THE TEMPTATIONS AND PULL OF THIS WORLD
In Part II, we now focus on some problem areas we will encounter in the last days. The subject is very wide indeed but we would be concentrating on several broad categories.
The first of these broad categories is “The temptations and pull of this world”. This affects God’s children in several ways. Firstly, the world can impose her standards and values upon the people of God, sometimes in a subtle way but at times even in ways that are more direct and blunt. Take the example of cigarette advertising. In our society today, we are fortunate that we recognise the ills and dangers of cigarette smoking, and advertising to promote cigarette smoking is now a thing of the past. However, not too long ago, and even now in third world countries, cigarette smoking is promoted in advertisement as part of the good and finer things in life. The cigarette companies ensure that the advertisement projects a young successful man or woman who has made it in society, surrounded by the so-called fine things of life like a luxury car, a huge mansion, lots of friends and all of them puffing on the finest brand of cigarettes, each looking refreshed and contented with the smoke around them. We know better than that, but many young people in the third world today are subtly influenced to associate cigarette smoking with success and sophistication.
Here is a good illustration of how something that is harmful and dangerous can be projected as something sophisticated and associated with success. Cigarette companies are aware of the dangers of cigarette smoking, but the monetary profit and returns are so great that some are prepared to cover up the facts in order to continue to harvest the benefit. The sad consequence would be millions who will suffer from lung cancer and other associated ailments of the lungs and the heart.
The world can affect the children of God in like manner. Through the mass media, through books, through even the study of literature, philosophy and other apparently respectable avenues of knowledge, God’s children may be led to believe that a certain lifestyle or a certain manner of living or values are manifestations of being progressive, liberated and modern. It may not be cigarette smoking; it may be something else. The motivation may not be money making; it may be for self, or status or even at times out of frustration and ignorance; nevertheless, it is almost always engineered by the prince of this world who seeks to stamp his influence on as many as possible.
Let us not underestimate the temptations and pull of this world. We should remember the rich young man who came to the Lord Jesus to seek for eternal life. He went away sad because he could not give up his riches (see Matthew 19:16-22). The love of money and wealth can be a snare and a bondage. Lot chose the plains of Sodom, seeing that it was rich and fertile. However, years later, he found it difficult to free himself from Sodom and Gomorrah, so much so that the angels of God had to seize his hand and bring him out, outside the city.
The world can suck us into her system and it may not be so easy to get out. It was said that many young ladies, when asked about their choice of an ideal marriage partner in today’s society, preferred their men to have the 4 “Cs” – namely cash, credit card, car and condominium. Sadly, they left out a very important “C”, that is, character. No doubt, their choice has been influenced, in no small way, by the standards and values of this world. The 4 “Cs” have been associated with success and achievement in society and this has been ingrained in the minds of many young people, Christians and non-Christians alike. For God’s children, the effect can be very subtle. It can begin with the thought, “After all, as Christians, we should be good stewards of our money”. So, the idea may start off with wanting to invest wisely which may be appropriate up to this point. But before long, the Lord’s people may find themselves speculating in shares, foreign currencies and properties, no longer just investing but being carried away with the business of pursuing more and more money, and being involved and immersed in worldly affairs and gambling to a point that they lose sight of the spiritual and the eternal. 1 Timothy 5:9-10 sounds out the warning loud and clear – “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang”.
Moses, as a young man, was faced with the temptations and pull of the world. Brought up as a prince in the splendour of Egypt, surrounded by the knowledge of the times and in the midst of wealth and power, Moses had a choice. He chose not to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sins, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (see Hebrews 11:24-26). Will we allow the world to impose her values and standards upon us? Or, like Moses, will we choose to identify with something far more beautiful and meaningful in God’s desires and values for us?
