John adds a warning and an incentive. The warning is: “and the world passeth away and the lust thereof” (v. 17). The things of the world are temporary, fleeting, and have no lasting value. The world offers pleasure, power, and the fulfillment of the lusts of the flesh, but one day these things will come to an end. There will come a time when you will not be able to enjoy them. However, it is almost impossible to convince a person infatuated with the world that this is the case. A worldly person lives for the moment, especially for the weekend, and it takes a miracle of grace to wrest his heart away from the world.
But by “passeth away” John means more than to underline the world’s temporary nature. These things pass away because they will be destroyed in the judgment. The worldly person will stand before God. The music will be silent, the sensual pleasure will be over, worldly friends will be gone and he will be sober. Then he must give an account to the Almighty: “I exchanged my Creator for the fleeting pleasures of creation. I had no love for God in my heart. The world was my god.” And if the worldly person has only his love for the world he will stand naked before God, stripped of everything except his sins, and will be condemned.
The world (in the evil sense) “passeth away,” its lusts (in the evil sense) will be gone, but the world itself (as God created it and purposed it) will be redeemed. Christ is rightly called the Savior of the world. Never in the Bible is he called the Savior only of the elect. This does not mean that he is the Savior of all men, including the reprobate, but it means that he is the Savior of men from all nations, and more that he is the Savior of the universe, the creation, or the cosmos. Christ redeems God’s world—God’s cosmos—from sin, death, and the curse. The world was sold into the power of the devil because of man’s sin, and Christ purchased the world back. The world of the ungodly with their evil lusts, that world shall be destroyed.
Christ redeems us from the wicked world and for the eternal world of God’s kingdom by his death on the cross (Gal. 1:4). That was necessary because only by the death of the cross could we, his sinful people, ever be part of the new creation in which righteousness dwells. That is part of the reason why Jesus rejected the devil’s third temptation. Satan offered Jesus the world, but Jesus already possessed the promise of the world, but he would receive it the Father’s way, the way of suffering and death.
And it is by the power of the cross that the world is crucified unto us: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal 6:14).
The second incentive is: “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (v. 17). Those who deny themselves the pleasures of the world for a season have no disadvantage. In God’s kingdom there are eternal pleasures that the world will never know. These pleasures are ours already, when we by faith taste and know them. Love not the world. Love the Father. Do his will out of thankfulness to him.
This post was written by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland