In our fellowships, we often sing a wonderful song that expresses so much in just a few words, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.” Each verse closes with the refrain, “No turning back, no turning back.”
And yet, many Christians, having been delivered from the corruption of the world, do indeed turn back. Why would they do such a thing, especially in light of admonitions like that found in the epistle of I John:
I John 2:15–17
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
The world—referring here not to the physical planet but to the ways of mankind—clearly has nothing for the Christian. Having received new life through the work of Jesus Christ, we no longer share its nature, its goals, or its fate. Indeed, should the Christian try to love the world, that love will be unrequited, for as Jesus told his followers, the simple fact of belonging to him guarantees that we will receive the world’s hatred (John 15:18,19).
Entanglement with the world will choke the Word in our lives (Mark 4:19). Yet many Christians passively allow the Word to be choked and accept the unfruitfulness that invariably follows. How is such madness possible?
Perhaps the reason is best summed up in one phrase from I John 2:16: the lust of the eyes. Though we are a new creation in Christ, you and I still have eyes, as well as ears, a nose, a tongue, and a sense of touch. We have five senses. We live in a five-senses world, presided over by Satan, the prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). And Satan, our adversary, has been and ever will be a master at making evil look unbearably delectable.
Thus, despite clear prohibition from a good and loving God, Eve ate of the fruit.
Likewise, many Christians, despite the testimony of God’s Word and, in many cases despite their own memories of misery and despair, willingly embrace the very thing which crushes them. And often they are the same ones who arrogantly proclaimed, “It can never happen to me!”
So, what can I do to prevent such disaster from overtaking my life?
The simple answer, of course, is, “Don’t look at the world.” But is such a thing really possible? Wherever and however we live, we are exposed to the world’s conforming influence. If we were to follow the example of some, and live in total isolation, the “lust of the flesh” is still within us. And even if total separation were possible (it’s not), how could we then fulfill the charge of our Lord to go “…into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature…”? (Mark 16:15)
Perhaps the answer lies in a prayer of Jesus that can be found in John 17.
John 17:14, 15
I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep [guard] them from the evil [one].
How can we be in this world, yet guarded from the hand of the one who presides over it?
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
The word “sanctify” means to consecrate, to separate, to set apart. This one word reveals a great secret to a fruitful Christian life: the Word of God.
As attractive as this world can sometimes appear to be, vowing to not look at something is a temporary solution at best. Sooner or later, we’ll peek. But the one sure and permanent way to avoid looking at something attractive is, very simply, to find something more attractive. If we will devote the time to it, this Word of God will soon reveal itself to be infinitely more attractive than the carnival sideshow of the world. As with Jeremiah, it will come to be “…the joy and rejoicing of mine heart…” (Jeremiah 15:16).
This is what enabled Paul and others to ignore the seemingly constant tribulation and persecution that confronted them, viewing these things as only light, and merely temporary.
II Corinthians 4:17, 18
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Oh, Christian, if you truly desire to live a fruitful, victorious life from now until the return of our Lord, if you long to be like others who are able to face trials and temptation with such peace and joy, the answer does not lie in your strength of will. It does not lie in not looking at the world. It lies in looking fully at something bigger than this world could ever be.
Colossians 3:1, 2
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
As the song says, “The world behind me, the cross before me … no turning back.”