The god of this world has his kingdom, and Christ has his (2Co 4:4). These distinct realms are mutually exclusive and less compatible than oil and water. The culture of Christ’s kingdom is best known for its love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Satan’s domain, on the other hand, is terribly marred by sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21).
The people of this latter world are lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, and, ultimately, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2Ti 3:2-4). Though they may have the appearance of godliness at times—they even creep into the church (2Ti 3:6)—they deny its power by denying the Spirit’s effective working in a true believer’s life to bring about genuine devotion to Christ (2Ti 3:5). They have their reasons for wanting to be a part of the Christian community, but their motives are less than pure.
John saw these worlds colliding in his day. Proto-Gnostics burdened the church with sins and led people astray by various passions (2Ti 3:6). They manipulated believers into letting down their guard. The churches of Asia Minor and beyond were confusing truth and error, righteousness and sin. Tragically, they learned to love the world and many of its evil things while also claiming to possess the love of the Father (1Jn 2:15). Again, these kingdoms do not mix. We will either … hate the one and love the other, or … be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and any other master simultaneously (Lk 16:13).
I think we can relate.
The influence of contemporary secular society on the church is a perpetual threat. Feminism gives rise to so-called empowered women, distorting the biblical roles of male and female. Haughty intellectualism encourages pastors to become ashamed of God’s word to the point of denying selective parts of it. Pragmatism with a hint of materialism turns Christianity into big business where pastors become CEOs rather than spiritual shepherds of God’s people. The world around us redefines love, tempting us to accept homosexuality as a natural relationship or else be guilty of hate-filled bigotry. And on and on it goes.
On an individual level, we frequently blur the line between godliness and worldliness. Like Paul’s friend, Demas, we mistakenly fall in love with this present world, though our misplaced affection is usually subtle (2Ti 4:10). For example, how many times have we rushed home on a Sunday afternoon, thankful our religious obligation to worship has been met so we can move on to something more enjoyable such as, say, a football game on TV? How many times have we been more than willing to leave our daily devotions and Bible reading behind when on vacation as though spiritual disciplines are an unwanted chore? Perhaps unknowingly, our love of earthly pleasure can exceed our love of God (2Ti 3:4).
In his typically bold fashion, John reminds us of the incompatibility between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of this world. Just as unregenerate people do wicked things and hate the light of truth, Christians do what is true and hate the world as well as the things in the world (Jn 3:20-21; 1Jn 2:15). “If anyone loves the world,” John writes, “the love of the Father is not in him.”
To be clear, your excitement for a football game on Sunday afternoon surpassing your eagerness to worship God with your brothers and sisters in Christ doesn’t automatically mean you’re a child of the devil. Sometimes the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41). Even the most faithful men and women enter into temptation.
Yet every time we succumb to the desires of the flesh and give more of our devotion to the things in this world than the Father, we chip away at the assurance of our salvation (1Jn 2:16; 15). Knock off enough pieces, and we give ourselves every reason to ask, “Am I of the world or of God?” After all, whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1Jn 3:8). No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him (1Jn 3:9).
It is troubling to say the least when few distinctions can be made between believers and unbelievers. I’ve wondered how John would respond to hearing modern Christians defend homosexuality as a perfectly moral lifestyle. I’m curious to know what he’d say as we use our leisure time to watch favorite TV shows which make light of sin and even celebrate it. I can only imagine his remarks as he observes the inordinate number of hours we devote to our phones over prayer and the Bible.
I suppose he’d say, “Stop loving the world and the things in the world (1Jn 2:15). You are wasting your life on things that are passing away (1Jn 2:17). Soon enough, each of us will have to give an account of himself to God (Ro 14:12). Are you ready for that?”