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 ESV

John has just issued a command: Do not love the world. Simple. Direct. Straight forward. But for most of us, it is easier said than done. Loving the world comes naturally to us. It is part of our nature – our sin nature. And the world is more than willing to accommodate and return our love. But at the end of the day, our love of or for the world is really self-love. It is motivated not by what we can give the world, but by what we can get from it. Yes, it is a reciprocal relationship. It is give-and-take. We give and we get. But for the most part, we give TO get. And John gives us three evidences of that give-to-get nature of our love affair with the world. The New Living Translation provides a very up-to-date and in-your-face interpretation of verse 16. “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” I think this gives us a very clear idea of what John is attempting to say. He is providing us with three distinct characteristics that mark a love affair of the world or, better yet, a love of self. The first is “a craving for physical pleasure.” The NASB translates it as “the lust of the flesh.” The NIV reads, “the cravings of sinful man.” The ESV has “the desires of the flesh.” The word John uses that gives us any insight into what he is talking about is the Greek word sarx. It can refer to the human body, but in this case, John is using it to refer to “the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.” It is our sin nature and even though we have been redeemed and renewed by Christ, it remains alive and well within us. Paul puts it this way: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). He goes on to describe the very dark side of our flesh or sin nature. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). So when John refers to the craving of sinful man, the desires of the flesh, this is what he is talking about. The real issue here is self-gratification. What I like to refer to is saying yes to what God has said no to. Self-gratification is the act of pleasing or satisfying oneself, especially the gratifying of one’s own impulses, needs, or desires. If you look at the list given by Paul, it provides a comprehensive catalog of sinful actions and attitudes that have been forbidden by God. They are aptly summed up in the Ten Commandments. God has forbidden us to do these things. But self-gratification causes us to say yes to what God has said no to. Rather than obey him, we give in to our sinful desires. And the world is more than willing to accommodate us. It gives us exactly what we crave, but not because it loves us, but because it hates us. Jesus warned His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). Self-gratification is ultimately self-destructive. Paul tells us the only way to protect ourselves from this dangerous human tendency is by living in the light, by listening to and obeying the wisdom of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).

The Spirit gives us the strength to say no to what God has said no to. He provides us with the capacity to turn away from self-love and self-gratification so that we can love others. The problem with a life of self-gratification is that it not only destroys us, it damages all those around us. Every one of the characteristics listed by Paul has a negative relational aspect to it. Jealousy, anger, immorality, impurity, strife, envy, and rivalries – they all involve a form of hatred toward others. They use and abuse others. But we have been called to love one another – as Christ has loved us. Yet the enemy is out to get us to say yes to what God has said no to and to say no to what God has said yes to. God had told Adam and Eve that one tree in the garden was a “no” for them. But Satan caused them to doubt God’s word. He tempted them to say yes to what God had said no to, and they gave in to their fleshly desires. What looked good to them ended up being highly destructive. The same is true for us today. Living a life of self-gratification appears to seductive and alluring. And the world whispers in our ear that what we desire is good and right. But God has said, “No!” He has something far greater in store for us. Whether we believe it or not, He is telling us that a life of selflessness is the key to fulfillment and satisfaction. A life of sacrifice is the path to joy and contentment. A life marked by a love for others will leave us feeling loved by God and more gratified than we could ever imagine.

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