To do your best at any particular job, you want to use the most effective tools. Trying to deny worldliness without faith is the same as trying to work without the right set of tools. As we have begun to see, the most effective tool—indeed, the only effective tool—for turning us from lovers of the world into lovers of God is the gospel.
It is only in the gospel that God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners. It is only in the gospel where our desire for Him is not chilled by the barrier of guilt that hinders every approach not made through Christ, our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). The gospel brings us hope, with which we draw near to God. To live without hope is to live without God, and if the heart is without God, the world will then have control over it.
The world’s control over the heart is destroyed only when a person sees and embraces God as revealed through Christ. Then we no longer look on God with terror as an offended lawgiver. Instead, we are enabled by faith (which is God’s own gift) to see His glory in the face of Jesus Christ. In the gospel, we hear Him proclaim goodwill, full pardon, and complete acceptance to those who turn to Him in repentance.
Only when a heart has been regenerated can it experience a love that overshadows, and ultimately drives out, its love of the world. When we are released from the spirit of bondage and received by the Spirit of adoption, we are brought under a new and better master—One who delivers us from the enslavement of our heart’s former desires. In this way, saving faith brings life to a heart that is otherwise dead to the influence of any other offer of salvation.
The gospel is designed to both pacify the sinner’s conscience and purify his heart. It does not do just one or the other. Take away the pacifying, and the purifying is taken away as well. On the flip side, the more a conscience is pacified, the more it is purified. In other words, the more a conscience is soothed by the gospel, the more it is sanctified by the gospel.
This is one of the great secrets of the Christian life: the more you view God as a giver of free, unmerited, unending grace, the more enabled you are to live in obedience to Him. The more attractive God appears to you, the less attractive the world will appear. Your love for God will spring out of your awareness of God’s love for you. In effect, you will experience and demonstrate the truth that the gospel creates what the law commands.
The person who views God as saying, “Obey me or else” will be filled with a constant fear of punishment, and this fear will eat away at his confidence to interact with God. If, in awareness of his sin and shame, he persists in “making it up” to God, he is actually pursuing his own selfish pride and not God’s glory. By trying to prove himself through obedience, he reveals a heart of disobedience; he is approaching God strictly on his own terms.
In the gospel, God’s acceptance is given freely, without money and without cost (Isaiah 55:1), so that a person’s security in God is placed beyond the reach of any disturbance. The Christian can rest in God’s presence just as one might relax with a friend. Through the gospel, an understanding is established between God and man: God delights to show goodness to His children, and His children find the truest possible sense of gladness in the beauty of this goodness. Salvation by free grace, salvation based not on works but on the mercy of God—salvation such as this is just as effective in delivering our wayward hearts from worldliness as it is in delivering our corrupt souls from condemnation.
The freeness of grace, which so many are tempted to think provides an excuse to sin, is actually what enables the heart to fight against sin. Far from being a seed that sprouts into worldly living, free grace is the seed of an inclination against worldly living. To the degree that you compromise the freeness of this grace, to that degree you will take away one’s ability to love God and reject worldliness. The most powerful transformation that can occur within a sinner is when, under the belief that he is saved by free grace, he is taught by that same grace to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts” (Titus 2:11-12).
Because of the gospel, the Christian need not lose heart. Even if he cannot effectively discern the corruption of the world, he can still aid himself in destroying the world’s influence in his life. All he needs to do is continually remind himself of the gospel.
If you are unable to understand the true nature of the present world, you can still study what has been revealed from the world to come. If you are unable to observe and dissect sinful desires, you can still wield the only weapon that destroys those desires: the gospel. You may not be able to bring into light the hidden recesses of human nature, with all the weaknesses and lurking appetites that belong to it. Nevertheless, you do have a truth in your possession that, like a black hole, will swallow up all such lurking appetites.
Therefore, never stop using this powerful instrument in putting an end to your love of the world. Use every legitimate method of instilling in your heart a love of Him who is greater than the world. If at all possible, clear away the shroud of unbelief that hides and darkens God’s lovely face. Never cease to affirm that in the gospel, which reconciles sinful people to their Maker, the God of love presents you with a kaleidoscope of His endearing qualities.