By Pastor Tom Bennett & Mike Lotzer
Followers of Jesus often become obsessed with temporary things.
When this happens, it is as if we have an emotional or physical love affair with the things of this world. You’ve likely watched this play out in your own life or in someone you know. We increasingly stop loving and experiencing the love of our Heavenly Father because we’re too preoccupied with lesser and temporary things. You might think of these things as “spiritual traps.” The apostle John lists three such worldly traps in his first letter. He warns followers of Jesus not to love the world and outlines how a primary love for the world can trap us:
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fathe is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. – 1 John 2:15-17
John warns against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. So let’s briefly look at these three spiritual traps:
1. The Pleasure Trap
“The lust of the flesh” means “bodily desires.” Lust, in Greek, is epithymía, meaning over or super desire. In English, lust mainly implies a sexual kind of fleshly temptation, but John’s wording invites us to consider multiple bodily desires. Food, sleep, comfort, sex, fitness, alcohol, and even health and wellness are all worldly things that can capture our affection and attention, among many others.
Students of history will recall the infamous Louis XIV, a French King well known for his excess and indulgence. King Louis was an extreme sensualist. He fathered 18 children! He loved rich food, lavish entertainment and seemed utterly incapable of saying no fleshly desires. Consider that we all have a little metaphorical Monarch living within our hearts, and this “would be King or Queen” is frequently tempted to satiate every and any bodily craving that comes our way.
2. The Novelty Trap:
John further describes the things of this world as “the lust of the eyes.”
Again, because lust means something like “super or inordinate desire,” this phrase conveys a condition in which a person is constantly scanning the horizon of life looking for something. What are they seeking? What’s next, and what’s new! Of course, human beings need structure, but how we also long for the novelty of this world. What is new? What is next? What is fresh and unique and at the cutting edge of progress and fashion?
At the peak of his career, actor Nicolas Cage spent 150 million dollars in less than six years. So what did he buy, you ask? Cage bought novelty and a lot of it! More specifically, he purchased things like an expensive dinosaur skull, a giant live Octopus, and a private island. This extreme case study warns us to be vigilant when facing the Novelty Trap.
When we go through life obsessed with what is next and new, we miss out on what is now. As a result, we miss out on the presence of God in our present moment. We also miss out on so much of what God has for us now and in the future.
3. The Self-Reliance Trap:
The third and final spiritual trap that John warns us of is “the pride of life.” In Greek, the word for life used here is bios, and scholars suggest it refers, in this context, to “how one gets along or makes a living.” So John is begging us not to take pride in our ability to provide for ourselves, to be self-reliant. From childhood, many of us learned that it is a virtue to take responsibility for meeting our own needs, to be self-sufficient. Yet from a spiritual perspective, self-reliance is often the sin behind the sin.
When we experience success in making money, raising great kids, or maintaining our physical security, it is tempting to credit all of it to our self-reliance.
“I worked harder than anyone, and nobody can take away the legacy of success I achieved.” Unfortunately, that attitude will draw you away from a deep and meaningful relationship with God quickly. Why is that the case? Well, self-reliance gives the glory that belongs to God to someone who does not deserve it, you and me. Sure, you and I bring something to the table. Sure, we may have gifts and wins over time but who gave us the bodies, minds, health, connections, and even the desires to accomplish what we have? Self-reliance is the opposite of God-reliance. It is likely why the gospel is transforming many more lives and winning more converts in the developing world and in persecuted places than in the materially wealthy places on our planet. When daily life is desperate, people find it easier to rely on God rather than their own competence. The truth is that Christ died for our sins because we needed a savior. Therefore we can never claim to be ultimately self-reliant.
The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. – 1 John 2:17
The person who is practicing God’s priorities now is living in the age to come. What is more, living in God’s will means living in the freedom of the coming Kingdom today. What if what you think of as freedom is much closer to slavery? When we are enthralled with the pleasures, novelties, and competencies of the world, we come to rely on those things more and more and we are simply incapable of looking at Jesus.
As the old song says…
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
So ask yourself the hard question, “Have you fallen into the pleasure or novelty traps? If so, turn your affections toward your Heavenly Father. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to do it. Are you convicted of taking credit for how competent, responsible, or successful you have been in life? Remind yourself in God’s presence that all the glory and praise belongs to Him. He is the Author and Owner of every good thing and the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of every follower of Christ.
May you avoid the traps and have the humility to ask for help when you step in one.