BACK AT THE BEGINNING, in the Garden of Eden, our ancestor Eve was deceived by the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit. The account is in Genesis chapter 3. The fruit had three qualities: ‘The woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (verse 6).
The account goes on to relate how Eve, and her husband Adam who was complicit in her disobedience, were cursed. That’s how sin and death came into the world. Their descendants inherit their mortality and their propensity to sin. They were ejected from the garden, and God set about the long and painful process of choosing from their descendants people who would succeed where they failed. That’s you and me, if we want it. People who believe and obey Him, where Adam and Eve disbelieved and disobeyed Him. People who will be given eternal life, when the curse is finally undone in the Kingdom of God. A process which is centred on God’s gift to the world of His Son, Jesus Christ:
For as by the one man’s disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [Christ] the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).
Love of the World
Our world, generally speaking, does not want to know God. True to the pattern set by Adam and Eve, most people would rather approach life on their own terms. The Bible often uses the term ‘the world’ to describe the vast majority of humanity, who would rather follow their own way than God’s. For example, the Apostle John urges his readers:
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 for ever (1 John 2:15–17).
Did you notice how he summarises ‘all that is in the world’? He’s referring back to the Garden of Eden. The fruit of the tree was good for food (desires of the flesh); a delight to the eyes (desires of the eyes); and to be desired to make one wise (the ESV which we’re using translates John’s words as ‘pride in possessions’, other versions translate them more accurately as ‘pride of life’).
What John is saying is that life in ‘the world’ without God is basically motivated by three factors—satisfying sensual urges (for example for food or sex); the acquisition of stuff (for example goods or property); and the promotion of self.
Of course, there is altruism. The world is not filled with selfishness, it’s lit up by small and large acts of kindness by all kinds of people, and it’s all the better for it. We’d expect this from creatures that are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But look at people around you, look at your own motivations—don’t you recognise John’s analysis of our human nature?
The Example of Jesus
As he prepared to die, Jesus Christ said ‘I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). He had lived his entire life resisting the selfish urges of his human nature, he had submitted his will entirely to that of God his Father, and he was about to perform the ultimate act of obedience by laying down his life (John 15:13).
The life of Jesus, as it’s presented in the Gospels, is an example for us in every respect. There is an episode at the beginning of his ministry where he demonstrates how to overcome the world. At the beginning of Luke 4 he has just been baptised; the power of God is at his disposal, and in an echo of Eve’s temptation in the Garden, he is led into the wilderness to be tested. Not by a serpent, but by ‘the devil’—his sin-prone human nature. First, he is tempted to satisfy the desire of his flesh by turning stones into bread (vs. 3–4). Then he is tempted to seize the world and all its glory (vs. 5–8). Then, to show off his power by throwing himself off the temple wall (vs. 9–12). Each an echo of Eve’s temptation, and John’s diagnosis of ‘the world’. And if you read the account you’ll see how he countered each temptation: ‘It is written…’ His mind was full of God’s Word, and he was so attuned to God’s will that he could recognise and dismiss each temptation as it appeared.
This is how to overcome the world. It’s not a struggle against an external opponent, it’s about overcoming our own innate impulses to disobey God. We do this by attuning our will to God’s will, and do that by absorbing His Word:
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:10–12).
Adam and Eve disobeyed God, and brought tragedy upon the world. Jesus Christ obeyed Him, and brought salvation. Remember John’s words: ‘The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides for ever’ (1 John 2:17).
There’s a simple choice facing each of us. To follow the way of the world, or to do the will of God.