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9. Enemy Territory:

 

Facing Up to ‘The World’

1 John 2:15-17 '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 for ever.'

'Do not love the world'

The phrase 'the world' is common in the New Testament. You need to know that it can mean three quite different things:

1. Planet Earth, the world of nature

In spite of the harmful effects of the Fall, this remains a beautiful place and speaks to us of God's creative power (Romans 1:20). You can therefore love it—though not worship it.

2. Humanity, the world of people

This is what John means when he says, 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16). You can love the world in this sense, too, reaching out to needy people with the message of the gospel.

3. The world-system that's opposed to God

This is what we, as Christians, are forbidden to love, because it is Satan's domain: 'The whole world is under the control of the evil one' (1 John 5:19). Its entire way of thinking and acting is anti-God. It crucified Jesus because he exposed its evil (John 7:7), and it will hate you, too, because you're on his side (John 15:18-19).

It's 'the world' in this third sense that we're considering in this lesson.

The devil (he doesn't really look like this!)Satan's setup

1. The world's master

The world is masterminded by Satan, the devil, who is called 'the prince of this world' (John 12:31). It seems he was originally one of God's top-ranking angelic servants, but when he became proud and rebellious God threw him out of heaven (Luke 10:18). He now operates on earth, ruining human society and drawing people away from God.

Satan does not work alone. He has an army of demonic spirit-beings at his service. These help him in the business of ruining lives and filling the world with bitterness, cruelty, suffering and death.

At worst they can take over a person completely—as they did with the man called Legion (see Mark 5:1-20)—so that the person can be described as 'demonised' or 'demon-possessed'. This cannot happen to a genuine Christian because Jesus 'keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him' (1 John 5:18).

2. The world's attitudes

Satan is intent on making people think in ways that ignore God, and this is normal in human society. Most people assume, for instance, that 'looking after Number 1' is priority; that death is the end of everything; that God doesn't exist; that pleasure is the main purpose of life; that survival of the fittest is inevitable; that 'might is right'; that there's no absolute right and wrong; that the human mind is its own master; and that life is cheap.

It is such thinking that, as a Christian, you reject and replace with godly thinking as you undergo 'the renewing of your mind' (Romans 12:2).

3. The world's institutionsStalin: cruel dictator

Ephesians 6:11-12 'Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.'

Notice the words 'rulers… authorities… powers' in this verse. There are many groups of words like this in the New Testament. They refer partly to demonic spirits, but they can also refer to religious traditions and cultural norms in society. These include government, economics, science, art, law, ideologies, education and the family.

All these institutions were originally given by God for the good of the human race, to be exercised under his rule. But with the Fall they became open to corruption and manipulation by evil forces. So now, for instance:

'Aliens and strangers' here

John 17:14-16 'I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.'

PassportThis prayer of Jesus reminds us that, though we live in this world, as Christians we are not 'of' it, that is, we don't belong to it. We're misfits here, the people of God in a worldly society, 'aliens and strangers in the world' (1 Peter 2:11).

That's why, now that you're a Christian, you don't seem to fit into the world's ways as comfortably as you did before. You're like a member of the French Resistance during World War II, living under Nazi rule and feeling like a stranger in their own country.

So why didn't the Lord solve the problem by taking you straight to heaven when you became a Christian? Because he has good reasons for leaving you here for a while:

1. To shape your character

The conflict-situation in which you live here is designed to shape your character and make you what God wants you to be. Standing firm for Christ in the face of ungodly standards and unrighteousness can make you strong. But there's always the temptation to give up that stand and lapse into the world's own ways to avoid the conflict. Paul said:

Romans 12:2 'Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.'

These are the twin options: you either give up the conflict and conform, letting the world squeeze you into its mould, or you stand strong and let the conflict transform you into greater strength of Christian character. You know which is the right one!

2. To be Christ's ambassador

The Bible talks about two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of this world, under Satan's rule. The other is the kingdom of God, under Christ's rule. By new birth you are a citizen of God's kingdom but you live here on earth, surrounded by Satan's kingdom. You're an ambassador for Christ, representing him here, telling Satan's slaves that there's a takeover on the way and appealing to them to change sides now in readiness for it:

2 Corinthians 5:20 'We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.'

3. To demonstrate a new society

You 'advertise' God's kingdom to the world's citizens by your individual witness and godliness. But you alsoThe church: God's shop window to the world help to do it at a corporate level by being part of a local church. The church is a society within society, shaped by love and forgiveness, honesty and compassion, and sometimes it is this, rather than the witness of individual Christians, that makes an impact on non-Christians.

If we let those standards slip, of course, our corporate witness becomes ineffective. This is what happened at Corinth. Paul said to the 'worldly' Christians there:

1 Corinthians 3:3 'You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?'

Note what it was that made them worldly: 'jealousy and quarrelling'. In other words, bad relationships. The new society of the church is to demonstrate good relationships.

4. To introduce God's standards here

People need Jesus, and they only change at root-level when they come to know him. That's the aim of your being among them: to lead them to Christ.

But change is also possible at a more superficial level, and non-Christians benefit to the degree that they accept the standards of God's kingdom. One reason God has put you in the world is to influence society so that it falls more into line with God's ways.

Office conversationFor example, suppose you work in an office where everybody is grumpy, dishonest and gossipy, so that the atmosphere is terrible. Don't let yourself get pulled down into it. Instead, quietly begin to talk more positively, give praise where it's due, refuse to gossip, maintain a cheerful demeanour and be scrupulously honest.

Gradually, after a period of strong resistance and resentment, you'll begin to see a change take place in the atmosphere. That way, you'll be 'salt' (a preservative in biblical days) and 'light' in a decaying, dark world (Matthew 5:13-16).

Conquering 'the world'

Scripture commands us not to 'love' the world (1 John 2:15), not to be its friend (James 4:4) and not to be conformed to its ways (Romans 12:2). How can you do this? How can you conquer the world?

How, then, can you find victory over the world?

1. By a growing, active faith

1 John 5:4-5 'Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.'

Hold fast to Jesus, the Son of God, by prayer and meditation on his Word. Remember that you're 'born of God'—you're in God's family. Move forward in faith.

2. By leaning hard on the Spirit of God within you

1 John 4:4 'You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.'

3. By viewing the world from the cross

We looked at this in Lesson 6. Consider yourself dead to the world and its ways and face them in the power of resurrection life, like Paul, who said:

Galatians 6:14 'May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.'

 

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1 John 2:15  'Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.'

Heart

GiG9: The World
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