First published in May 1991
During the temptation in the wilderness, Satan offered to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world...and the glory of them” (Lk 4:5-6). He wasn’t bluffing. This world really is Satan’s to give to whom he will. Jesus didn’t dispute Satan’s boast that this world had been “delivered unto me [by God]; and to whomsoever I will I give it.” The conditions upon which Satan offered this world to Christ were clear: “If you bow down and worship me”—which, of course, Jesus refused to do. Beware! For the kingdoms and glories of this world are still the favors Satan bestows in order to entice today’s recipients into worshiping him.
Like their Lord, Christ’s true followers refuse the kingdoms and glories of this world. This refusal includes the highly touted new world order, which will still be under Satan’s control. Christ has promised believers something far better—an eternal and heavenly kingdom procured through His defeat of Satan at the cross. As a result of that victory, “the kingdoms of this world [will] become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ” (Rev:11:15). Worldly kingdoms will soon pass away, and in their place the kingdom of God will come to earth. Then Christ, together with those who have shared in His rejection and suffering (Acts:14:22; Rom:8:17; 2 Tim:2:12), will reign in glory and ultimate joy forever.
It would be a denial of their Lord for Christians to bask in the popularity and honors that this present world may bestow upon them. That isn’t to say that a Christian should never be successful in business, science, the academic world, sports, etc. Indeed, Christians should be the very best they can possibly be at whatever they do. But their skill, talent, and diligent efforts are expended for God’s glory, not for their own. This world has no attraction for believers; they neither love it nor its plaudits. They are not swayed from the course they must run (1 Cor:9:24-27; 2 Tm 4:7-8) either by the world’s criticism or its compliments. They know that ultimately nothing matters except God’s opinion of them.
We are warned, “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” (1 Jn:2:15). Satan is called “the god of this world” (2 Cor:4:4), and those who love this world are siding with and honoring Satan, whether they realize it or not. Indeed, they are on the road to Satan worship, which will be the worldwide religion during the Great Tribulation (Rev:13:4). One obvious evidence that Christianity has been seduced by Satan is the fact that those who are highly honored by the world are, on that basis alone, given instant and special honor in the church. The Christian media fawns over a sports hero, an attractive actress, a wealthy businessman, or a highly placed politician who has supposedly become a Christian. These too-often immature, worldly new believers are paraded and lauded on Christian TV and held up to the church as heroes of the faith and role models for youth—and Christians turn out by the thousands to “ooh” and “aah” at their testimonies. Yet the humble, godly missionary, mature in the faith, who has remained true to Christ through decades of privation, temptation, hardship and danger, and who has won souls in difficult fields of labor, can scarcely draw an audience. Obviously, the average Christian admires worldly success far more than godliness. Something is badly askew!
Jesus told His disciples, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (Jn:15:19). Thus, to Pilate, Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn:18:36). He didn’t mean that His kingdom is totally detached from this earth but that it’s not of this world system. In fact, it stands in opposition thereto. This present world system (including the new world order), which belongs to Satan, must be destroyed for the kingdom of God to be established.
Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn:3:8), which He accomplished upon the cross (Jn:12:31-33). Such is His purpose in all those who receive Him as Savior and Lord. The works of Satan in and through our lives, and any attachment to this world, must be destroyed if Christ is to reign within us. This goal can be effected only through the work of His cross applied to one’s daily life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then can God’s love and His will and Christlike character be manifested in one’s heart and life.
The unsaved love the world. In contrast, Christians do not love the world; they love the Father. We are citizens of heaven, “from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body...” (Phil:3:20-21). Instead of trying to make our mark in this world and enjoying its benefits and pleasures, we seek to please the Father because we desire a heavenly and eternal reward.
The choice we face isn’t, as many imagine, between heaven and hell. The choice is between heaven and this world. Even a fool would exchange hell for heaven; but only the wise will exchange this world for heaven. You can’t have both. One can’t live both for God and for self. Many so-called Christians find it difficult to resist the temptations of this world and to live wholly for Christ.