The temptations and pull of this world can affect us in another way. Besides imposing its values and standards of living upon us, the world can subtly cause MORAL DECAY to set in. Included in this are lust, sin and corruption. We may not have to look very far to see this illustrated. In the many films and books today, and among them are big box office attractions and best sellers, we can see the so-called hero often depicted as a man who is very individualistic and rebellious, one who believes in violence to right a wrong and he will not hesitate to arrogantly break many arms or to pump in bullets along the way, even hurting passers-by and damaging property all in the name of apparent justice. Such a hero is also one who does not believe in commitment and responsibility in marriage relationships. Women just swoon over him and he goes from one woman to another with such rapidity that one wonders whether there is any moral decency at all in his life.
In the world of pop music, lyrics glorifying drug addiction and loose moral values are sung with gusto and though the lives of the various pop stars are morally degrading and way out, yet, millions of young people idolise them and desire to pattern their lives after theirs. Some of the songs and lyrics are not just morally unacceptable, but the spirit behind the songs can actually be very damaging spiritually; yet the further these pop stars stray from good moral values, the more popular they seem to become. Those who seek to pattern their lives after the hero in the film or the pop star may think themselves as not “squares”. They believe they can think for themselves and are different from the so-called establishment. In reality, they are under the bondage of moral decay and corruption. One day, they may wake up too late to realise this and their lives may have already been badly hurt.
However, moral decay is not just affecting the young and the gullible. It affects all strata of society, including the so-called sophisticated and educated who indulge in activities ranging from gossip to immoral behaviour; only they may not be so obvious or conspicuous to the eyes of the public.
Even religious circles are not spared. We read and hear of churches anointing homosexuals as bishops, and talking about a review and a more liberal view of various moral issues in society. For instance, consenting adults of the same sex can enter into a marriage union, approved by the church. The world can exert so much pressure as to cause even churches to compromise on moral issues which have clear scriptural teaching and backing. From what we can understand, this pressure would increase in the last days.
In 2 Peter 2:10-20 and 2 Peter 3:3, we see a description of the activities of the flesh and moral decay. In the last days, lust, corruption and indulgence of the flesh can become the order of the day and verse 20 suggests that even God’s children who have escaped the defilement of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can also become entangled again in them, the last state being worse for them than the first. The influence of the world in the direction of moral decay will not spare even those who are children of God and we must take this seriously. It is with this concern that the apostle Peter sounded out the following warnings. “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking to and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found in Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:11-14). Indeed, we need to be diligent in keeping ourselves free from the defilement of this world, and in maintaining a holy conduct worthy of our high calling.
The pull and temptations of this world can affect God’s people in another manner, and this is manifested in disloyalty to God as well as outright rebellion and denial of the Lord. We are aware of how Demas, in love with the world, deserted Paul. In the Old Testament context, Korah was one man who epitomised the spirit of arrogance and rebellion, for he wanted the status and honour which were reserved by God for the house of Aaron. This longing for status and recognition on Korah’s part was probably due to his yielding to the temptation of the world. The world’s standards and values can draw Christians so far away that they begin to rationalise as well as harden their hearts and conscience to a point that they would reject the Lord’s ways for their own lives.
We see the Lord Jesus Himself referring to this in Matthew 24:10-12 in the context of the last days. The prospect of many falling away, the reality of the love of many growing cold and denying the Lord are harsh reminders of how difficult the last days will be like. We need to take care of our own lives lest we too be disqualified and fall along the wayside.
Hebrews 6:4-8 spells out the dangers and seriousness of falling away and denying the Lord. The consequences and judgment of such a matter cannot be taken lightly. In the book of Hebrews, again and again these words of exhortation appear – “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…”
The world can seek to impose its standards upon us; it can sow the seed of moral decay and move us in the direction of falling away from the Lord but if we maintain an openness before God and refuse to harden our hearts and conscience when we hear His voice, there is still hope for us to overcome. On the other hand, if we co-operate with the spirit of the world and seek to have the better of both worlds, desiring what the world has to offer and yet still clinging somewhat to the promise of eternal life, then we are toying with the perils that may plunge us into a situation where there is no turning back! Let us not toy with the grace of God!