The Life Behind

One of Jesus’ primary teachings is about losing and keeping. Anyone who tries to keep his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life because of following Christ will keep it. This isn’t about leadership style, it’s about eternal life, and it has application in every relationship you can think of. It also isn’t one strategy for success “God’s way.” It is the only way to salvation.

All four Gospel writers cover this teaching. That doesn’t give it more authority—God only needs to say something once, but the repetition does highlight that it’s a big deal, especially for hard heads. Luke put it in his Gospel twice (9:24; 17:33), and the second time he included the part when Jesus named a name of someone who lost big.

Warning about the possibility of judgment coming when least expected, Jesus said:

Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. (Luke 17:32–33)

Moses didn’t mention much about Mrs. Lot in Genesis 19. Presumably she was a Sodomite, a native of Sodom, since Lot was single in the previous chapters. Even if she wasn’t from the city, she wanted to stay there. Lot was slow to leave, she was slower, she was “behind him” on their way out of town (Genesis 19:26). And though one of the angels told them not to look back, she did and became a pillar of salt.

Jesus wasn’t saying that those who look back and long to keep their life will become a salt statue, but they will still lose. Don’t fall for the allurements of the world, and don’t try to take it all with you. The life ahead is not just better, the life behind is not life at all.

The Blockheads of Earth

The Pharisees asked Jesus about the coming of the kingdom recorded by Dr. Luke in chapter 17 of his gospel. Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was “not coming in ways that could be observed,” and followed up with His disciples after the public interchange.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26–27)

My purpose right now isn’t to pinpoint the timing of the kingdom but to portray the blockheads of earth.

Jesus wasn’t listing the sins in Luke 17. We know, and Jesus knew, that God rained the flood to destroy the multiplied corruption among men. What He was describing was the cultural insensitivity to sins. Dinner and drinks and weddings are God-given gifts. But the men in Noah’s day weren’t acknowledging God anywhere; He was out of their minds. The problems weren’t the parties per se, but when they planned their parties the weatherman said nothing about judgment in the forecast.

In the midst of a people like that obedience is hard. But hard-heartedness is harder. That’s one reason for our weekly confession of sin together, to remind us to be ready for the return of Jesus. Cultural indifference and peer pressure will not be good excuses before the King who expects us to be expecting Him.

A Long Drive

In our categories for sin, when we weigh which are the heavier matters, we often put discontent in the chaff pile. “Awww, shucks.” Discontent doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, maybe because we’ve gotten used to living with a low-level of it always idling in the background.

But discontent is a gateway into a minefield of destruction. To want, and be mad not to have, is a hunger that starts wars.

Discontent amplifies unthankfulness that dishonors the God of giving. Discontent inflates bitter envy that sabotages relationships. Discontent leads to worldliness that leads us away from God. Discontent promotes the worst of all, idolatry, where we search for a new god who will give us what we want or, even more likely, tempt us to think we should be gods.

The serpent’s lie advertised a new and improved Eve. “Eat now and you’ll be like God!” When every intention of man was evil before the flood, those intentions involved the evil of every man continually thinking of himself as more important than others. That thinking led many to seek to be something more than man and pursued immortality through marriages to the “sons of God.”

Do you not like who you are? Do you not want what you have or do you want what you don’t have? Do you appreciate your limitations? If not, then you are imitating the gods of men. You have come to believe that God is not good, that He is not giving, that He is only in it for Himself. That means discontent has driven you a long way from the truth.

Slipping the Hold

For all our Kuyperian talk about culture and cultural advances and the importance of the things of earth, we do want to take seriously God’s warnings about worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. One brick-through-the-window sort of warning comes in 1 John 2.

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)

The command is clear and so is the conclusion. Love the world or love God the Father, but don’t believe that both loves can coexist. Love your wife or love your mistress, it’s not a question of percentages. Saying, “I love you most” to your wife isn’t sufficient.

But, without trying to slip the hold of the warning, what exactly is the “world”? Genesis gives glory to God for creating it. Even most unbelievers know John 3:16, penned by the same author, which says that God loved the world. So we’re not supposed to love what He made and loves?

It would be inconsistent if we read verse 15 the wrong way. The easiest way to read it wrong is to read it without reading the next verse.

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)

John has defined his terms and explained what he meant by the word “world” and “the things in the world.” The people and the stuff in the world aren’t the problems, the mindset of the world is.

The mortal flesh is fine. Eating and drinking are good and ways to glorify God until sensual pleasures rule us. The the “desires of the flesh” are corrupt. It’s similar with the eyes. Eyes are God’s idea. He wanted us to see so that we could avoid walking into walls and also to paint beautiful things to hang on the walls. But He does not want us to see and lust to grab what is our neighbor’s. Those are worldly desires. Owning things is also good, land and houses, flocks and 403(b)s. But it’s not fine if we say that that is our life, as if our pile of possessions could define our image rather than the Father who gave us His.

We must not love a world where we make stuff the god. We must also not love a God who didn’t make and give us stuff in the world.

The World as God

The early chapters of Genesis call for significant attention not only on God’s command to men to marry and multiply and make but also on our imitative nature as multipliers and makers. When we worship we see what God is like and what our reflections of Him should look like. From the beginning it has been so. We glorify God by consuming in thankfulness what He’s given and also by producing in reflectiveness. This is a more positive approach to the things of earth than most of us are familiar with. More than that we can enjoy and do things in the world, we must enjoy and make things if we want to glorify God.

That said, there is a reason why so many Christians are suspicious of the world. It’s because many who call themselves Christians have become idolators of the world. Jesus told a parable about some who are almost-Christians like the seed that grows until choked out by the cares of the world (Matthew 13:22). Jesus also offered this inerrant valuation: What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26) The given is that the soul matters most and that your soul is a poor trade for temporary glory that is stuck in the world.

Which brings us back to true glory, eternal glory, God’s glory. How do we share in His glory? It isn’t by rejecting what He has made but by being able to keep it in the proper place. Many people have not done that. “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). “Demas, in love with this present world” deserted Paul and the gospel (2 Timothy 4:10). “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). These warnings are real and must not be minimized. The question should test us regularly: are we living in the world for God or are we living for the world as god? As image-bearers of God and disciples of Christ we need to get that right.

East and Not-East

As Christians we know that we are in the world but not of it. Navigating this relationship requires more than quoting a great verse, it requires applying great wisdom. How do we know when we are appropriately in while also not being inappropriately of? How do we live here without living like here?

We can’t address every particular right now, but we can say that worldliness is a sin that should be addressed. Many professing Christians, Christian organizations, and churches deliberately adopt worldly behavior for sake of evangelism, sometimes behavior that didn’t even belong to their own pre-Christian days. Their philosophy of ministry aims to show the world how much Christians are like the world. While specific turns along the way are important, we should at least acknowledge that we can’t be going east and not-east at the same time.

Loving to be loved by the world is part of what it looks like to have the love of the world. In other words, unwillingness to stand out from the world is worldly. The world talks about non-conformity, but only to be conformed to the cool group talking about non-conformity. Christians who blur the lines of Christian doctrine and obedience are acting like the worldly blurrers, not believers.

Thinking that we can be friends of Christ and friends with the world is worldly, not obedience. Jesus’ half-brother James wrote, “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” (James 4:4). The apostle John commanded believers not to love the world (1 John 2:15) and said, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).

We will have enemies. We will be at odds either with God or with those who are at odds with God. To the degree that we compromise our loves with the world we need to confess that as sin to God. He will forgive us, cleanse us, and conform us to the mold of His Son.