Most days, I live with my enemies. You might even mistake them for my friends, because at times I live to close to them. They are hard to avoid. They are older than me, more experienced, and able to make me fit into their circle. Let me introduce them and a three-part series where I’ll let you get to know each one better.
Meet the World. John, the Apostle, describes it in 1 John 2:16 (ESV): “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” The problem is, in our day and age, it is difficult for me to separate myself from the World. I live with it and it is all around me. Its embrace feels like a warm sweater. The World entices me by what I see and shows up in how I prioritize. The World keeps everything I desire within an arm’s reach.
Meet the Flesh. I wear it as my uniform. Paul tells the Romans: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8, ESV). The Flesh walks with me everywhere. I like to entertain him and put my focus on him. It is hard to tell the difference between the two of us.
Meet the Devil. He holds my hand. I often let him define my world. He deceives, but I like the view. I continue to ask him how reality appears, because he’s fun. In the back of my thoughts, I know he is wrong and he is doomed. “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9, ESV).
There is my trio of enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Their voices are familiar. I run from them, only to invite them back to my circle over and over. They seem safe. They are what I know. However, I want to know Christ too, and he will not make friends with them. Christ is uncompromising towards them; to place my heart, mind, and soul in Christ, I need to put any friendship with these enemies aside.
World in Focus
My oldest acquaintance of the three is the World. The World molds and shapes us from birth. I came into being, ready to be friends with the World. What makes the World so hard to avoid is that it is my location. I can’t change my location. The real trouble is the World becomes my source of information. It has my ear from the beginning. As I live with it surrounding me, I grow used to seeing and hearing about a reality without God.
The World never sees the spiritual aspects of life. It whispers the mantra from the old Carl Sagan series, Cosmos: “The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.” I’m taught to trust in only what I can see and touch. It presents truth through human philosophies, which are rooted in the finite. My temporal existence becomes everything. My riches are only what I can acquire during my life on earth. The World’s values get me through the system of human society but never contemplate a spiritual kingdom; science is regarded as the highest authority. Tolerance and acceptance are the characteristics of its friends rather than compassion towards others while they seek truth. When I focus on the World, the Cross of Christ becomes foolishness and the foolishness of the World becomes wisdom.
The World has an inaccurate view of itself. It forgets the couple that stood in a garden before it was corrupted. There was a time, at creation, when the World was good, and God declared it so: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). But the choice Adam and Eve made changed the nature of the World. As they chose to disobey God and eat forbidden fruit, their relationship to the World changed. God pronounced , “…cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17).
This truth (also called original sin) erodes the World. Adam and Eve’s transgression alters the World’s relationship with humanity in many ways:
The World is no longer a forever partner with God’s children; it becomes a place of physical ailments, old age, and death.
The World no longer supports the moral nature of the original creation; the cultures and eras become home to the most depraved actions of humanity.
The World’s spirituality becomes hollow, creating gods who are no better than wounded humanity. The World comes to reflect thinking that can be warped and compromise God’s view of reality.
The World welcomes disease, hunger, and brokenness in the wake of sin.
By my friendship with the World, I declare myself an enemy with God. Not that I see my relationship this way. My first priority is seeking my own desires and my needs. Jesus spoke the opposite: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). I measure reality by my own standards, not realizing how much I sometimes stand in opposition to Christ. When I examine my thoughts, my words, and my actions, can I say that I “love my neighbor as myself,” “love my enemy,” or “love God with all my heart, mind, and soul?” From the World, I receive an affirming slap on the back and mistake it for the approval of God. The World woos me like a lover.
With the World surrounding me so tight, it would be easy to lose heart. But Jesus tells me, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). He has done what I am unable to do on my own, overcome the World and what it has become. Jesus’ walk with the World for 33 years showed that his power and character could not be corrupted. He overcame the physical corruption of the World: the blind could see, the lame could walk, and the dead lived again. Jesus lived in the World, an imperfect moral environment, but without sin. His thoughts matched those of his Father. And when the World swallowed him up in a grave, Jesus defied the curse’s grip on the third day by rising from the dead.
Jesus invites me to a friendship with him, where the truth about the World and the truth about what Jesus did gives me freedom. My relationship with the World has tainted me, but Jesus offers me a gift: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him (the Holy Spirit), for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). I may not have the strength to overcome the World, but, through God giving me his Spirit, I can live in the World and not be of it. “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
More Than Shadows
My view of the World changes as I come to know Christ. I no longer view the World as a friend. I see the corruption of truth which it only has in pieces and shadows. My passion changes from knowing the World and seeking its friendship to longing for a friendship with God.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).
I don’t value those possessions the World has given me. I’m even willing to lose them, if only I may gain Christ. In the end, the graveyard that didn’t hold Christ won’t hold me either.
In one sense, my location has changed; with God’s gift of the Spirit, my real home is in Christ. I now see how the World is temporary and its treasures are fleeting. I take hold of what is eternal and by knowing Christ I find a new source of information. I’m still going to stumble at times. I admit, there are moments when I give the World my ear. But it is no longer my hope or foundation. As I know Christ more, I find I want to know the World less.
I also realize my struggle with the World will end. There will be a day when the World will no longer be here and a new World will be put in its place. This World will be perfect again. “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Here I will live not with my enemies, but face to face as a friend of God.
Next issue: Dealing with the Flesh