Why should it be difficult to choose life instead of death, joy instead of sorrow, eternal fulfillment instead of remorse, God’s truth and love instead of Satan’s lies and destructive lusts? The choice is only difficult for those who are deceived by Satan, and who thus, in believing this liar, doubt and dishonor God. What an insult it is to their heavenly Father for Christians to act as though surrendering to God’s will were a great sacrifice—as though exchanging this world for heaven were a bad bargain!
Motivation is a key element. One powerful motivation comes by comparing the length of eternity with one’s brief life on this earth. Only a fool would trade the heavenly and eternal for that which is earthly and temporal—and, remember, we can’t have both. “Christians” who habitually live for what they can gain and enjoy in this world, instead of “lay[ing] up treasures in heaven,” (Mt 6:19-21) deny with their lives the faith they profess with their lips.
Those who in their daily lives opt for this world instead of for heaven shouldn’t be surprised when God gives them for eternity the choice they have made. How can one complain if he’s not taken in the next life to the heaven he consistently rejected in this one? Someone has said there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, “Not my will, but Thine, be done,” and those to whom God says, “Not My will but thine be done.” What a tragedy to be chained for eternity to one’s own will instead of His—forever imprisoned with self and separated from God!
Christ’s declaration to the Father, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22:42) put Him on the cross. We, too, must deny self in submission to the cross (Mt 16:24). Doing so puts an end to self, and Christ becomes our very life—our all. This is the path of wisdom (Job 28). The wise will “shine...as the stars for ever” (Dn 12:3) with His light in their hearts; pure vessels eternally radiating His glory. Fools will inherit the blackness of darkness forever because they insisted on doing their own thing and being their fallen selves. Man’s destiny is eternal joy in the presence of God and His angels and saints—or a lonely and eternal agony, shut up to self.
William Law expressed with unusual clarity the choice between heaven and this world. He pointed out that a man would be considered insane who spent his life planning the house, tennis court, swimming pool, retirement condominium, etc., that he expected to build on Mars—yet someone who spent his life equally absorbed in planning, achieving, and enjoying such things in this world would be respected as successful and prudent. In fact, said Law, both are fools! The first is obsessed with a world where he cannot live—while the other is attached to a world where he cannot stay. The degree of their folly differs only by a few short years.
Jim Elliot, a young missionary martyred in Ecuador in 1956, put it succinctly: “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.” What a tragedy to barter eternal life for the pleasures of this world. The Bible doesn’t say that sin has no pleasure; it says that the pleasures of sin can only be enjoyed “for a season” (Heb:11:25)—and a very short season it is, compared to the endless ages of eternity. A bad bargain indeed!
The phrase “eternal life” refers not only to the quantity of the life God offers but to its quality—a quality of life that God wants us to begin to experience here and now. Jesus said that eternal life was knowing (not knowing about) God and His Son (Jn:17:3). Paul warned that Christ would one day take vengeance upon those who “know not God” (2 Thes:1:8). In keeping with the truth of these and similar scriptures, evangelicals profess that they don’t practice a religion about God but that they have a personal relationship with God. Sadly, this boast has become almost a cliché—it sounds good in theory but there’s often little practical evidence seen in daily life.
Recognizing that eternity is infinitely longer than one’s most optimistic life expectancy provides a powerful motivation for living for Him (and thus choosing heaven instead of this world). But to truly know God provides an even more powerful motivation.
Knowing God leads to holiness. He alone becomes one’s consuming passion, displacing all other desires and overcoming the power of sin in our lives. His presence within is sufficient to satisfy every longing. For to know God is to love Him—and there is no higher motivation for obedience to His commands than love. In fact, no other motivation is accepted. It is no accident that the first commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut 6:5).
