Dr. Jorge Crespo de Toral was born into an aristocratic family in Ecuador. He was educated as a lawyer and it seemed that he was destined for a life of affluence and power. Instead, Jorge Crespo became a labor lawyer and took up the cause of the poor in a land where workers had no rights and were abused at every turn.
During Ecuador’s tumultuous transition from military rule to democracy, Jorge Crespo was twice arrested and imprisoned. The democratic forces ultimately prevailed, and in the 1960’s, Jorge was selected to help draft Ecuador’s constitution. He also ran in the nation’s first presidential election and finished a strong third.
Many years later, in 1984, at the age of 61, Jorge Crespo was sitting in church one Sunday with his wife listening to the preacher when she turned and whispered to her husband, “What if we really lived by what we say we believe?” Jorge smiled because he had been preoccupied of late with the same question. For the first time in his life he was convinced that his faith was not a private matter, but a framework for all of life.
His opportunity to live out his faith came in the same year when Javier Bustamante, the regional director of Prison Fellowship visited the worst prison in all Ecuador, Garcia Moreno Prison located in Quito. Bustamante challenged Jorge to begin a ministry in Garcia Moreno to bring Christ to prisoners and reform to the nightmarish prison.
Crespo felt God leading him to take the challenge and he began working within the national legislature for criminal justice reform. In Ecuador the saying was, “The wheels of justice grind slowly, and sometimes you have to lubricate them,” meaning most detainees had to bribe the judges just to see their cases come to trial. The judges reasoned that because they were underpaid, they deserved such rewards. But the legislature, aware of the corruption, refused to vote the judiciary better salaries.
Fast forward fourteen years to 1998 and a time when Chuck Colson, the founder and President of Prison Fellowship traveled to Quito, Ecuador to visit Jorge Crespo and the Garcia Moreno Prison. Chuck has written about his visit in his new book, “How Now Should We Live?” Chuck writes,
The sights and smells are seared indelibly in my memory. The prison’s white baroque bell tower hovers like an evil eye, while its heavy dome seems to be collapsing into the sprawling old building. Jorge Crespo elbowed his way through the rugged crowds clustered outside – families waiting in hope of a brief visit – and led us to the front entrance, a small doorway at the top of a few steps. On each side of the steps were huge mounds of garbage, decaying in the heat, and the putrid odor was nearly overpowering. The uneven steps were slippery in places, and the top step splattered with fresh blood. (pg. 4)
Even though they had permission for the visit from government officials, the guards refused to allow them inside because of how dangerous the prison had become. Jorge and Colson insisted and eventually they were allowed inside. Once inside Jorge showed Mr. Colson black, cell-like holes in the concrete walls. Some of these were the notorious torture chambers where prisoners were put into tanks of water until their skin began decaying and sloughing off the bone – a means of extracting confessions.
There was no plumbing in any of the cells. The small cells were inhabited by twelve prisoners each. The cells were so small that the prisoners had to take turns sleeping on the waste splattered floor. Drinking water was carried in buckets to the prisoners and then the same buckets were used to carry waste out of the cells. Hopelessness was everywhere. Men drug themselves along wearing only rags. Darkness seemed to pervade every square inch of the prison.
Mr. Colson noticed a group of garishly made-up women and asked what the women were doing in there? Jorge said, “There are no women in Garcia Moreno.” Puzzled, Mr. Colson pointed to the women and said, “Over there.” Jorge said, “Those aren’t women. Those are transvestites and male prostitutes. They usually stay together for protection from the other inmates.” Colson thought to himself, “This is truly a kingdom of evil.”
While inside they were led a few yards beyond the Detainees Pavilion to Pavilion C which had been turned over to Prison Fellowship workers and volunteers. Colson says, “All at once we stepped out of the darkness and into a radiant burst of light.” (p. 7)
At the far end of the corridor was what looked like an altar, with a huge cross silhouetted against a brightly painted concrete wall. Gathered in an open area before the altar were more than two hundred inmates, who rose up out of their seats, singing and applauding. Some were playing guitars. All were glowing with joy and enthusiasm. Within seconds, we were surrounded, and the prisoners began embracing us like long-separated brothers.
In Pavilion C, Prison Fellowship volunteers and inmate leaders provided rigorous instructions in Christian faith and character development to inmates who were brought out of the other pavilions, including Detainees Pavilion. Regular worship services were led by a variety of priests and ministers. This was a holy community, a church like none I had ever seen.
