Christians do lots of whacky things to try and prove themselves to be who they say they are. We have all the best intentions in the world, I assure you. But often we are confused as to why we even do what we do.
When I first became a follower of Jesus, I thought it meant that I needed to sell all of my Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin CDs to the Record Exchange (except of course for “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Zeppelin I & IV”, because these were too classic to part with). But the rest of the albums went up for sale, and I quickly tried to replace them with supposedly less threatening music. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but under the advice of new Christian friends, I bought Creed’s “Human Clay“. I was dismayed when I later realized that Scott Stapp was an alcoholic and womanizer, and that Creed just sucked. I’m happy for Scott Stapp now, because he has regained his sobriety and renewed his faith.
But I did things like this because I thought they would make me more holy. I found a lot of “Christian” music that I liked, bands like DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, P.O.D., and Ten Shekel Shirt were some favorites. But many “Christian” bands in the world seemed to stamp that label on themselves to get a record deal. I found out later that many “Christian” bands were into drugs behind closed doors, or were hypocritical and greedy (big surprise). So they were really no different than a lot of bands in the world who didn’t label themselves as “Christian”.
The surviving members of Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin should know that I re-bought almost every album I sold away. The music was just too good, and most of it wasn’t offensive. I realized that I wasn’t being “worldly” by listening to it. I now find myself listening to lots of different music, “Christian” music included, and discerning what the songs are really saying. I have great conversations with people about music and its’ power, message and influence on society, while using the scriptures as a filter for understanding and meaning.
I could name a myriad of other odd things that we Christians do to prove our holiness to “the world”. We reject the celebration of certain holidays. We add extra rules to the bible about pre-marital purity and tell our kids that they can’t kiss before the wedding altar- which is a good thing, though not specifically commanded in scripture. We vehemently say that one can’t drink alcohol or smoke any tobacco, for these are sins equal to adultery and lying. We treat the gay community as lepers who are unworthy to have a meaningful relationship with Jesus. Some of us marginalize liberals, and others of us marginalize conservatives. We live lives of fear, afraid to even converse or associate with certain people who practice certain religious things like Wicca or other earth religion.
But how does scripture seem to define “the world”?
15 (A)Do not love the world or the things in the world. (B)If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—(C)the desires of the flesh and (D)the desires of the eyes and pride of life[a]—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And(E)the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2)
The apostle John simply defines the world in three categories.
“The desires of the flesh”… Or lusting after things based on carnal passion. If I filled my life and mind with porn and a plethora of sexual partners, I’d be fulfilling this desire wrongly. But instead, I have the privilege of being married to a beautiful wife, and we can enjoy the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of sex. Before I knew my wife Sarah, when I was also a follower of Jesus, I did my best to abstain from giving into “the desires of my flesh”. I didn’t do it perfectly, but the Spirit of God carried me through some tough temptations.
I was led by my flesh before I followed Jesus to do drugs, numbing my body and mind. My body became physically addicted to nicotine and pills, and my mind became psychologically addicted to psychoactive drugs like marijuana and psychedelics. This was a “desire of the flesh” that God took away when Jesus imploded His presence into my spirit and soul.
For others, “desires of the flesh” could be same sex attraction, or the lure of strip clubs and prostitution. I have friends who struggle with addiction to alcohol, I have friends that struggle with addiction to narcotics. It’s a hard road and our physical desires are potent. Only the Spirit of God can change those desires into healthy ones, and this is why the scriptures describe “the desires of the flesh” as worldly.
“The desires of the eyes…” The NLT describes this as “a craving for everything we see”. We live in an internet billboard existence where the illusions of a better life are dangled before our eyes like a sexy carrot in the face of a rabbit (to borrow a metaphor from Donald Miller). Fake, airbrushed female bodies on Glamorous Cosmopolitan-like magazines dance before average male and female eyeballs like mental mouse traps. We covet everything. We want a better body, better health, better looking hair and better looking friends. The scripture says that these desires are “of the world”, because they take our eyes off of the only one who gives us our true worth- God Himself. God created us uniquely to live healthy, happy, meaningful lives. Yet when we constantly compare our reality to that of everyone else in the plastic rat-race facade, we become disillusioned and bewildered.
“The pride of life…” The MESSAGE translates this as; “wanting to appear important”. In our Facebook/Twitter image society, we all are driven by ego. Not many of us desire to live transparent lives where our honesty and integrity shines through. Even followers of Jesus do things outwardly in an effort to appear righteous to the watching “world”. But God cares about our heart condition. He wants us to be able to be the same person everywhere we are. No pretensions, no phoniness. In a world where people exert their pride, albeit in a societal or spiritual sense, we are called to appear as fools and misfits. When we live lives that don’t seek to preserve our image, we will jar fraudulent masqueraders into facing themselves. The scripture defines the quest for ego satisfaction as being “worldly”.
So, whether you listen to Christian or secular music, celebrate Halloween or the Harvest, abstain from alcohol or have the occasional one or two microbrews, hang with ‘weirdos’ or ‘normals’ (whoever ‘they’ are!), please consider this: The definition of “the world” according to scripture is something that is plaguing your own heart, and not just the culture outside of you. None of us is immune to “the love of the world”, but fortunately, “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” May we seek the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit Himself, that gives us the strength to stand out like a sore thumb amidst the corruption that surrounds us.