Obedience to God’s laws must spring from love for Him. Otherwise, obeying the letter of the law is nothing (1 Cor:13:1-3). We could give all our possessions to the poor and submit to martyrdom at the stake for Christ’s name, but if our motive is not love, it would all be in vain. Christ declared, “If a man love me he will keep my words...he that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings” (Jn:14:23-24).
Loving God is the secret of the Christian life. If we truly love Him, then we want to serve and please and glorify Him. We wouldn’t want to do anything or even think a thought that would displease or dishonor Him. A genuine love for God—and only that love—produces consistent holiness and godliness in our daily lives. Love is also the great wellspring of joy and peace. It causes us to witness to the lost about us with passion and without shame. For who is ashamed of one’s lover? And who does not rather speak well, boldly and continually, of the one he loves!
Where shall we find this love that we must have for God, and without which we cannot please Him? It’s not hiding somewhere in our hearts waiting to be discovered. Nor is it a potential that we have that only needs to be developed. We can’t work it up. It can’t be produced by effort. This love is not in us at all. Though it involves our will and emotions, it comes from God alone.
How then is this love produced? Love is the fruit that the Spirit bears in our lives (Gal:5:22). It is miraculous, like the fruit on a tree—something that only God could produce. Yet we aren’t like a tree, which has no will or emotions. Obviously, much more is involved when the Spirit bears fruit in the believer’s life than is involved in fruit-bearing in nature. His love is the key.
“We love him because he first loved us” (1 Jn:4:19). This tells us that our love for God comes as a response to His love for us. We know of His love through His Word. Our hearts are stirred as we believe what the Bible tells us of His love in creating us, giving His Son to die for our sins, patiently bearing our rejection, pardoning and saving us from the penalty that His holy law demands for our sin, providing heaven at infinite cost. Surely to meditate upon God’s love for us must produce, by His Spirit, fervent love for Him.
Much more, however, is involved than reading and memorizing and believing what the Bible says about God and His love. Jesus reproved the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures and at the same time refusing to come to Him, the One of whom the Scriptures testified. What the Bible says about God is there in order to lead us into a personal relationship with Him. We must know not only His Word, but we must know Him personally. There is an intimacy with God that is promised to those who love and thus obey Him, an intimacy that is missing in the lives of many Christians.
To those who love and obey Him, Christ offers an incredibly wonderful promise: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (Jn:14:21). This promise to manifest Himself to those who love Him implies a real communication of His presence. This is more than a strong belief that He is with us. It is a spiritual manifestation of His presence.
This intimate fellowship begins at conversion with a real communication from God’s Spirit to the believer’s spirit. God’s Spirit “beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Rom:8:16). It is not simply inserting one’s name in John:3:16 and taking it “by faith.” There is a knowing God, a very real knowing that we are His, and an ongoing communion with Him in prayer. This doesn’t involve visualization, journaling, or any technique, but an intimacy that He initiates and promises to maintain with those who love and obey Him.
Most people, Christians included, would jump at the chance to become an intimate friend and confidant of some world leader, perhaps an astronaut, Olympic gold medalist, the head of a multinational corporation, or a famous heart surgeon. How many, however, neglect the infinitely more wonderful opportunity to know the God who created the universe, to have continual and intimate fellowship with the One who has all power, all wisdom, all knowledge, and Who loves us immeasurably! As with anyone else, God’s companionship must be cultivated. It takes time. And we will only devote the time if we really believe that we can know God and that it is worthwhile.
“He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek [not success, pleasure, health, or wealth but] him” (Heb:11:6). God said to Abram, “I [not land or cattle or other possessions that I will give to you, but I] am thy shield and thine exceeding great reward” (Gn 15:1). God wants to reward us with Himself. Let us not settle for any lesser rewards—for mere gifts instead of the Giver. Let us diligently pursue this intimate fellowship with God that He desires for each of us. Let us say with David, “O God...early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee” (Ps:63:1); and with Paul, “That I may know him,...the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Phil:3:10). May knowing and loving God be our passion, as it was theirs.