Live in the world: a warning from John (Part 1)

There are times when I think it would be so much easier to enter a monastary to grow and practice my faith. Shut away from the world, removed from the problems of materialism, and distanced from the trials and temptations of living in 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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
— 1 John 2:15–17 (ESV)

Is John promoting a monastic, ascetic lifestyle? Is he calling Christians to retreat from the world, to live in the walls of a monastary, fleeing from the passions and desires of the world? Maybe, but not likely. In the writings of John, his Gospel and letters, the ‘world’ is not simply understood as earthly things.

Live in the world: which world?

The cliche goes: “Christians live in the world, but are not of it.” Unless we understand what this ‘world’ is, we’re not likely to know how to live in the world, and not be a part of it. The word ‘world’ primarily used by John comes from the Greek κοσμος (kosmos). It’s where we get our words like cosmology, cosmonaut, cosmopolitan. However, the meaning of the word is only narrowly translated as ‘world’. The word kosmos implies a sense of order and arrangement. A quick survey from John’s Gospel reveals four primary (but not exhaustive) uses of the word kosmos, the references given are but an example:

  1. The world created by God through Christ (John 1:1–4),
  2. a broken world in need of salvation in Christ (John 3:16),
  3. the physical earthly realm, in contrast to the heavenly relam (John 8:23),
  4. and, the world ruled by the evil one—Satan—judged by Christ (John 12:31).

Earlier in this first letter of John, John refers to the kosmos in need of salvation in Christ (1 John 2:2). In this instance, he highlights the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Live in the world: John’s warning

However, in this instance, it seems John is talking about the kosmos ruled by the evil one, Satan. He warns his readers to beware of the world, the desires of the flesh, the eyes, and pride in possessions—that is, the source of these things are the order and arrangement of Satan. One of the greatest ironies of the Western world and challenges of the Christian church is the growing interest and pursuit of spirituality, but the decline and seeming relevance of Christian spirituality. While there is a lot more to be said on this, if we do not recognise is that the cosmos of John and the cosmos of today are one and the same—influenced, ordered, and arranged by Satan—then the problem will only continue. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the days of this world are numbered, yet the call of Christian through the ages continues to remain the same: to live in the world, yet not to be consumed by it. John recorded Jesus’ words:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
— John 15:19 (ESV)

In the next article, I’ll explore the practical elements of John’s warning. For this current age, this world still remains within the domain of Satan’s influence.

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