Beyond Pavilion C was the heart and soul of Garcia Moreno prison, Casa de San Pablo (St. Paul’s House), named after Paul’s imprisonment in the Philippian jail. This was the prison wing for the inmates who had been received into full Christian fellowship and who ministered to the rest of the prisoners. It was spotlessly clean, light streaming in from every direction, beautiful tile floors with separate dorms furnished with wooden bunks made by inmates. Inside was a small prayer closet containing only a bench with a cross on the floor. The prayer closet was in use all day long. Pictures of Jesus and Scripture were everywhere in the wing called “Paul’s house.” What is truly amazing is that “Paul’s house” was once the worst area of Garcia Moreno prison. What use to be the headquarters of a hellish existence had now become the center of prayer, praise, and the practice of Christian love and service.
As the prisoners worshipped together with Chuck Colson and Jorge Crespo, several inmates gave stirring testimonies. One man said, “Coming to this prison is the best thing that ever happened to me. I found Jesus here. I don’t care if I ever leave. I just want others to know that this place is the not the end. There is hope. God can change us even here –especially here.” (p. 8)
What an incredible story, a powerful illustration of the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is also a powerful testimony of truths communicated to us by John in his lesson for us for today. John writes,
15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)
Far too frequently when preachers and Bible students comment on these passages of 1 John they immediately launch into a litany of worldly “things” and people to be avoided by the followers of Jesus. The Bible speaks with a clear and uncompromising voice about things and lifestyles that we should avoid, but this passage of Scripture hits at the heart of the matter and goes much deeper than a mere list of things to avoid.
There is a battle going on today between two world systems: the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. Some have called this a “culture war” in the newspapers and in reports on the television, but I would say that it is a war of the Kingdoms – the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan. Chuck Colson writes of this war,
We live in a culture that is at best morally indifferent. A culture in which Judeo-Christian values are mocked and where immorality in high places is not only ignored but even rewarded in the voting booth. A culture in which violence, banality, meanness, and disintegrating personal behavior are destroying civility and endangering the very life of our communities. A culture in which the most profound moral dilemmas are addressed by the cold logic of utilitarianism. Battle weary, we are tempted to withdraw into the safety of our sanctuaries, to keep busy by plugging into every program offered by our megachurches, hoping to keep ourselves and our children safe from the coming desolation. (p. x)
There is a real attraction for many followers of Jesus today to withdraw from the world into the safe and secure sanctuary of the saints. Many times preachers and believers have used this passage of Scripture to support the temptation to retreat. Is this really what John is urging us to do? Let’s take a look at the Scriptures and pray that God will give us insight into His will for us as we live this life to His glory.
In our study of John’s letter we have already learned that if we are to walk in the light then we must walk as Jesus did. We must love our brothers and sisters, serve God with complete conviction, and allow the Lord to use us as vessels of light to illuminate this dark, dark world.
What does John mean when he says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” The word that John uses for “world” is the Greek word, “ko,smon” (kosmos). The word means, “world, world order, universe, world inhabitants, mankind (especially of men hostile to God), world, realm of existence, way of life (especially as opposed to the purpose of God).” Is John encouraging us to escape this world, set up a Christian commune, and separate ourselves from everything outside of the faith? Is John calling us to renounce this world and all of our neighbors, family members, teammates, classmates, and friends who have not committed their lives to Jesus Christ? Some would say, “Absolutely!” but I tell you that this is the very opposite of what John and all of Scripture call us to do.
God loves the world. The most famous Scripture in the Bible supports this fact as we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 NIV) God loves the world, you and me, and all of His creation so much that He allowed Jesus to die so that we might be redeemed and saved from our sin. You and I suffer from a deadly, terminal disease called sin that has caused us to be separated from God. The holiness of God and sin of any sort can never co-exist.
Never be deceived into believing that God, because of His holiness, has forsaken sinners. Quite the contrary is true. Even with our sin, God loves us. God hates sin because it will destroy you and me, His most prized and precious creations. If you have come here this morning and you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you have never asked Him to forgive you for your sins, or sought to live your life for His glory – He still loves you. He is calling your name this very moment seeking to draw you into the Light of His love and extend to you His salvation.
There were some in John’s day who believed that all physical matter was evil. I came to tell you today that the universe and all that God has created He has declared as good. In Genesis 1, where we read the story of the Creation, God creates the various aspects of the physical universe and at the end of each day we read, “And God saw that it was good.” An interesting thing occurs at the end of the sixth day of Creation, the final day before the Bible tells us that God rested from His work. We read in Genesis 1:31, what God said after He had finished His creative work on the sixth day. “31God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NIV)
John is not calling us to retreat from God’s creation or to retreat from people, He is calling us to fall at the feet of our Savior with total dependence and allegiance, with passion and absolute focus on walking in the Light of His will for our lives.
John wants us to know that God’s ways are altogether different than the world’s ways of doing things. He can’t stress this enough. John writes “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” The key to understanding the Scripture is understanding the word “love.” We must learn that “love” for God means an absolute renunciation of the ways of this world.
