Why Those in the World Cannot Love God

Part 3

The command to withdraw one’s affections from earthly things is, to the worldly man, the same as a call for his self-extinction, since his affections are set on nowhere but the world and cannot be transferred elsewhere. He may have a strong sense of the futility of life, but he will resist any attempt to shift his heart’s tendencies away from this life. To him, all such attempts are impractical.

Based on the wisdom of this world, he considers himself beyond such ideas as setting our affections on things above (Colossians 3:2), or walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), or having no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3), or having our citizenship in Heaven instead of on earth (Philippians 3:20). When he observes these “overly spiritual” principles, the worldly person decides that Christianity is impossible to carry out.

He does not see the love of God in sending His Son into the world. He does not see the tenderness of God toward man in not sparing His own Son, but delivering Him to death for us all (Romans 8:32). He does not see the sufficiency of the atonement, or of the sufferings that Christ bore as a substitute for sinners. He does not see both the holiness and compassion of God in passing over the sins of His creatures through the sacrifice of the Creator Himself.

The worldly person does not turn to God for peace, pardon, and reconciliation. Therefore, when told to turn away from the visible and temporary delights of the world, he finds nothing left to look at. He is separated from the joys of eternity by the wall of his own sin and guilt. If he doesn’t believe that Christ has destroyed this wall, he cannot look in faith toward the things that are unseen and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).

You can tell a man to be holy, but how can he obey when his fellowship with holiness is a fellowship of despair? If he is burdened by a guilty conscience, he cannot grow in godliness. He must see that the atonement of the cross establishes both the justice of the divine lawgiver and the safety of the offender. Christ’s work is what opens the way for the salvation and sanctification of a sinner’s heart. And a forgiven sinner is free to entertain kind thoughts of his Maker once God has brought him near and declared peace to him.

Separate the truth of the gospel (“Christ died for sinners”) from the command of 1 John 2:15 (“Do not love the world”) and you will separate the cause from the effect. The result will be either a legalistic system that is impossible to live by or a set of empty convictions that result in nothing. We must bring the demand and the gospel together, which enables the true disciple of Christ to obey the command by the power of the gospel. He has put on the armor of God, and with these spiritual weapons he will gain the higher ground and win the battle. Of course, such a victory requires superhuman effort, but the power of the gospel is equal to the task.

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