What Does It Mean to Be in the World but Not of the World?

Originally posted on the Bibles for America Blog.

In the Bible, the Greek word kosmos, translated world in English, has different meanings depending on its context. The meaning of kosmos we’ll discuss today is “system” or “organization,” specifically, the organized system set up by Satan to keep people from living for God.

God gave us a strong and unequivocal command concerning the world in 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world.”

As Christians, we need to know clearly what the world is so we can guard ourselves from loving it and being deceived and distracted by it.

Where did the world come from?

God did not, of course, create the world as this anti-God system. God created the heavens and the earth and all the things on the earth so that mankind could live to fulfill His purpose.

For example, God took care of Adam and Eve in every way in the Garden of Eden. He provided their protection, their provision, and even their pleasure and enjoyment in His presence. What God created was ordained by Him for human beings to exist and live for Him.

But when mankind fell and was corrupted by Satan, Satan began to organize the very things created by God for mankind’s existence into his system. Mankind needed food, so he systemized food. Mankind needed enjoyment and pleasure, so he systemized entertainment. In this way Satan formed the world, a system to occupy human beings, to take them away from God and from living for His purpose.

We can see the beginning of this world system in Genesis 4. Cain, who had murdered his brother, left God’s presence and went out on his own. Being without God and God’s protection, Cain needed to secure his safety, so he built a city for himself and his family. In this city, Cain’s descendants continued to live without God or God’s care. So to care for themselves, they invented cattle raising for their provision, music making for their amusement, and metal forging for weaponry. Cain’s city was the beginning of a worldly culture that existed apart from God.

The needs of Cain’s family were not sinful. In fact, mankind’s need for protection, provision, and pleasure existed before sin ever came into the picture. However, God’s intention was to provide and even to be all these things for us. When Cain left God’s presence, He left the proper source of supply for all his needs. Thus, Satan had the opportunity to use the necessities of life to bring him into a world system that replaced God and existed apart from Him.

The development of the world

This world system has grown. Today Satan continues to use every day, legitimate necessities like food, clothing, housing, and transportation to capture our hearts and consume our time. We only have to look around to see all the advertisements, products, activities, and inventions vying to attract us. We may need these things, but the world makes us want more than we really need.

Any of these things can become something that takes our time and energy away from God. For example, everywhere there seems to be a new restaurant, a new diet, or a new food craze. We certainly need to eat to live, but Satan has systemized food, making it an end in and of itself. We eat for pleasure, we use our energy to find and enjoy the tastiest cuisine, and we spend so much time and money on restaurants and food products. In this way, Satan usurps our legitimate need for food, occupying our being with this part of his system.

Satan has also systemized clothing. The world makes us feel we must have certain kinds of clothes. As a result, we expend a lot of time considering different styles, and we spend our money on buying new clothes. The necessity of being clothed is utilized by Satan’s world system to take up more and more of our lives.

Additionally, as we spend more and more on the latest foods and fashions, we have to work harder and longer to pay for these things. In the end, we have less time and energy for God, and less money we can offer to Him for the advancement of His kingdom. We’re fully distracted by the attractive things of the world.

More things of the world

Perhaps food or clothing isn’t our problem. Perhaps video games, sports, art, or the theater are what draw us. We must remember that Satan is crafty. We may look down on a particular thing that draws someone else and even wonder how they could be captured by it, but the world system has something for everyone.

The world consists of sinful things, certainly, but not only of sinful things. The world also includes things such as religion, culture, education, industry, commerce, and entertainment. All of these can be used by Satan to fill our time, take our energy, and occupy our thoughts so that we have less and less for God.

First John 5:19 tells us, “The whole world lies in the evil one.”

Satan keeps human beings under his control by using the world. He uses anything and everything as part of his system to attract and occupy people. He controls some by their careers. Others he occupies by music. With others, he uses education.

When anything, even what we consider a good thing, takes over our lives and causes us to be for something other than the Lord, we have to realize it has become the world to us. So the question isn’t, “Is this thing good or bad?” The question is, “Does this thing hinder my relationship with the Lord?” Whatever it is, if it’s something that hinders us from living for God and His purpose, it’s the world.

What should we do about the world?

How can we live a life that’s not distracted by the world? How can we live, in actuality, for God and for the fulfillment of His purpose? Is moving away from civilization or secluding ourselves the answer?

The Lord’s prayer in John 17:15-18 tells us what the Lord wants:

“I do not ask that You would take them out of the world, but that You would keep them out of the hands of the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”

These verses show us that God’s intention isn’t to remove us out of the world; it’s for us to be in the world, but not of the world. God wants us to live a normal human life on this earth, but without being under the control of the world as Satan’s system. He wants us to live for Him and to shine as testimonies to the world concerning Him.

What should we do?

Being controlled by Satan’s evil world system is a serious matter. We can only delve into a few helpful points in this post. All involve prayer and fellowship with the Lord.

1. We must “be saved from this crooked generation,” as Acts 2:40 says.

We can’t save ourselves. We need to be saved. A drowning man can’t save himself, but he can be saved by simply letting someone save him. If he struggles, still trying to save himself, he will actually hinder the person saving him. We need to realize that the Lord Jesus wants to save us from the world’s usurpation, and we need to let Him do this in us.

None of us are immune to the world’s attraction. Perhaps our education distracts us, or a desire to have a picture-perfect family, or wanting a high position in a particular field. We’re all distracted by different things, and the world has something to captivate the heart of every person. And what is perfectly fine for us today may become the world to us later. We should seriously consider, Does anything hinder us from loving the Lord and living for Him?

We need to pray and let the Lord shine on us to point out anything of the world that distracts us from Him. He is faithful, and He will shine and speak to us about specific things. When He does, we can pray, “Lord Jesus, this thing has become the world to me. Save me from the world in this matter. I would be saved by You. Don’t let me be usurped by Your enemy in this. Work in me to save me from this distraction.”

2. We can be, as 2 Peter 1:4 tells us, “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption which is in the world by lust.”

Our own energy and good intentions can’t deliver us from the power of the world. We need the energy of the divine life that comes from our partaking of the divine nature of God. The more we enjoy what God is, the more we’re able to escape the world’s corruption.

It’s crucial for us to spend time with the Lord Jesus each day to fellowship with Him and be fed by Him in His Word. When we’re spiritually weak and malnourished, the current of the world carries us away so easily. But we can be filled with the divine life through contacting the Lord in His Word and in prayer. Then we’ll be living and healthy during the day, like “fish” that can swim against the current of the world.

3. By loving God, we can keep ourselves from loving the world, as indicated in 1 John 2:15: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.”

Our hearts were created to love, so they have to love something. But our hearts were not meant to love the world. When we love the world, we have no room left to love God. But when we love God, our hearts have no room for the world, and we’re kept from loving it and being usurped by it.

Our daily need is to enjoy fellowship with the Lord in prayer and bathe in His love for us. As we enjoy His love for us, spontaneously our hearts will be filled with love for Him. The more we love Him, the more we’ll be delivered from the world and its allure. As we spend time with the Lord Jesus, contacting Him in our spirit and enjoying Him in His Word, we’ll be attracted to Christ as the most charming One in the universe. We’ll be filled with love for Him and not for the world. Right now we can pray,

“Lord Jesus, I love you, but I know I also love some worldly things. Have mercy on me. I would let you save me from the world. Teach me to live a life separated unto You so I can shine You forth to people. Lord, I desire to serve You and live for You. Purify my heart so I love the world less and less and love You more and more. Amen.”

May the Lord have mercy on all of us and save us from the world so we can live for Him and serve Him freely.

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