Hate the World, Or Burn with It

Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world ‚ÄĒ the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one‚Äôs lifestyle ‚ÄĒ is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God‚Äôs will remains forever.

1 John 2:15-17

This world will burn. I don’t mean that the physical, spacetime universe will be permanently destroyed, of course.1 I mean the rulers and systems¬†of¬†this age, the present cultures, structures, and institutions which are beholden to the flesh and the devil, which foster sin and¬†exacerbate¬†suffering. These are what¬†John and Paul often refer to in Scripture as the “world” or “this age.” And as John said just above, they are passing away. The world will be¬†condemned¬†and toppled when Christ returns to judge and recreate.

But it is¬†easy to talk about this stuff in general, abstract terms. What is this condemned¬†world in real, actual life? What does it mean to love it and the things in it, as John warned us against? I’ve been giving this some thought lately, and it is not too hard to see how it works. The world offers¬†its own vision for life in direct opposition to the call of Jesus. Naturally, this vision¬†takes different forms in different cultures, and I do not know much about the way of¬†worldly life presented to people in most cultures, but what I am familiar with is the¬†American one. So what is the world in America?

One easily identifiable component of the world¬†system in¬†America is its relentless pursuit¬†of personal wealth and “success.”¬†Our society is¬†powerfully shaped by this idol. Ideally, we go to school to get qualifications that land us in decent jobs from which we can work our way up to riches.¬†Few make it all the way through this journey to the top, but its role as the standard goal is unquestionable. The life of corporate advancement, complete with expensive¬†clothing, status watches, luxury cars, and all the rest, is¬†taken for granted as an ideal, part of the good life for¬†which we Americans strive.

Yet, while diligently working in a profitable job is by no means an evil or a sin, the system behind¬†this success culture is¬†clearly and certainly corrupt to the core.¬†Quite frequently, it demands that you offer in sacrifice¬†your integrity, your¬†spouse, your children, your commitment to your church, and¬†by all means your sacrificial giving on its pagan altar. It breaks apart families and in fact even individuals under stress and the pursuit of the wind.¬†You are not permitted to¬†give¬†with unlimited¬†generosity,¬†sacrificing¬†wealth and¬†status too thoroughly to help the least of these, but must¬†spend freely and extensively on certain restaurants, gizmos, and fashions¬†with symbolic functions in order¬†to climb the ladder.¬†This system is greed and pride incarnate, the actual reality of the “pride of life.” It may be true that it is entirely possible to have one of these jobs while not participating in these corruptions, but it remains a frightening world, and one¬†which demands intentional, diligent Gospel devotion for a follower of¬†Christ to spiritually survive.

The world also manifests itself in the reigning sexual¬†ethos, where the only thing that¬†matters is personal sexual expression and unrestrained choice. The union¬†of easy divorce, endlessly accessible birth control, affordable abortion options, casual hookups, proliferating online porn, and the de-shaming of adultery brings forth a sexual culture of death. It creates emotional distress, insecure men, unfulfilled¬†women, rapidly spreading¬†diseases,¬†fuel for sex trafficking, and broken¬†homes (the last of which tends to¬†bring with it a host of other problems, such as¬†generational poverty, drug abuse, gang crime, and school violence). What is hailed as “liberation”¬†is¬†actually¬†slavery to the¬†flesh. The culture¬†which¬†asks “What’s wrong with consenting adults doing what they want in the bedroom?”¬†is the very same culture which robs millions of people¬†of their consenting freedom to slavishly serve (in many cases quite literally) the god Sexual Pleasure.

I could go on exposing the systems and structures which make up the world, but I want to move on to make a more important point. We must¬†hate the world. These¬†systems¬†are¬†evil, pure evil, ruining God’s creation and the humans He loves so much, and they will be damned to Hell when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. We are not allowed to flirt and compromise with the enemy of God’s create humanity, even if¬†this enemy is made up in large part of those same humans. Whoever may make up many of the ground troops, the rulers and powers behind the world are Satan and his hordes. To participate in¬†the systems they have set up on earth in their time of power is to participate in¬†cosmic, demonic rebellion against God. The force that¬†might tempt you to a “harmless” casual hookup is the same one that turned a mere man into a naked, superstrength, chain-breaking monster before driving a horde of¬†pigs to cast themselves off a cliff to their deaths.2

This brings me to a related point about¬†human accountability. We often wonder how God could really be justified in condemning¬†so many normal, seemingly decent people.¬†Would it really be right for God to punish polite Jim Bob¬†down the road just because he’s not sure Jesus rose from the dead? Yet I want to say on this that the majority of¬†people are not as¬†innocent as they look. No, Jim would never buy a¬†sex slave, but¬†he does give his money to a porn website that acquires¬†much of its “talent” from¬†trafficking organizations. Yes, Jim pays for welfare with his taxes, but¬†despite his¬†ability to afford a BMW¬†he has¬†politely ignored¬†every email, telephone, and visitation campaign asking for his support for starving orphans in¬†Afghanistan for 15 years. And of course, Jim would never expand his company with a sweatshop filled with impoverished children, but he has no problem making major business deals giving money to¬†companies that¬†do¬†just that. He might be innocent of thousands of awful crimes, but in the end God sees how he is aiding and abetting tens¬†of thousands.

The¬†world is an omnipresent web of wickedness, and¬†to avoid getting caught in it takes great care. But as Christians we must¬†take that care, because to do otherwise is to¬†entangle Christ with Satan. Nothing can result from such a union but pain, suffering, and judgment. As John said above, “the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God‚Äôs will remains forever.” If we do not want to pass away with the world, we will have to cling to Christ, but to cling to Christ is to hate the world which opposes Him and His reign of grace. ¬†There is no other option. Hate the world or burn with it.

This will lead us to some¬†tough questions about the lines and¬†connections in participation with the evils of the world. We know it would be sinful for us to submit children to¬†labor in rough conditions with pitiful pay just because they can’t survive otherwise, but is it¬†wrong to give¬†our money to companies that do¬†so in exchange for affordable shoes?¬†All evangelical Christians would agree that¬†homosexuality is wrong, but does that mean we shouldn’t come to¬†our gay non-Christian friend’s wedding? And while I may¬†just need a job, is there something inappropriate in trying to sell services for a company that¬†I’m convinced is seriously (though legally) ripping people off?

These questions all need to be addressed, but in addressing them all we must remember the enemy. The world is the devil’s kingdom. Let us not get drawn in, but draw our swords and fight to stand for the kingdom of God instead.

  1. Rather, I am quite convinced that, though this physical world will die in flame as 2 Peter 3 teaches, the result of this will not be its end but its resurrection, just like Jesus, who by His resurrection is the firstborn over all creation.
  2. Mark 5:1-20
I'm 22. I'm married with a toddler and a newborn. love Jesus Christ. I grew up a Southern Baptist and now situate myself within Evangelical Calvinism (which isn't TULIP!). I also draw substantially from N. T. Wright, Peter Leithart, and Alastair Roberts. I go to the Baptist College of Florida. I'm also a bit nerdy.