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THE CHURCH WORLD OR THE WIDE WORLD?

by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, March 13, 2016

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15-17).


The Greek word translated “world” in these verses is “kosmos.” It does not mean the physical earth. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “It means the world system, the organized system headed by Satan which leaves God out and is actually in opposition to Him.” Dr. McGee went on to say, “We need to recognize that we are going to be obedient to one world or the other. You are either going to obey the world system and live in it and enjoy it, or you are going to obey God” (Thru the Bible, volume 5, p. 774; note on I John 2:15).

Every person here this morning is often faced with that choice – to follow the world or to follow God. Every one of you will give first place in your life to the world, or you will give the first place in your life to God. This conflict becomes especially vital to those who are in college or starting a career. That’s when you decide what you are going to do with your life.

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15-17).

Our text gives three kinds of temptations in the world: “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (v. 16). The first is the easiest to understand, “the lust of the flesh.” To young people the word “lust” means only one thing – sex! Some have lost their souls because they chose sexual sin and would not turn from it. I can think of some young people who left our church because they lusted after the sexual sin of the world.

But most of you aren’t falling into the lust of the flesh. You may think that because you avoid the sin of the flesh, and because you keep coming to church, that you have already passed the greatest test, and there is nothing more to worry about. All you have to do is to go on with your life. But you are wrong!!!

Have you forgotten “the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”? Those will ruin your life as surely as the lust of the flesh. These two temptations are especially dangerous because they are more subtle than the lust of the flesh. You don’t see them for what they are. You don’t even realize that they are temptations from Satan.

That’s what happened before the Flood. Christ said that in the days of Noah, “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage” until they were drowned in the Flood (Luke 17:27). In the days of Lot “they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded” until they were burned to ashes in the judgment of God! (Luke 17:28). How did they go wrong? Eating, drinking, buying, selling, getting married, planting and building are not sinful in themselves. They are a part of life. What went wrong? Many of you know the answer. They gave the first place in their lives to those things – instead of God.

That’s how so many are deceived by the world. That’s how the world can deceive you. You haven’t fallen to the lust of the flesh. But you are tricked and ensnared and taken captive by “the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” These aren’t as obviously wrong as sex sins. They seem legitimate and right. In their proper place, they are right – like eating and buying and building – until you value them too highly and take them as your priority, ahead of the will of God. Pinocchio went to “Pleasure Island.” There’s nothing wrong with having some fun. But he gave himself to it – and he almost turned into a jackass – a donkey!

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:16).

What do I mean by “the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”? I’m talking about money and the things money can buy – a house, a car, nice clothes, fancy trips, everything else. We all have to live somewhere. We all have to wear clothes. But when money and what it buys catches your eye and becomes your main goal, and you go on for more and more, you have been captured and enslaved by the lust of the eyes.

I’m talking about the praises of lost people. I’m talking about honors and promotions and titles and certificates and all the nice things people say about you. Yes, you should do well in school. Yes, you should get a job and work hard at it. But when the honors and promotions and titles and praises turn your head away from the things of God, you have been taken captive by the pride of life.

You can pass the easy tests. You can pass the obvious tests – the tests that aren’t subtle and tricky. You can come to church and keep on coming. That’s easy if you were born here; all you have to do is come with your family. You can stay away from sexual sin. It’s easy to see that you should not have sex until you’re married. Most of you have passed these easy tests.

But some of you have forgotten that “the serpent [is] more subtil than any beast of the field” (Genesis 3:1). Once you pass the easy tests, the Devil will come after you in more subtle and tricky ways. He won’t appear as a red monster with horns and a pitchfork and say, “Come and worship me.” The Bible says, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (II Corinthians 11:14). He will put things in front of you that look good. Like the witch in Snow White, he will say, “Want an apple, dearie?” There’s nothing wrong with most apples, but there are some apples that are poisonous! Satan will put things in front of you that are good in their place – but he wants you to take them out of their place and make them the main thing in your life – as your god.

You passed the easy tests. You stayed in the church. You kept your body out of sin. You went to evangelism. You prayed. You loved the people of God. You loved the work of God. You thought you had passed all the great tests of life. But the tests were really only beginning.

Now come the harder tests. Now there are other things that you lust after. You’re thinking about a career, with its salary, and the things you can finally buy, and the security and independence you can finally have. You’re thinking about dating and marriage. You’re thinking about moving up at school or work – with honors and raises and people speaking well of you. It took time and effort to get these things – and there they are, one shining bauble after another in front of you, one step after another up the ladder. These are not obvious sins in themselves – but they call out to you and lure you and beckon to you and steal your soul. They are like the sirens of ancient Greece – mermaids that sat on ocean rocks and enticed unwary sailors to their doom.

Now you are pulled this way and that. You have conflicts in your life, with your time, and deepest of all, in your heart. You don’t realize you’re being pulled by the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. After all, you’re in the church, aren’t you? Isn’t that good enough? Those new things you’ve come to love seem so good. Why should you put them in second place?

You’ve forgotten that the Apostle Paul said, “But this one thing I do... I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14). Instead you are pressing toward another mark, another goal, to receive another prize. On and on you go – and on you will go – to mark after mark, goal after goal, prize after prize, not seeing that you are being taken captive by the love of the world. Samson was a strong man who could slay hundreds of Philistines in battle. But this big, strong man was weakened and destroyed by the flattering voice of a woman.

