The World-System

By James M. Rochford

As we’ve already discussed (see “Satanology”), Satan is not merely an amorphic symbol for evil in the world. The Bible teaches that Satan is a real and personal being who battles believers in a multitude of ways. The chief way he distracts believers is through the kosmos.

What is the kosmos?

Yet Satan’s primary strategy in drawing people away from God is the world itself which he rules. The New Testament (NT) uses the term kosmos to describe Satan’s use of the world to battle believers. BDAG defines the term kosmos in this way:

(1) that which serves to beautify through decoration, adornment, adorning. Homer used the term kosmos in this way to refer to the decor of women (Iliad, 14.187). The Septuagint translates “ornaments” and “decorations” with the word kosmos (Jer. 2:32; 4:30; Isa. 3:18; 61:10; Prov. 20:29). In the NT, Peter used the word for the “adornment” of Christian women (1 Pet. 3:3), and Paul used it in this way as well (1 Tim. 2:9; 3:2). Even today, we use the term “cosmetic” to refer to beauty, which comes from the Greek root kosmos.

(2) condition of orderliness, orderly arrangement, order. Homer used the term kosmos to refer to the orderliness of the rowers on a ship (Odyssey, 13.76) or soldiers in formation for battle (Iliad, 2.554). Plato used it in the sense of the orderliness of human society and law (De Legibus, 8.846). Grammarian Colin Brown writes, “In Greek philosophy kosmos is the basic term for the world-order, the world-system, the sum total of things preserved by this ordering.”[1] Likewise, a second century Christian apologist used this term (kosmou) to describe how God brought the Church and apostles together in an orderly way to reach humanity with the gospel (“[all things] are arranged in order”).[2]

(3) the sum total of everything here and now, the world, the (orderly) universe. Another definition for kosmos is most similar to our modern word “cosmos,” namely everything that exists. So the NT uses kosmos to refer to the universe (Acts 17:24; Mt. 24:21; 25:34; 26:13; Lk. 11:50), the Earth (Mk. 8:36; 1 Cor. 5:10), or all of humanity (Jn. 3:19; 2 Cor. 5:19).

Thus when we read the term kosmos (“world”) in Scripture, this doesn’t merely describe the world, but is better translated as the world-system. The kosmos is a cosmetically beautiful and orderly system that values temporal or transitory pleasures, distracting us from the love and values of God. John writes, “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:16-17). The world-system is a poor substitute for eternity, because none of its pleasures or accomplishments transcend death. Paul writes, “We cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim. 6:7). Jesus said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). The world-system works to distract people from the love of God. Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!” (Mt. 18:7).

The mind behind the world-system

While humans fill and adopt the thinking of the world-system, Scripture teaches that there is ultimately a mind behind the system. Satan is “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31; cf. 14:30), as well as “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). John writes that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Jesus prayed that we would be kept from the evil one, as we move out into the world (Jn. 17:15). Paul calls Satan “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel” (2 Cor. 4:4). Demons (kosmokrator) are coregents with Satan, ruling our world with him (1 Cor. 2:8; Eph. 6:12).

Loving God and loving the world-system are mutually exclusive

The world hates Christ (Jn. 15:18) and followers of Christ (Jn. 15:19). Jesus said “the world cannot receive” the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:17), and he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36). Thus God’s kingdom stands in stark opposition to the values of the world-system. Jesus gives a peace “not as the world gives” (Jn. 14:27).

When we sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure for the cause of Christ, this seems to be foolish to those enmeshed in the world-system. Just as Judas believed it was a waste to place resources at the feet of Christ in worship (Jn. 12:5), people devoted to the world-system believe that followers of Christ are foolishly wasting their lives. Yet because this world will fade away, Paul writes, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20) Paul writes, “The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God” (1 Cor. 3:19). Dedicated followers of Christ know that we were made for heavenly pleasures that only God can give. As David wrote, “In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11).

