We have looked at the first spiritual enemy – the carnal flesh and its effects on the mind, the desires and the conscience. To recapitulate, we need to recall why spiritual warfare and conflict still ‘troubles’ the believer even though he is born again. The conflict is the result of our now being ‘in Christ’ and yet, at the same time, living in the world. Since by nature we were dead in sin and need to live according to the fashions of the world, gratifying our own lusts (Eph. 2:1-3), our new lifestyle in Christ is bound to be on a collision course with the lifestyle of the world. As born again believers, our goals and motives now stand in complete contrast to the world around us. This radical difference makes tension, conflict. even stress inevitable. (2 Tim.3:1-9).
In the light of the above, we now can look at the second enemy Christians have to battle – the world. The revelation from the Bible is given us not merely to show how to gain heaven and to prepare for it; it is also to provide us principles to glorify God by creative living here and now on earth. God made man to rule the created order and to use it for His glory – believers therefore must have an interest in the world, in the sense that we are not to be detached from it such that we turn our back on it and stop caring about it – God cares for the world and loves the world (John 3:16) and the world here refers to the whole human race, the apex of the created order. The Lord Jesus also enjoined us to be light of the world and salt of the earth. Believers are given the work of world-wide witness, disciple-making and church planting (Matt. 24:13;28:19-20). We are called to practice neighbour-love, deeds of mercy and compassion and to respond to human need whenever God directs us to. Good works should be manifested to back up good words – the messenger must reflect the message of the gospel.
However, we are to be detached from the world in the sense that we do not regard it as our true home, nor look to it for our real reward, and hence lose our heart to it. We are not to forget that the devil is described as the prince of this world. The world here means community life organised without and against God, marshalled by the evil one and his minions. The broad way of the world, that is, living without regard for God, offered by the evil one, leads to death rather than life. The world, seen in this light, constitutes a spiritual enemy to the people of God. The Christian is called to develop a healthy contempt for this present world insofar as it is under the reign of sin. The slavish ‘love’ of this world makes the world to become our master and spoils our appetite for spiritual realities and for the world to come. On the one hand, the Christian sees the world in its fallenness and corruption and on the other hand, he has caught sight of the glorious majesty of God and the ‘joys and lasting treasures’ of the world to come.
“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).
Here the world refers to an organised system of human civilisation and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from Him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving and obeying his creator. Behind it is the formidable enemy, the ruler of this world, Satan himself. God’s demand is radical – do not love the world. In case we miss it, we may conclude that it is alright to love the world a little bit. But we cannot do so because the world is in fact a deceptive attraction, and the enemy knows it and he ‘designs’ it to attract the believer to his destruction. Our affections are set either on the world or on God – Scripture clearly states that it is ‘impossible’ to love both. The devil still employs the same strategy he used on Adam and Eve – he raises questions to suggest that God is not to be trusted. His Word cannot be depended upon. He is a spoilsport, whose only interest is to frustrate you and to inhibit you. ‘Go ahead and break free and start living’ – this is how he tempted us. The devil uses the natural appetites which God has created, to ensnare us – notice how he manipulates the flesh (carnal desires) and uses the deceptive attraction of the world to lure us away from God and into the bondage of the world and evil.
We need to realise that the world (and behind it the devil) cannot produce what it offers. It is like drinking salt water – the unquenchable thirst is increased and there is no satisfaction – only heartbreak and misery await those who succumb to the temptations of the world. The glamour and attractions of the world lead only to decay and empty human glory – they do not last and are in fact illusions, like the mirage which seems so real and yet are in reality mere illusory in nature. If we love the world, we cannot love God; if we ally ourselves with the world, we live for what cannot last and satisfy, and we condemn ourselves to its decay and ultimate judgement from God.
How then can we live with this world’s goods without being ensnared by them? John Calvin gave us a series of four principles. They are well worth remembering.
1) Recognise God as the source of every good gift. If we do, our lusts will be restrained, since we cannot simultaneously express gratitude to God and display unrestrained greed in consuming HIs provision. Thankfulness to Him will enable us to use the blessings of this world as though we did not possess them (1 Cor. 7:29-31).
2) When you have few of this world’s goods, learn contentment with your heavenly Father and with His present provision. Unless desires for ‘more’ are curbed when we have little, we will be incapable of a proper stewardship if we should ever have an abundance. We must always remember that everything we have is a stewardship. It is not the abundance of our possessions but the quality of our stewardship that is of cardinal importance. All we possess is His, not ours. Only those who have learned contentment when abased will experience that contentment if they later abound (Phil. 4:11-13).
3) Remember what your calling in life really is. You have been called to live in God’s presence and for His glory. If you do this, you will never be ensnared by the unruly passions of the flesh or by the pride of life.
4) Learn to live calmly in God’s world because you believe in God’s gracious sovereignty and you know that He is your Father.
The anchor of such a lifestyle is found in Romans 8:28-29. Christians know that they live in a world full of darkness and danger. But it is not dark to their Father; therefore it cannot, ultimately be dangerous for them. For their God works everything together for their good. Only the person who believes in a genuinely sovereign God can have that confidence. Indeed, man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever!