Part 1: Wherein Augustine and Thomas Chalmers Lead Youth Group (read this first)
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.
(1 John 2:15 ESV)
Christians are called to fall out of love with the world. And what is the world? The world is the dead-end thrills, pleasures, and values that we chase after because of the sinful desires in our heart. This can look like a million different things to different people, and can even be many things to one person at the same time. Commonly we think of issues like coveting approval or popularity, addiction to drugs or pornography, materialism or slavishly chasing ever more wealth; but it can come in almost any shape or size. These desires are strong, but part of becoming a Christian is breaking up with your old love- the world and all it offers you.
But no one ever said it was easy. It’s not easy. There was an old song someone sang- breaking up is hard to do. Everyday is a fight against those old sinful desires, but 1 John 2:15 makes it plain that we can’t just give up because it’s hard. The call is clear- we must be people who are actively falling out of love with the world.
There are two possible ways you can attempt to do this- you can look directly at the world’s hopelessness and try to convince your heart to recoil away from it; or you can look toward God and be so overwhelmed by Him that your heart is necessarily drawn in a new direction. The problem with simply attempting to fall out of love with the world without giving your heart something new to love is that there is nothing to fill the empty space left behind when your old desires leave. This creates a situation where those old loves can creep back into the void in your heart, often even stronger than they were before you attempted to expel them. The only way you can truly fall out of love with the world is by falling more in love with God.
If you understand your own heart then you know that this is the case. The struggle against sin can be a battle in which you feel you are never really gaining ground. The grip that the world has on you can seem too strong to break, and years of frustrating struggles can make you lose hope. The purpose of what you are now reading is to show you that hope is never truly gone- Jesus can drive away the darkest night and rescue you from the dead-end love of the world. This is accomplished by gazing into the brighter light of a greater power- love for Jesus Himself.
Two Types of Love: Desire and Possession
As we begin to think about these things, we need to see that there are two types of love. There is a love of desire and there is a love of possession. Another way to say this is that there are things we love because we don’t have them and we want them (love of desire); and there are things we love because to do have them and we enjoy them (love of possession).
Love of desire always wants to become love of possession. When the heart desperately wants something that it does not have, there is an urge and an impulse toward the desired target. We are like magnets attracted to that which we love, and both our minds and bodies become slaves to our hearts in the pursuit of gratification. All our physical, mental, and spiritual energies are drawn into the pursuit- we are like a car with the gas pedal super-glued to the floor, our heads thrown back by the velocity of our frantic chase after the desires of our heart.
Love of Desire
Think of yourself running at a full sprint on a treadmill. That is how the heart chases a love of desire. Now, imagine that the treadmill suddenly stops. What happens? Most likely there is some sort of painful crash, or at least an awkward transition from full sprint to a jarring halt. So how does this apply to falling out of love with the world? There is a familiar pattern you may have seen in those who struggle with addiction. Someone who is addicted to alcohol or bulimia or pornography is characterized by a compulsive behavior pattern. When the desire comes there is an obsession with gratification that does not rest until it is fulfilled. It can be enormously frustrating and discouraging to be battling with those addictions because taking them away is like turning off the treadmill while you’re still sprinting. What do you do with all your momentum and desire? From this illustration you can see how hopeless it is to simply put all your energy into direct resistance and vain attempts at turning off your heart-desires. The rising power of a new desire will do what no direct combat against old loves or arguments as to their worthlessness could ever do.
And it is the same in our struggle to “not love the world,” no matter what particular manifestation of “world love” we are struggling with. We can’t fall out of love with the world without falling into love with something else. Our hearts were made to love, and it is unnatural that they should simply stop loving or that all our desires would come to a dead halt with no new target to run toward. Telling the mind that a love is unworthy is a poor substitute for giving the heart a new object to love.
This is why ranting legalism and simple behavior modification techniques don’t work. Trying to tell yourself to simply cut off the object of your desire without a new object to pursue is like telling yourself to submit to torture for no good reason. It’s not an argument you’re going to win, even when you’re arguing with yourself. Screaming about the uselessness of the world is an ironically useless pursuit; it is much better to shout out the glories of the new and greater joy.
Love of Possession
We’ve been talking mainly about “love of desire,” that is to say the love that your heart is filled with when it is desperately reaching out for something it does not yet have. Yet all these things are true as well in regards to “love of possession,” the longings we actually act on and the desires we gratify. We can call these loves “tastes” because they are those things we have savored and enjoyed the supposed sweetness of. These tastes seldom disappear on their own. It’s almost impossible to just talk yourself out of a taste you have come to treasure and enjoy. Simple determination and will power are probably not the answer. Perhaps you need to stop spending energy trying to destroy sinful tastes and focus on displacing them instead.
This pattern of displacement is seen to be the normal way one love replaces another in all areas of our lives. When you were very young, what did you love? You loved to play the games and do the activities normal for children. You may remember how your heart leapt with joy over cartoons, or building forts, or playing with dolls. As you got older, new tastes displaced the old. Perhaps now you are pursuing a career or an education or a romantic relationship. Look at how your tastes have changed! Look at how different are the pastimes that grip your heart and draw you in! And it is not as though you actively fought against your taste for childish games, that taste simply lost its sweetness when a new taste was acquired. And throughout these stages of shifting and maturing loves, there was never a day when you did not love something. Specific desires may die off; but desire never dies.
To summarize, simple separation never conquers sinful desires. A substitution is required. Our human hearts are made this way, and if there is not satisfaction a painful void develops. Think of this void as a starving hunger within you. This hunger can be met with foods that will satisfy and bring health, or with rotten scraps, but it must be fed.
You will love something. The questions is what will you love?
(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)