when we think about the lusts of the flesh we think about sexual sins. That is certainly part of what is meant here it isn’t the only thing that is meant by this. It would also include any sort of selfish or greedy craving we have that is purely to satisfy our physical desires. This would mean satisfying our physical urges in ways that are contrary to God’s will.
For instance, there is nothing wrong with satisfying sexual desires within the bonds of marriage. It’s sinful when it’s satisfied in any way outside the bonds of marriage. There is nothing wrong with satisfying the desire to eat without gluttony. It becomes a problem when satisfying this desire leads to gluttony. There is nothing wrong with satisfying the desire to rest without laziness. It becomes a problem when satisfying this desire leads to laziness. This would apply to pretty much any sort of physical desire we may have.
I’ll talk more about the flesh tomorrow. What I want you to see here is that we have an internal wiring, the flesh, which actively works against us. At the same time, we have external opposition, the world, which seeks to arouse our flesh into action. One guy I heard said it this way. The flesh is the hook and the world is the bait. The world will bait the hook in the way that will best lead to our biting down. The world and the flesh will work together to lead us to satisfy right desires in the wrong ways. The world will bait the hook with whatever best will lead us to lust, indulgence, rebellion and license. Take some time and read the works of the flesh from Galatians 5 to see some of the things the world will use the flesh to tempt us to do.
The Lust of the eyes
The lust of the eyes has to do with anything we can see and then begin to desire. This can refer to seeing and desiring something that is expressly forbidden by God. It can also be seeing and desiring something that in and of itself isn’t bad until we become borderline obsessed with it. This can be something sexual or something materialistic. The lust of the eyes can deal with a person or a thing. The overwhelming materialism we see in our world today is most definitely an example of the lust of the eyes. The materialistic desire for more, better and faster is the lust of the eyes.
The Pride of Life
The pride of life means at least two things. First, the pride of life means self-centeredness. It is a person that is focused upon himself and wants other people to notice him. This may mean they seek attention through dress or looks. It may mean they seek attention through position or wealth. It may seek attention through the toys that they have. It may mean that they seek attention by seeking to outshine others. There are numerous other ways that people could go about this, but the goal is always the same. They are seeking to draw attention to themselves.
Secondly, the pride of life would refer to arrogance or conceit. This would be an inward attitude and outward boasting about their wealth or possessions. This is the kind of pride that cause me to look down on others because I have a higher position than they do, make more money than they do, dress nicer than they do or have cooler toys than they do.
This is how John describes the world. Now, how do we wrestle against the world?
Love Christ not the world
“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.” 1 John 2:15-16 (NKJV)
I can’t see this meaning that we aren’t to enjoy the good things of the world or even the good things that God gives us. Instead, I think it means we are to love God and not the things of the world. We are not to become more attached to them than we are to the things that come from God. We aren’t even to become as attached to them as we are to the things of God.
John tells us that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are not from God but from the world. What I take this to mean is that if something appeals only to my lust or to my pride then it’s probably something I should shun.
John also that all the things of this world are passing away while the things of God will last forever. A part of not loving the world is recognizing these things for what they are, temporary. This life is but a blip in the time frame of eternity. Therefore, we should see the things in this world as temporary things so that they do not distract us from the eternal things.
There are two good examples of this in Scripture that come to my mind. One is the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and very wealthy before he met Jesus. After meeting Jesus and realizing that Jesus was the Christ, Zacchaeus gave half of his possessions away to the poor and restored fourfold whatever he had wrongly taken from others. Once Zacchaeus understood who Jesus was, he realized that his money and possessions were just stuff. He loved Jesus not the world.
Another example along these lines is the rich young ruler in Luke18:18-30 that came to Jesus wanting to know how to be saved. Jesus told him to keep the commandments and the young man said he had done that. So Jesus told him to give all his possessions to the poor and come follow Him. The man was sad because he had many possessions and couldn’t do it and so went away without the salvation that Jesus offered. He loved the world not Jesus.
To love Christ not the world means that we recognize that all we have is just stuff. It’s temporary stuff that will not distract us from living for and focusing on eternal things.
Let Christ shape your values not the world
The Bible makes it pretty clear that believers are to be different from the world around them. I think that many times we have missed the boat on what this means. I think the biggest thing that this means is that we our mindset and values are to be different from the world.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
I find the Message paraphrase of this verse to be particularly convicting. “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2 MSG)
The first sentence of this paraphrase bothers me to no end. Have you ever really sat down and looked at the ways Scripture says Christians are supposed to live and compared it to what we actually do? Have we really been transformed by the renewing of our minds? Or have we become so well-adjusted to our culture that we fit it without even thinking?
In Randy Alcorn’s book Lord Foulgrin’s Letters, there is a fictional demon lord named Foulgrin. In the book Foulgrin says is that he loves it when the forbidden fellowships, churches, become little more than baptized versions of the world around them. Foulgrin considers that to be a great victory for the enemies of God.
The values of the world around us change. The values of the Bible do not. If we are really going to fight the spiritual battle against the world we are going to have to take the time and examine our lives to see if our values have been shaped by Christ or by the culture around us.
All believers are involved in spiritual battles. We must recognize this, identify the battle fronts and then do what is necessary to fight these battles. Wrestling with the world and its values requires discipline and diligence on our parts. It also requires us to lean heavily on the grace of God and listen carefully to the Spirit of God.