The Belgic Confession (1561) pictures God’s creation as, “a most beautiful book in which all created things, whether great or small, are as letters showing the invisible things of God to us.”1 When the angels in heaven sing before God they say, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created (Rev 4:11). The Psalmist wrote, The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein (Psa 24:1).
But the Bible does not always speak of the earth or the world in such glowing terms. The world did not know Christ (John 1:10) and Satan has become the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). We are to set [our] affection on things above, not on things on the earth (Col 3:2). At one point we are exhorted to Praise the LORD from the earth (Psa 148:7) and at another we are not to mind earthly things (Phil 3:19). What are we to make of this? Surely the Bible is not to be taken as the Koran with its doctrine of abrogation, where contradictions are settled by the later statement taking precedent over (abrogating) the earlier.2
The solution is well-known but not always remembered by Christians. We may say that God made the world if we mean by that, the globe upon which we live. It is better to say that God created the earth because that word almost always describes the globe. Of the 287 times the word world appears in the Bible, only 46 are in the Old Testament. Most of the subject of the world is dealt with through the Christian warfare of the New Testament. By contrast, of the 987 times the word earth appears in the Bible, 795 are in the Old Testament and only 192 in the New Testament. Most of the subject of God’s creation and care of the earth is dealt with through the picturesque language of the Old Testament. We are to appreciate and admire the earth upon which we live, but we are, as Christians, to handle the world differently.
In the New Testament, our word earth is translated from the word “g?” (gh). We use the prefix geo to form over 50 English words including geography, geology and geode. However, our word world is translated from the word “cosmos” (kosmos) and forms words such as cosmetic, cosmopolitan and cosmology. Satan is the god of the “cosmos” but not of the “geo.” The “cosmos” may hate the Christian (John 15:18) but the “geo” surely could not.
Though the Bible can say that God created the world (see Acts 17:24), the great majority of times “cosmos” refers to a “complex orderly self-inclusive system” (Webster); “the thought of order or system . . . Under the sway of Satan . . . As something hostile to God” (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology). This, then, presents the challenge of living in the “geo” but not being of the “cosmos.”
I would give the following conclusions regarding the world and the Christian in this age of grace.
Satan largely controls the world
This is not to impugn God’s sovereignty. Even the evil of this world does not catch God by surprise. But God has obviously allowed Satan to have temporary control of the world to such a degree that he is the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4); the prince of this world (John 14:30); the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph 2:2). Since the whole world lieth in wickedness (1 John 5:20), Satan is free to walk about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet 5:8). Satan was even so bold as to offer the kingdoms of this world to the Creator of the earth (Matt 4:8-9). Such is his delegated authority.
If there are two things that we underestimate in this world, they are the depths of our own depravity, and the power and craftiness of Satan. We are told in the twelfth chapter of Revelation, that the dragon (Satan) continues to pursue the woman (Israel) to this very hour! We know that shortly he will rule the entire globe through a man of sin (Rev 13) and a false prophet. “Enemy occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”3
The lost live in the world as practical atheists
Satan, the god of this world, wants to be like the most High (Isa 14:14) yet he would rather men live as if there were no God. When men live contrary to God’s moral law they are atheists, if even for a moment. Their conscience is unable, by the insistent reminder of a Lawgiver, to overcome the selfish pull to what is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). For that moment, the lost forget God and block His Word from their minds and hearts.
Man, under the power and control of Satan, has his conversation in the world (2 Cor 1:12). He is unhappy because the sorrow of the world worketh death (2 Cor 7:10). He is in bondage under the elements of the world (Gal 4:3). He has no defense against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Eph 6:12). He cannot escape the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pet 1:4) nor the pollutions of the world (2:20) while under Satan’s dominion. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said of this man, “He does not want to believe in his mind what something within him keeps asserting.”4
Culture has become the world’s religion
True to its name, culture has become this generation’s cult. We must agree with T.S. Eliot when he defined culture as “being essentially, the incarnation (so to speak) of the religion of a people.”5 Belief really can’t be separated from works. And every man’s culture is the outworking of his inward belief system. When I was in Russia (the old Soviet Union) in 1992, there were no church buildings, but there were “cultural centers” in every town and city. In an atheistic, anti-God society, culture is praised as the natural self-expression of man without God.
L.S. Chafer, in his book on Satan wrote, “The Satanic ideal of this age is, then, an improved social order, a moral and cultured people who are devout worshippers of himself, though for the present they may imagine that they are worshipping Jehovah through their empty religious forms and ceremonies, while they are really in a state of God-dishonoring unbelief, and all their thoughts are energized by Satan alone.”6
Christians are commanded not to love the world
The apostle John, who used the word cosmos more than any other Bible writer, said, love not the world, neither the things in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2:15). In like manner, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (Jas 4:4). The more a man looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer (Jas 1:25), the more he sees the depth of his own depravity in the light of God’s holiness. When he sees that, he will not love the world he sees within.
Even the things that seem neutral in this world will not be grasped too tightly when we see Christ more clearly. “The moment we care for anything deeply, the world (that is, all the other miscellaneous interests) becomes our enemy.”7 Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Do we understand that even right entertainment can be the wrong integration point and be just as wicked and just as destructive as wrong entertainment if I put it in the place of God?”8 The difficulty for our generation seems to be to love Christ enough that we stop loving the world!
Christians are called to leave the world
Peter writes that we have been called out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9) and that through Christ, God has called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet 1:4). It’s not just that we are called (verb) saints, but that we are called (adjective) saints! You are to walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory (1 Thes 2:12). Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Thes 2:14). We are on our way to heaven!
Houses in the country used to have back doors! I can remember both my grandmother and later my mother standing at the back door of an old house and calling us to dinner. When that call came, all else took second place. All of us quit what we were doing and ran toward the voice that was calling us. God is calling us out of this world! It may be a good distance yet before we see Him and enter the door, but neither the cares nor the labor of this world should hinder us from our path. “Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.”9
And so . . .
Spurgeon asked, “Does the world satisfy thee: Then thou hast thy reward and thy portion in this life; make much of it, for thou shalt know no other joy.”10 For those whom the world satisfies, Jesus said, they have their reward, but for those whom it does not He says, Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matt 6:2-5).Notes: 1. Quoted by Alister McGrath, I Believe: Exploring the Apostle’s Creed (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1997 31. 2. See Ravi Zacharias, Light in the Shadow of Jihad (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2002) 40. 3. 3. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1984) 51. 4. Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing: The preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 136. 5. T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harvest Book, 1949) 101. 6. L.S. Chafer, Satan (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972) 76. 7. G.K. Chesterton, Heretics (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2000) 22. 8. Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1971) 147. 9. C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns (New York: HBJ, 1986) 80. 10. C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, I (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1978) 424.