I’ve said many times here that the heart is the gatekeeper to everything we will receive from God. It’s the rudder that determines the course of our life (Prov.4:23). It’s with the heart that we believe (Rom.10:10). But I also hope to show you that our heart will determine who will win the battle over our soul. With this in mind, let’s look at a very familiar passage from John’s first epistle.
I really like how the Passion Translation brings it out:
15 Don’t set the affections of your heart on this world or in loving the things of the world. The love of the Father and the love of the world are incompatible. 16 For all that the world can offer us—the gratification of our flesh, the allurement of the things of the world, and the obsession with status and importance—none of these things come from the Father but from the world. 17 This world and its desires are in the process of passing away, but those who love to do the will of God live forever. (1 John 2:15-17 TPT*)
“Heart” means, “the seat of our affections.” The “world,” in this context, means “the human sociological realm that exists in estrangement from God” (Walter Wink).
So, when John says, “love not the world” in our more familiar translations, he’s basically saying, “Don’t set your affections on things from a sociological construct that’s alienated from God.”
But this does NOT mean we’re not to love the people of the world or not be part of the world. God SO loved the world (people) that He gave Jesus (John 3:16). Jesus meant for us to be in this world but not of it (John 17:13-16). So then, what are we to make of John’s statement?
First, understand that this world and God’s world are incompatible at a systemic level. Metaphorically speaking, they find their source from two very different “Trees.” This world eats from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; God’s world eats from the Tree of Life. Both trees produce fruit. The former produces selfishness, lust, fear, greed, grasping for power, insecurity, hatred, dissipation, and ultimately death; the latter produces other-centered love, peace, joy, all goodness, and everlasting life (Gal.5:19-23).
Both gain access to us through our affections.
This passage also clearly lays out the “God of this world’s” strategy for blinding us to this truth (2 Cor.4:4). He does this because when we open our hearts to God’s love, we begin to see who we really are, which is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to him!
You’ve probably heard that these three things—“the gratification of our flesh, the allurement of the things of the world, and the obsession with status and importance—were also how Adam and Eve were tempted by the Serpent (Gen.3:6). This is true.
When our first parents were poisoned by its evil fruit, the world system as we now know it came into being. And while it has made major advancements over the thousands of years since, the Modus Operandi is still the same—it reframes our sensual desires, our vision, and our search for significance.
But why these three specific areas?
To get to the “heart” of this, let’s go back to the first temptation. What did the Serpent offer Adam and Eve? He told them they would be like God. But the truth was they already were like God! (See Gen.1:26-28.)
The problem they had, and we can have today, is that they (and we) didn’t know their true identity. They didn’t know they had already been given all things, that they were God’s image bearers, His son and daughter, and that they were to rule and reign with the One who created it all!
They thought like spiritual orphans.
They didn’t trust the process so they stayed blind to who they were (see John 8:31-32 MSG).
Spiritual orphans will always go after the counterfeit things of this world to try to obtain what God has already given them in Him.
Think about these three counterfeit affections for a moment.
First, we’re offered counterfeit sensual pleasures. But where does the Source of ultimate pleasure come from? We find fullness of joy and pleasures in the presence of the Lord! (Psalm 16:11). We find love by receiving love from God (John 15:9-12), which is the only way we’ll truly learn how to be loved and love others.
Second, because our vision is blurred, we adopt a counterfeit perspective of life—seeing the events of our life circumstantially rather than how God sees them. Like our first parents, we paint God with the Serpent’s brush and keep our distance from this false religious deity we’ve invented in our minds (Gen.3:1-5, 8-9). This “original lie” is designed to keep us from knowing the truth that would make us free (John 8:32; 14:6).
As Wendy Backlund says, our problem is, our brain is always looking for proof of what we already believe. So, we won’t see reality or ourselves clearly until we believe what God believes about us. And this gets to the third temptation.
When our heart’s not open to what God says about us, we’ll search for significance in all the wrong places. Like Adam and Eve, we’ll forever be chasing after something God has already given us. We will fight, grasp for power, take advantage of others, even hurt the people we love, all because we still feel insignificant at a deep heart level.
The point is, we already have all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet.1:3-4). They’re just latent, waiting for discovery. We already have the Source of all love, joy, and pleasure (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11); we already have the mind of Christ and can live from heaven’s perspective (1 Cor.2:16; Eph.2:6; Phil 3:20); and we’re already our heavenly Father’s most precious sons and daughters (Gal.4:4-6), a kingdom of priests (1 Pet 2:4-5) who will even judge the angels one day (2 Cor.6:3). We’re an unprecedented species, a new creation, which means, of a different order (2 Cor.5:17).
We’re already the most significant beings under heaven!
But when we don’t know this, we’ll act like “mere humans” (1 Cor.3:3).
Don’t let this “sociological construct” sell you a cheap imitation. Only accept your authentic self in Christ, stay in the process, and you will find “you” when you open your heart to His love and let Him define you.
Beloved, this is John’s message to us: there’s an epic battle over who has the seat of your affections, and you decide who wins. And whoever wins your heart, wins your soul.