Two pitfalls plague every follower of Jesus Christ. The first pitfall involves rules. In an effort to obey Scripture and avoid worldliness, we begin drawing legalistic lines that were never meant to be drawn. We begin to impose our personal convictions on people instead of allowing the Word of God to speak for itself. Some Christians, in an attempt to avoid worldliness, embrace a mindset that avoids anything which is “non-Christian.” A legalistic mindset becomes all-consuming and attracts fellow travelers down a path that fails to honor God.

The second pitfall involves retreat. A person who falls into this pit is prone to hide from the world and live in the safe confines of “Christian community.” This kind of person only conducts business with fellow Christians. This person only watches Christian television. This person fails to acknowledge, however, that Scripture never imposes such a standard on us. Certainly, we are not prohibited from enjoying God’s good gifts in this world. Jesus prays for us: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Our challenge, then, is to engage with the world, love the people in the world, and make a difference in the world – all the while, remaining true to the call of our Savior.


The cosmos imperative is clearly set forth in 1 John 2:15. John the apostle, writes, “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.”

Do Not Love the World or the Things in the World

The Explanation of Kosmos

Kosmos is broadly defined as “the order of the universe or the world.” The term may be defined more narrowly as “the heavens and the earth” or “that place where people live.”

We are immediately faced with some challenges in this passage: How can Jesus tell us to “go into the world (kosmos) and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15) while all along, John exhorts us, “Do not love the world (kosmos) or the things in the world (v. 15)?

Or, how can Scripture affirm that God loves the world, yet at the same time give us the directive, “Do not love the world (kosmos) or the things in the world (v. 15)? How can Scripture call Christ-followers to love people in the world, yet in the same breath, instruct us: “Do not love the world (kosmos) or the things in the world (v. 15)?

The Essence of Kosmos

When John directs us to “love not the world,” he is referring specifically to the worldly system. The kosmos is that system which is diametrically opposed to God, his Word, and his kingdom. This worldly system, as we shall see, is evil to the core.

When our children are taught the theory of evolution, they are contending with the world. When a counselor encourages a young woman to get an abortion, that is the influence of the world. When the boss encourages a sales report to be “doctored,” the evil influence of the world is at play. When a university professor undermines biblical authority, the worldly system has gained the upper hand.

The world tells us, “the man with the most toys wins.” The world tells us to “live for today.” The world says, “Truth is relative.” And the world says, “Ethics are in the eye of the beholder.”

The German language captures the essence of what John refers to with the word, zeitgeist – “the spirit of the age.” Several characteristics mark the zeitgeist:

  • At war with God and his kingdom (Jas. 4:4).
  • Crooked and twisted (Phil. 2:15).
  • Evil and opposed to Christ (John 7:7).
  • Hollow and deceptive (Col. 2:8).
  • Fleeting and fatal (Mark 4:19).

So the kosmos is marked by a crooked and twisted worldview which is inherently evil. John says, “Do not love this world or the things in the world.”

The Essentials of the Imperative

The cosmos imperative in 1 John 2:15 is not optional. This is a divine mandate from God. This is an essential command that Christ-followers must believe and embrace. This is not an imperative that we take lightly. Rather, we see the urgency attached to it. C.J. Mahaney adds, “Today the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world.”[1]

The heart of the cosmos imperative has everything to do with our affections, namely, a love for someone or something – in this case, the world system; the system which is at war with God. “Worldliness, then, is a love for this fallen world. It’s loving the values and pursuits of the world that stand opposed to God … It is to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God.”[2]

The consequences of ignoring the cosmos imperative are spelled out in the same verse: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” So we must relentlessly evaluate ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts. For the heart is never neutral. We are always worshipping. We are either worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ or we are worshipping lesser things. Jonathan Edwards observes, “But the saints and the angels do behold the glory of God consisting in the beauty of his holiness: and ’tis this sight only, that will melt and humble the hearts of men, and wean them from the world, and draw them to God, and effectually change them.”[3]

To what or to whom are your affections directed? Is your heart captivated by the things of this world or is your heart being perpetually melted by the things of God?


The Deceitfulness of the World

The first reason for the cosmos imperative concerns the deceitfulness of the world. John writes, “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” (1 John 2:16).

Notice, the desires of the flesh and the corresponding warning in Scripture. James warns, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire (Jas. 1:14). Peter acknowledges the soul-stifling influence of the flesh: “Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires” (2 Pet. 3:3). And Paul writes, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thes. 4:3-5).

The desire of the eyes, which is to covet the possessions of someone else. Dave Harvey reminds us, “The sin of covetousness is not that we have stuff; it’s that our stuff has us … As we, by grace, delight in God and guard our hearts against covetousness, we’ll see the chains loosen, and a freedom from the tyranny of stuff will grow in our lives.”[4]

The boastful pride of life, or bragging about who you are, what you have accomplished, or what you possess. Sometimes the boastful pride of life is a combination of falling prey to the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and bragging about your sinful exploits.

The Destination of the World

The second reason for the cosmos imperative concerns the final destination of the world. John tells us that the world as we know it will one day cease: “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). While the world is passing away, it is not yet gone. So may I offer some practical help for battling the world, the flesh, and the devil:

First, remember, this world is not our home. Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles …” (1 Pet. 2:11). And Paul reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). The world is our temporary resting place.

Second, remember our position in Christ. We have a new identity as followers of Jesus and new affections. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). Our sovereign God has miraculously transformed our stony hearts. We have been given new hearts. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezek. 36:26–27).

Third, remember where our loyalty lies. Scripture offers a stern warning for anyone whose affections become seduced by the word: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4). Our highest loyalty, then, is reserved for the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom priorities.

Fourth, remember to mortify the flesh by the power of the Spirit. J.I. Packer says, “The sin that indwells the believer was killed in principle on the cross; Christ’s death will in time be its death. It was dethroned in fact by regeneration, and now with the Spirit’s aid, the Christian is to spend his lifetime training its lifeblood.”[5] Peter reminds us to resist worldly influences: ““Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).


Know this: If you find yourself in a war against sin, you are on the right track. “The Puritans said that war with sin is a healthy sign.”[6] “This world is a Vanity Fair, as Bunyan put it, and the Christian must pass through its gates, but as he does so, he must constantly distance himself from its ungodly influences.”[7]

Your challenge is to be in the world but not of the world. This is the Cosmos Imperative: ”Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Stand strong. Maintain your courage. Guard your convictions. And pray that God enables you to walk in a way that is consistent with Scripture and in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

[1]      C.J. Mahaney, Worldlines (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008).

[2]      Ibid, 27.

[3]      The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 264.

[4]      Dave Harvey, Cited in C.J. Mahaney, Ed. Worldliness, 114.

[5]      J.I. Packer, A Quest For Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1990), 200.

[6]      Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 853.

[7]      Ibid, 844.

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