Third, do you declare … that it is your heartfelt desire … to forsake the world, and to crucify your old nature?
God created the world good— and yet the Bible instructs us (Rom. 2:12):
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
We must not follow the pattern of this world. In fact, Christians are people who do not really belong to the world. Jesus said this clearly (John 15:19):
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
Our relationship with the world is complicated. On one hand, we are part of it and we cannot exist without a world around us. On the other hand, the world is full of evil and we are called to run away from that. One way to summarize this is: “We are in the world but not of the world.”
The Christian philosopher Al Wolters explains it as follows: because of its creation the world has a good structure, but because the fall the world has a wrong direction. You can see this in all aspects of life. The structure of government is beneficial for society, but its direction is often toward corruption and use of power. Your body and mind can do marvellous things (structure) but how often do you use them to hurt other people (direction)?
Can you think of more examples?
Especially the apostle Paul uses the word “world” in a negative sense. He speaks of “the present evil age” from which we must be set free (Gal. 1:4). “We were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world” (Gal 4:3). The fall of Adam and Eve has changed the deepest principles of the good creation, so that it is now thoroughly evil. It is not just mould on the surface that you can scrape away. There are no islands of perfection left. Evil is pervasive. That is why, in our current situation, “the world” is a negative thing.
Forsaking the world
Christians are therefore called to forsake (leave, abandon) the world.
What does that mean in practice?
Some believers tried to this in a very radical way. They became hermits, monks who lived by themselves in the wilderness, minimizing human contact. One hermit, Simeon the Stylite (d. 459) lived for 37 on a small platform on top of a pillar, to be as far from the world as possible and to discourage people from visiting him.
More common were the monks who lived together under a strict set of rules. They spent much time in prayer and psalm-singing, had almost no possessions, and exercised strict discipline on themselves and each other. Many were convinced that sex was bad, or at least that intimate relationships were a distraction, so they remained unmarried.
What do you think of this kind of “forsaking the world”? What are the pros and cons?
In practice, we cannot leave the world; and we also have a calling in this world. Jesus told his disciples to be “salt” and “light” in the world, so that we can oppose its decay and darkness. Our forsaking of the world must happen while we live our life in it. That is hard work.
Are there places and events in the world that are off-limits to Christians? Where do you draw the line?
Forsaking the world can mean avoiding certain places and activities, but often it is more subtle. People expect that you have certain priorities and behaviours. They want you to participate in their gossip, in fighting for your own interest, in activities that are disrespectful. It is a challenge to say “no” at the right time and in the right way!
When you make profession of faith, you vow not only to “forsake the world” but also to “crucify your old nature.” Another way of saying this is “killing your old self.” Because the problem is not just the world around us; the problem lies within. (See our discussion about our sinfulness.)
The Apostle Paul often used the word “flesh” to talk about this problem. (The NIV often translates this word as “human nature” or “sinful nature.”) The problem is not that we are made of flesh and blood, but that all the stuff of which we are made is now in the power of evil and pointed in the wrong direction. We are flesh, yet we must fight against the flesh.
This is a life-long struggle. Our tendency is to do “flesh” things, and they are wrong and sinful.
Read Gal. 5:19-21. Look up the meaning of any words that you don’t know. Discuss some of the activities listed there, and why it is so easy for us to do them. What is the consequence of living “according to the flesh”?
“Forsaking the world and crucifying your old nature” are negative statements. It would be very depressing if there were no positive. But there is.
Jesus Christ brought a new “world”, which he usually called the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. Most of Jesus’ teaching was about the life of this Kingdom. He invites us all to live that life, to be citizens of the Kingdom. It is a life opposite of that of the evil world. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus.
If you are a Christian, then the Kingdom of God is your world, your reality. This is not an easy thing to put into practice, because the Kingdom of God has not yet taken over in our physical reality. But you find the Kingdom of God in the hearts and attitudes of believers, and in the loving community of the church. At least, that is the ideal— and we know from experience how must of a struggle it can be to keep it so.
Just as the world is driven by “the flesh”, the power of sin and evil, so the Kingdom of God is driven by “the Spirit”. Christians are people who are led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25):
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Are you ready and eager to live a life powered by the Spirit, rather than by the world and the flesh?
Memorize: LD 52 q&a 127.
Journal item: none.