June 3 – Conforming to Christ

Do not love the world or the things in the world.

1 John 2:15

As Christians, we are new creations and members of the church of Jesus Christ, and therefore unique. As a result, we should not live like people in the world. The world is proud; we are humble. The world is fragmented; we are united. The world is impotent; we are gifted. The world is hateful; we are full of love. The world doesn’t know the truth; we do. If we don’t walk any differently from the world, we won’t accomplish Christ’s goals. If we live like people in the world, we essentially are imitating the dead (Eph. 2:1–5), and that doesn’t make sense.

Christians are like a new race. We have a new spiritual, incorruptible seed, and we must live a lifestyle that corresponds to it. We are new creations who have been suited for an eternal existence. As a result, we can discard our old lifestyle and be conformed to the life of Christ.[1]


2:15, 16 We are plainly warned not to love the world or the things that are in the world, for the simple reason that love for the world is not compatible with love for the Father. All that the world has to offer may be described as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh refers to such sensual bodily appetites as proceed from within our evil nature. The lust of the eyes applies to such evil desires as may arise from what we see. The pride of life is an unholy ambition for self-display and self-glory. These three elements of worldliness are illustrated in the sin of Eve. The tree was good for food; that is the lust of the flesh. The tree was pleasant to the eyes; that is the lust of the eyes. It was a tree to be desired to make one wise; this describes the pride of life.

As the devil is opposed to Christ, and the flesh is hostile to the Spirit, so the world is antagonistic to the Father. Appetite, avarice, and ambition are not of the Father, but of the world. That is, they do not proceed from the Father, but find their source in the world. Worldliness is the love for passing things. The human heart can never find satisfaction with things.[2]


Do Not Love the World

2:15

After an appeal to the believers, the author sounds a warning not to love the world. Love for the world precludes love for the Father. We see a parallel between the words of John and those of James, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). John writes,

  1. Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

John issues a stern warning not to love the world. He says “do not love,” not “do not like” the world. The word love that John employs is the same term he uses in verse 10 where he speaks about the person who loves his brother. The love which he has in mind is that of attachment, intimate fellowship, loyal devotion. It is the love which God demands in the summary of the law: “Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.”

John directs his warning to those people who already have switched allegiance and are now giving their undivided attention to the affairs of the world. He tells them to stop loving the world and to desist from pursuing their worldly interests. He is not talking about a single incident but about a lifestyle.

John mentions the expression world—a word that is typically Johannine. This word has various meanings, as John illustrates in his first epistle: the world of the believers, the world of sin, the world of the devil.

Thus John writes that Jesus is the Savior of the world (4:15) and that by faith the Christian is able to overcome the world (5:4–5). According to John, the characteristics of the world are cravings, lust, and boasting (2:16). The world passes away (2:17) and is ignorant of God (3:1). It hates the believers (3:13) and is the abode of false prophets (4:1), the antichrist (4:3), and unbelievers (4:5). And last, the whole world is controlled by the evil one (5:19). Concludes Donald Guthrie, “There is therefore in I John a strong parallel between the ‘world’ and the ‘devil.’ ”

  1. John warns the readers against loving the world and that which belongs to it. He does not advise the Christian to abandon this world or to live in seclusion. John stresses not that a Christian separate himself from the world. Rather, he says that a believer should keep himself from a love for the world. Note that in this relatively short verse the concept love precedes the concept world. What, then, is John saying? In a sentence: “Love for the world and love for the Father cannot exist side by side.” The Christian will love the one and hate the other, but he cannot love both at the same time (compare Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). The sinful world stands diametrically opposed to the Father. John describes this world in verse 16.[3]

The Command Not to Love the World

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. (2:15a)

By examining its use in a particular biblical context, and properly comparing Scripture with Scripture, one can understand the various meanings of the term world. In this verse it is clear what John is not referring to. First, he is not speaking of the physical world, or the created order. John would not have commanded his readers to hate something that God in Genesis 1:31 pronounced was originally “very good.” Even though creation is marred by the fall (cf. Genesis 3), nature’s physical beauties still reflect God’s glory and demand praise. The psalmist expressed this principle eloquently:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Ps. 19:1–6; cf. 104:1–32; Acts 14:15–17; 17:23–28; Rom. 1:20)

Second, John would not have commanded believers to hate the world of humanity. That is because God loves people in the world and sent His Son to be the propitiation for their sin (see 2:2; 4:9–10, 14; cf. John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 2:3–6; Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–5).

The world and its things, which John warned his readers not to love, is the invisible, spiritual system of evil. It is the kosmos (“world order,” “realm of existence,” “way of life”) governed by Satan; as Paul reminded the Ephesians, “You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Later in this letter John wrote: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19; cf. 4:1–5; John 12:31). The “world” here refers to the same evil system that Jesus referred to when He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18; cf. 17:14). So, it was not humanity in general or the created order that hated Christ, but rather the wicked, corrupt (2 Peter 2:19), demonic ideologies and enterprises that stimulate fallen humanity (cf. Matt. 13:19, 38; 2 Cor. 2:11; 4:4; 11:14; 1 Thess. 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 16:14). In keeping with this understanding, the apostle Paul correctly viewed the world as engaged in a massive spiritual war against the kingdom of God:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3–5; cf. Eph. 6:11–13)

“Speculations” means ideologies or belief systems, ranging from primitive, animistic systems to sophisticated, complex world religions, philosophies, political theories, or any unbiblical worldviews. They represent all unbelieving ideas and dogmas that, often from an elitist standpoint, rise up against the true knowledge of God. In response, believers are commanded to confront and destroy the world’s spiritual lies and false speculations with the truth. Paul thus identifies the world as the full spectrum of beliefs and inclinations that oppose the things of God, and John implicitly echoes that definition. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is no longer a slave to the world system. Christians have been “rescued … from the domain of darkness, and transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17–18; Eph. 5:6–12).[4]


15 John prefaces his fourth test with a comprehensive admonition. Again following his dualistic framework, John draws a boundary between God’s people and everyone else: “If anyone loves the world, [then] the love of the Father is not in him.” Love “of the Father” here seems to be, as at 2:5, an objective genitive (love “for the Father”). As John 3:16 indicates, God loves everyone, including the world, but those who are of the world and those who love the world do not love him.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 172). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2313–2314). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 269–270). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 82–83). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[5] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 445). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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