Because a Christian view of reality directly contrasts with the world-system, John writes, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15), and he writes, “Whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 Jn. 3:17) This is why Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mt. 6:24), and he said, “What this world honors is detestable in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15 NLT). Likewise, Peter warned of the “the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pet. 1:4; cf. 2:20).

God considers love for the world to be spiritual adultery. James writes, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). McCallum writes, “God calls loving the kosmos adultery (James 4: 4) because it neutralizes our spirituality just as unfaithfulness would spoil your marriage.”[3] Thus believers should “keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27).

Since the world-system values things over people, God will ultimately judge the world-system. Jesus said, “Judgment is upon this world” (Jn. 12:31), because its “deeds are evil” (Jn. 7:7). While the concept of the kosmos appears throughout Scripture, many Christians do not understand this concept very well. McCallum notes, “Most Christians seem to have only a modest understanding of what it is or what to do about it.”[4]

How should believers react to the world-system?

Jesus came to the world to bring it true joy: “These things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (Jn. 17:13). Since Christ has reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19), he said that we should not leave the world: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world” (Jn. 17:15). Instead, he said, “I also have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18). Paul wrote, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world… for then you would have to go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:9-10). While the dangers of the world-system are very real, we are told to remain in the world-system without compromising to its thinking. To illustrate this concept, consider the danger of having your child drowning in water. One way to protect them would be to keep them away from pools, lakes, and oceans their entire lives; but the other way would be to teach them to swim. Thus Paul tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). As we steep our minds in God’s view of reality, we become able to traverse the thinking of the world-system without placing ourselves in a fortress of “Christian culture.”

Jesus said that his followers “are the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14). Paul writes that believers should stand out from the world: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:14-15). Paul writes that “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15; cf. Lk. 19:10), and Jesus tells us that we have the same mission: “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn. 20:21). Thus believers are on the same rescue mission of Jesus, liberating people from the world-system.

Believers can engage the world-system because of God’s power

Because Christ promised to be with us until the end of the age (Mt. 28:20), we don’t need to fear the world-system. Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). We have a new position in Christ, which includes being dead to the world. Paul writes, “The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Therefore, we can overcome the allure of the world-system through trusting God. John writes, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:5) The Holy Spirit gives us the power to show the love of God in the world-system. John writes, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The Holy Spirit brings conviction on the world (Jn. 16:18).


There are a few ways for the believer to fight against the world-system:

1. Repent if you realize you have been enmeshed in it.

James writes, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (Jas. 4:4-10).

2. Actively pursue spiritual growth and ministry (Gen. 2:15).

Unless we fill the void with God’s way of life, we will be drawn back into the kosmos. C.S. Lewis’s fictional demonic character writes, “It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster (his conversion). The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the Enemy [God] plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will.”[5]

3. Have a critique of the world-system

Does Money Make Us Happy?We contend that materialismis the central issue facing believers today. We define “materialism” as the excessive desire to acquire and consume material goods. As we study various different aspects of American culture, this conclusion becomes unavoidable.

The Eternal PerspectiveThis article explains the futility of investing in temporary meaning and values. This material is particularly persuasive for the materialistic mindset.

Why Become a Giver?Financial giving is the best way to battle materialism in the life of the believer. Without learning to become a generous giver to the cause of Christ, we will all be very vulnerable to the effects of materialism. We believe there are several good reasons for joining in this important spiritual work.

The Bible and MaterialismThis article contains many of the pertinent verses regarding materialism. They are systematically arranged by subject matter.

Jesus and MaterialismThis article contains all 204 verses that we counted, where Jesus speaks to the subject of materialism.

Further Reading on Materialism This is a list of books and articles that we found helpful in our research on materialism.

Return to “Satanology”

[1] Guhrt, J. (1986). κόσμος. L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), New international dictionary of New Testament theology (Vol. 1, p. 521). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[2] The Letter to Diognetus, 12:9.

[3] McCallum, Dennis. Satan and His Kingdom: What the Bible Says and How It Matters to You. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2009. 112.

[4] McCallum, Dennis. Satan and His Kingdom: What the Bible Says and How It Matters to You. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2009. 103.

[5] Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. xiii.