You won’t realize that this is a test of your conversion. You won’t remember that Jesus said, “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). You’ll think that you’re educated and grown up, and you have more to think about, more to do. You’ll put your attention and effort there – and not in the church, not in the work of God. At first you’ll go on in the church as you are, but your heart will not be in it as it was before. Then you’ll have increasingly less room and less time for God. You’ll come to church as little as you can and do as little as you can – and you may stop coming completely. Others have done that, you know! At one time they said they were Christians. Why do you think this can’t happen to you? The Bible says, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). Watch out! Watch out! Be careful you don’t fall!

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (I John 2:15, 16).

The Devil won’t come as a red monster with horns and a pitchfork. Instead he will work through people. If you came to our church from a non-Christian background, you already know this. Buddhist or secular relatives often say, “Don’t go to that church. Don’t go so often. Just be like everyone else.” That’s what happens at the beginning.

Years later, the Devil will come to you again. After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the Devil “departed from him for a season” – for a while. The Devil will come to you again, like he did to Jesus. And again, he won’t come as a red monster with horns and a pitchfork. He will use people to pull you away with the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. He won’t use people you dislike. He won’t use people who aren’t worth listening to. The Devil is too smart for that. He will come as an angel of light. He will disguise himself as something good. He will use people you like and respect. He will use people at your work who you learned from – what are called “mentors” in the business world. He’ll use people at your college who you admire and respect – your professors and other “mentors” in your life. You will listen to them and follow their advice. You won’t think of it this way, but they will become your real pastor – your shepherd, your guide.

They’ll offer you the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. You won’t think it’s a temptation. It will look good to you. But it will pull your love away from Christ. The pride of life will pull you along step by step, through mark after mark and goal after goal, until Christ and the church seem like old things that belong to your past. When you were young, Christ and the church seemed very important, but now you will begin to put them on a shelf into a smaller part of your life.

When do the lust of the eyes and the pride of life come to you? Not when you’re a child, or in high school. When you’re a child, your family is your world. If you’re in the church, your family and the church are your whole world. You live in the “church world.” That’s your only world. But when you get to college, and when you graduate and move on, you enter a different world. If you grew up in church, you never really lived in this new world before. It seems new and exciting. It raises questions you hadn’t thought about. It offers what seems like freedom, knowledge, and excitement, and other things you didn’t have before.

What is this new world? Why, it’s “the world.” It’s what the Bible calls the “kosmos” – in English, “the world,” the wide world. You always knew it was there. But now it’s open to you. Now you can think and choose for yourself. You’re tempted as you never were before. What makes it so bad is the fact that you don’t even think of it as temptation. Now the world offers you things – what look like really good things. An old hymn says that when you turn your eyes upon Jesus, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.” But now it goes the other way. The things of earth shine brightly. They are real and valuable to you. It is the things of God that grow dim. They aren’t new to you. And so it goes – and goes – until you’re a captive – like Samson, with blinded eyes, grinding at the mill-wheel of the world!

Watch out! Watch that you don’t fall! Stronger and smarter people than you have fallen. I think of a dozen men about my age. They said they were Christians. Some said they wanted to be in the ministry. They went to college. Some went to seminary. But they all fell. Every one of them was enslaved by the world. Some went into the lust of the flesh. Others went into open unbelief. More of them slipped into the pride of life. Now some don’t go to church at all, and others only on Sunday morning. None of them are doing anything for God. None of them are soul winners. None of them go to Sunday evening services. They are what the Bible calls “shipwrecked.”

Watch out! Watch that you don’t fall! I can think of a dozen boys and girls about your age. At one time they said they were Christians. But some went into the lust of the flesh. More of them slipped into the pride of life. Could it happen to you? Be careful that it doesn’t!

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15-17).

How can you do that? Be honest and humble enough to talk over your decisions with the pastor and leaders of the church. The Bible says, “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end” (Proverbs 19:20). It amazes me how often people make major decisions in their life without speaking with the pastor. Why did God put a pastor and Christian leaders in the church? Yes, to bring you to Christ – but there is another reason too. The Bible says, “they watch for your souls” (Hebrews 13:17). It is the job of the pastor and Christian leaders to watch for your soul and help you to have a spiritual and successful Christian life. But this won’t happen if you don’t seek their counsel about the big decisions of your life. You will write a note to ask the leaders when to go on vacation. But you never even think of asking the leaders about your career! What madness!

Before I was converted I read this verse in the Bible, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). I read it again two chapters later, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 16:25). I said to myself, “You can think you’re going the right way, but really you’re in the way of death.” Then God applied it to me – “I thought I was in the right way, but really I am in the way of death.” God showed me that truth. A few months later I was converted.

Those words are still in the Bible, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Will you listen to those words? Can they speak to you? Could it be that the way which seems right to you is really the way of death? Is it you who are tempted and deceived? Is it you who needs to be on guard and put Christ first? Is it you who needs to wake up? I pray that you will wake up now, before you go farther astray.

And now let me apply this to you who are not yet saved. You are faced with the same choice – will you belong to the world or will you belong to God? It begins with deciding to come back to church. The Devil will tell you, “Don’t go back to church. You’ve got other things to do.” The Devil will use unbelieving friends and relatives to tell you, “Don’t go back there to church. You’ve got other things to do. Just be like us.” You’ll have to decide what to do. It is my prayer that you’ll come back to church.

And every one of you will either trust Jesus Christ – or you will refuse to trust Him. The most important thing you will ever do in your life is – trust Jesus and be saved. Jesus died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He shed His Blood to wash away your sin. If you trust Him, Christ will save you for all eternity. Jesus said, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28). Will you turn Him away – or will you trust Him? I pray that you will trust Jesus today. Amen.  

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: I John 2:15-17.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Nothing Between” (by Charles A. Tindley, 1851-1933;
altered by Dr. Hymers).