If you’ve been a part of a church family for some time, chances are you’ve heard the phrase that biblical salvation is all about “relationship.” In our first blog in this series, we looked at the primary relationship described in the New Testament: our relationship to Jesus Christ. This is not something that we earn but rather something we enter into by repentance and faith. Because we can’t work for it, our salvation in Jesus can often feel very subjective. Do I really know him? Thankfully, the book of 1 John in the Bible presents four other “relational tests” that should be evident in the life of a follower of Jesus.
What is my relationship to the world?
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (1 John 2:15-19).
The second “test” found in 1 John asks the question, “What is my relationship to the world?” Taken out of context, the verses from 1 John 2 seem very alarming and divisive. Is John really saying that Christians should hate the world and everything in it? This sounds like many of the extremist religious groups that get on television for the message of damnation and disdain for our current culture. Unfortunately, many of those groups find their so-called “biblical basis” from misinterpreting passages just like this.
So what does it mean to love the world then? In verse 15, the Greek word “love” used here is ἀγαπάω. You may be familiar with the root of this word, which transliterates to agape. In biblical Greek, the language has multiple words to describe different types of love. This word, agape, most closely refers to an unconditional, cherishing, and loyal type of love. With this understanding, it becomes a little clearer what John is saying in the text. After all, Mark uses the same word in his gospel in referring to Jesus’ statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Clearly, we are called to love people. And, as a reflection of the beauty of God in his creation, there is certainly a way in which we should love the world. However, our love for the world should not be an agape type of love. We should not cherish or be more loyal to the things of this world than we are to Jesus. After all, it was John who said in his gospel, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).
What is the Foundation of Your Love?
True, biblical salvation displays itself in a fundamental and ongoing change in our affections and allegiances. Rather than starting with a love for the world as one’s identity, the follower of Jesus is increasingly rooted in a cherishing, faithful, agape love from Jesus and for Jesus. Ironically, this, in turn, enables the Christian to legitimately, appropriately, and more fully love the world as a result. The question comes down to a matter of identity. While culture, our jobs, friendships and material possesions are all good things, they were never meant to be ultimate things.
What are your looking to for your identity? Jesus or the world?
What are pursuing most? Jesus or the world?
Let us run to Jesus first and always, that we may receive and be able to bend out to others the kind of love the world truly needs.