Love requires absolute allegiance. We are called to seek God with all of our hearts, to serve Him with an undivided heart, to allow nothing to take His place as our first love. The Kingdom of Darkness will constantly pull at you and me seeking to lure us away from God and His plan for our lives. There is something very important that I don’t want any of us to miss. God’s desire for you and me is that we would totally and completely yield to His will. He wants us to surrender, to wave the ‘white flag” as we surrender our own desires, will, and commitments to self and what we want so that we can walk in His truth, freedom, and salvation. There is only one other way to live this life and that is to declare our independence from God. To make our own decisions, chart our own course, and determine our own destiny. This is the system, or framework for living that John speaks against when he says,
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world.
Everything in the world, everything that matters to those who are opposed to God’s sovereign claim upon our lives, is motivated and animated by the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes, and the boasting of what one has and does. John says that this way of living has absolutely nothing to do with the Father. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that those who are living according to the world’s standards of fulfillment and success are blinded to the Truth. He says,
4The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV)
John wrote in 1 John 5 that those who are opposed to surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ and His will for their life are under the control of the enemy. John says,
19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 John 5:19 NIV)
The way to avoid giving in to the cravings of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and to the pride that comes from what we have and have done is to so give ourselves to the Father that His love and will are the only things that hold any value for our lives. Coming up with a list of the “dos” and don’ts” of walking with God is not the ultimate answer for you and me. I know folks who abstain from things that Scripture warns us to avoid who will willingly confess that they do not believe in God. Simply avoiding things does make one faithful to God. Totally surrendering our lives to our Heavenly Father will lead you into intimate fellowship with Him and away from the things that are not of the Father.
My friend, I want to confess to you that I know what I am talking about not from a theoretical standpoint, simply as one who has studied from a distance the way the world works, but rather as one who has lived apart from God. Everything that you and I think will bring us the happiness, fulfillment, and ecstasy that we think we crave will only end up disappointing us. I wish that I had known the truth that John writes to us before I ever began making such mistakes and willfully living in sin. I could have avoided much heartache. I could have avoided had many of the memories that have plagued me throughout the years. I could have known the freedom and joy that comes from walking with the Savior before I did.
I want you to imagine for a moment the elderly saint sitting you down and holding your hands in front of him as he looks deep into your eyes. Imagine the seriousness written across his face as he draws close to you and says,
17The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
This is such a deep, deep truth of God that we can’t afford to miss. The world’s ways of doing things, the promises for ecstasy and fulfillment that are promised to those who will live apart from God will all pass away. The person who chooses to live their life apart from God and His will for them will pass away and be eternally separated from God.
I want to encourage you today, if you are not walking in fellowship with the Savior, to heed John’s warning and know that what you are clinging to today to bring you happiness will soon lose it sheen.
We are seeing more and more people across the country recognize this fact. Richard Nadler in his work, Glum and Glummer: Positive Change in U.S. Culture Helped by Conservatives, points out to us that the divorce rate is down 19% since 1981, the birth rate among unmarried teens is down 7.5% since 1994, abortion is down 15.3% since 1990, and there has been an astonishing 37 percent decrease in people on welfare since 1993. Even crime is down, despite a surge in the teen population, the age-group that commits the most crime. People are learning that being the captain of our ship will only leave us shipwrecked. Chuck Colson writes,
Why are the cultural trends shifting? Because modernity has played out its destructive logical consequences. All the ideologies, all the utopian promises that have marked this century have proven utterly bankrupt. Americans have achieved what modernism presented as life’s great shining purpose: individual autonomy, the right to do what one chooses. Yet this has not produced the promised freedom; instead, it has led us to the loss of community and civility, to kids shooting kids in schoolyards, to citizens huddling in gated communities for protection. We have discovered that we cannot live with the chaos that inevitably results from choice divorced from morality. (p. xi)
Living apart from God will always lead to destruction even though it promises life like we’ve never known it. But the person who seeks to live according to the will of God will live forever.
I pray that today you and I will come to Jesus as the Lord and King of our lives and seek to live wholeheartedly and exclusively for Him. I pray that today you and I will recognize that all of the promises of this world and its system of individuality are bankrupt of any lasting meaning and fulfillment for life. Today, won’t you invite Jesus to come into your heart and allow you to walk in the fullness of His glorious light?
The bottom line question for all of us this morning is this: “Who do you love?” Will you love the ways of this world and continue to seek meaning and fulfillment in what is pitched to you through the media and through the cultural salesmen of our society? Will you cry out to God this very day and confess your need of the Savior and the meaning and purpose that only He can offer us? Who do you love?
1 John 2:15-17