Hindrances to Discipleship: The World - page 1

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From the Fall 2012 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Hindrances to Discipleship: The World

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
Director of Ministry, C.S. Lewis Institute


n the previous issue of Knowing & Doing, we began a series on the three major hindrances to following Jesus Christ: the world, the flesh, and the devil. In that issue, we focused on the devil, his revolt against God, his resistance to God’s kingdom, and his schemes against believers. In this issue we will seek to understand the world system, its origin and nature, and how the devil works through it to enslave and destroy God’s people and thwart His kingdom.

What Is “the World”?

  What does the New Testament mean by the word world? There are three Greek words translated as “world.” Oikoumene usually means the inhabited world, especially the Greco-Roman world. Aeon means an “age” and is sometimes also rendered “world.” But the most significant word used is kosmos, which originally meant “order or arrangement” and can refer to the created order or to the inhabited world or to the world in revolt against God, depending on context. It is this latter, more sinister, use that we are especially concerned with here.
   In the Bible, the world in this negative sense represents the “stage of history” upon which human life has been lived since Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. Their tragic revolt unleashed a cascade of terrible effects on human life. We know the story of how they forfeited God’s Spirit, became curved in on themselves, and lost the happiness of Eden. We also know that everyone born into the world since has inherited their corrupted, self-centered nature, a nature that is dead to God and enslaved in sin. It is this fallen nature that has shaped human societies, expressing our rebellion against God on the corporate level.
   The depths to which such societies can descend are seen in God’s assessment of the world that developed after the fall: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).1 But even when societies do not fall to such levels of depravity, at the most fundamental level fallen human beings are alienated from the true God and dominated by sin, the devil, and his minions. Thus, in a very real sense, “the world represents the systematic expression of human sin in human cultures.”2
   With penetrating insight, Richard Lovelace elaborates on this world system:

When world is used in a negative sense in Scripture, what is meant is the total system of corporate flesh operating on earth under Satanic control, with all its incentives of reward and restraint of loss, its characteristic patterns of behavior, its anti-Christian structures, methods, goals and ideologies. It is substantially identical with Babylon and with Augustine’s City of Man. It involves many forms and agencies of evil which are hard to discern and to contend against on the basis of an individualistic view of sin. Included are dehumanizing social, economic and political systems; business operations and foreign policy based on local interest at the expense of general human welfare and culturally pervasive institutionalized sins such as racism.3

  The Bible describes such a world as “godless,” that is, lacking reverence and awe for the true God. It takes only a moment’s reflection to see evidence of this all around us today. The five major institutions of society—the family, education, economics, religion, and government—are organized and operate without any consideration of the existence of the true God and His righteous will. (Religion may seem to be an exception. But any religion that does not profess the God of the Bible as revealed in Jesus Christ is operating in spiritual blindness and error. And even much so-called Christianity, including our own, is often moribund, nominal, or riddled with pagan superstition.) Godlessness is evident in most newspapers, magazines, television programs, movies, and other forms of communication, advertisement, and entertainment. They pursue their purposes as if the God of heaven and earth did not exist. This powerful, negative environment presses upon people from all directions to shape and mold how they think, feel, and act.

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