April 23, 2008

How Do I Know If I’m a Christian – Part 2

Posted in Assurance, Gospel, Sin at 11:57 pm by Dan Lowe

“Do Not Love the World”

            This is the second installment in a series entitled “How Do I Know If I’m a Christian?”

            Read Colossians 4:7-14 and Philemon 1:23-24.  Notice what the apostle Paul says about the man named Demas.  He is included in the list of Paul’s faithful co-laborers in the gospel.  To all onlookers, Demas appeared to be a mature Christian involved in ministry.

            But read II Timothy 4:9-10a

2 Timothy 4:9-10a (ESV) – 9 Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…

            Did Demas abandon the faith?  The Greek term translated “deserted” (ἐγκαταλείπω, pronounced egkataleipo) is a strong term which implies that he utterly forsook Paul and presumably the gospel.

            What was it that caused Demas’ false profession to become visible?  His love of the world.

            Can we know if we are a Christian?  John’s first epistle seems to have been written to provide Christians with several tests which can be used to help us have assurance of whether or not we are indeed Christians.  In a previous post we discussed three tests of whether or not we are a Christian:

1)      Fellowship with God.

2)      No habitual, unrepentant sin.

3)      Love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The fourth test we will look at from First John is found in chapter 2…

1 John 2:15-17 (ESV) – 15 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. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

            Do not love the world…  What does John mean by “the world” (κόσμος, pronounced kosmos)?  He doesn’t mean planet earth… and he doesn’t mean people. When John speaks of the world, he means the sinful world system which is in active rebellion against God.

            Notice how John describes the world:

1)      It does not know God (I Jn 3:1).

2)      It is full of false prophets who are actively proclaiming falsehood (I Jn 4:1).

3)      It lies in the power of the evil one (I Jn 5:19.)  (Compare this to Matt 4:8, Jn 12:31, Jn 14:30.)

            But doesn’t God love the world?  In John 3:16, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world…”  Yet here we are told not to love the world.  What is the difference?  Finish out John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  God’s love for the sinful world system is a redemptive love, which seeks to save some out of the midst of this system (i.e. “not perish, but have everlasting life.”) 

            Let’s face it… we can’t love the world in this way.  We have no means within ourselves to redeem the wicked world system in which we find ourselves.

            Do not love the world and the things in the world.”  John commands Christians to not love the world.  But notice that Christians are also commanded not to love the things in the world.  This has particular relevance within the church, for many Christians would state that they do not love the world system… but “things in the world” are another story! 

Christians are not to love the world or things that spring up out of this sinful world.  John states that if a person does love the world, then the love of the Father is not in them.  In other words, in his very blunt style, John says that a person who loves the world (the present tense verb implies continuously) is not a Christian.

Why is this so?

It is helpful if we reflect on the words of Jesus recorded for us in Matthew 6:24

Matthew 6:24 (ESV) – 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Jesus states that it is impossible to serve two masters, for it is impossible to love two different masters.  Notice that Jesus explicitly says that it is not possible to serve both God and money (mammon -earthly material treasures.)  The implications of this passage are that human beings serve whatever it is that we love.  We pursue that which we love and treasure it.  If we love the things that are in the world, then we will pursue and treasure the things of this world, rather than God.  How can we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:30) if we are in love with the world and the things in the world?  The love of God and the love of the world are mutually exclusive.

If anyone loves the world, (then) the love of the Father is not in him.”  What does John mean by “the love of the Father”?  There are two ways to interpret this:

1)      God’s love for us…

2)      Our love for God…

I think both senses are probably intended here.  Read I John 4:7-9

1 John 4:7-10, 19 (ESV) – 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…19 We love because he first loved us.

John says that whoever loves (specifically “one another”, but equally true where God is concerned) is (1) born of God (regeneration) and (2) knows God (specifically the love of God), because God has made His love known to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We naturally do not love God, but God has caused us to participate in His love through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we love God, because He first loved us.

Back in I John 2:15, if we love the world, then John says that we have not experienced the love of God in Christ Jesus, therefore we do not love God.

In I John 2:16-17, John provides us with reasons why we should not love the world… “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

John describes “all that is in the world” through three separate phrases:

1)      The desires of the flesh – (NIV – “the cravings of the sinful man.”)  This refers to our innate, sinful desires for pleasure.  In our present context it is epitomized by the cliché, “If it feels good… do it!”

2)      The desires of the eyes – This likely refers to the temptation to delight in sin and that which is in the world.  The Christian must remember that “all that glitters is not necessarily gold.”

3)      The pride of possessions – Literally translated this is “the pride of living” (ἡ ἀλαζονεία τοῦ βίου).  This is not the typical Greek word for “life” (ζωή, pronounced zoe).  The term here is βίος (pronounced bios) and it refers to “the manner in which one’s life finds expression” (BDAG, βίος.)  It “denotes life with respect to actions and possessions” (William Hendriksen, Commentary on James the Epistles of John, Baker, I Jn 2:16.)  It is taking pride in what I am, what I do, and what I possess.

None of this is of God.  It is of the world, that is, it is from the devil (I Jn 5:19), and ultimately it is all “passing away.”  This world and all that is in it is temporary… it is winding down.  To love that which is passing away would be utterly foolish.  Commenting on this phrase, Dr. John Piper states, “Nobody buys stock in a company that is sure to go bankrupt. Nobody sets up house in a sinking ship. No reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, would they? The world is passing away! To set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end.” (Piper, sermon on I John 2:15-17, entitled “Do Not Love the World.”) 

It doesn’t matter how much of the world we may obtain, it is fading away.  What does it profit us if we gain the whole world and lose our soul (Matt 16:26)?

How does one keep from losing their soul?  “…whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 

What is “the will of God” which John is speaking of in this paragraph?  That we love God and not the world.  Those who love God and not the world will “abide forever”… they will enjoy eternal life in fellowship with God.

Why is it so important to God that we love Him and not the world?  Because to love anything more than God is idolatry.  John closes out his first epistle with this warning…

1 John 5:21 (ESV) – 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

A Christian is not a habitual idolater.  A Christian strives to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:30.)

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.”

Do you love the world?  We all sin and we all have moments when we stumble into the sin of idolatry.  But does a love of the world and the things in the world define the general tenor of your life?  If so, then according to John, you might not be a Christian. 

What can we do if this is an area where we struggle in the Christian life?  The answer is not found in trying harder to not love the world.  The solution is to be found in loving God more completely.

How can we grow in our love for God?  John states that we know love only because God has loved us.  We experience God’s love most powerfully in the gospel.  If you want to grow in your love for God…

1)      Meditate on who God is as described in Scripture (Isaiah 40-48 would be a good place to start.)

2)      Ponder what it is to be a sinner (Read and meditate on Romans 1-3.)

3)      Bask in the glory of Jesus Christ (Read the gospels.  Meditate on Isaiah 53.)

4)      Repent of your sin daily and constantly return to Jesus Christ, confessing your sin and trusting that He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn 1:9)… even the love of the world.

We can only serve one master.  Will it be God… who has loved us and sent His Son to be the Savior of the world?  Or will it be the sinful world which lies in power of the evil one and is in the process of passing away.

Take the example of Demas to heart… and love God, not the world and the things in the world.

            For further study of this passage:

1)      Read or listen to the sermon entitled “Do Not Love the World” by Dr. John Piper.  You can find it here http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/1985/481_Do_Not_Love_the_World/

2)      Read and complete the three-part Bible study by John MacArthur entitled “The Love God Hates.”  You can find all three studies here http://www.biblebb.com/brefindex/1jo.htm under I John 2:3-17.


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