1 John 2:12-17 - The Death of The Dream

Walking In The Light - The Epistles of John  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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In September of 2020, an article appeared online with the striking title, “State-By-State Data Reveals ‘The American Dream is Dead’ After COVID-19”. In the piece, author Lizzie Francis writes about a Harvard economist’s work to “[track] the economic devastation that has hit the country since entire sectors of the economy shut down as a result of stay-at-home orders across the country that were enacted in a push to limit the spread of COVID-19”.
The results of their study revealed that 80 percent of all unemployment and missing jobs were concentrated on the bottom half of wage earners in the country, crippling their upward mobility that would allow them to establish themselves financially and make it possible to own a home. In their words, this data revealed that “The American Dream is dead” (Retrieved 01/12/2022 from https://www.fatherly.com/news/data-american-dream-covid-19-recession/)
Now while that survey was conducted over two years ago, the case can be made that the economy in this country has actually worsened since that time. As we have had occasion to note several times in the past couple of years, God is in the process of “shaking the things that can be shaken in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27).
There are a lot of people who have been putting their trust in their job, their investments, their geographic location, their political leaders—and they are now coming to realize that none of those things seem to be surviving very well these days!
And God’s Word tells us outright not to be surprised that these things happen, doesn’t it? Take for example the passage that we read earlier from Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus warned His followers not to “lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Jesus calls His children to have a completely different set of priorities from the unbelieving world around us. The priorities that we hold, the goals that we pursue, the treasures that we strive to lay up are supposed to set us apart from the rest of the world.
But how often is that true? How different are your priorities from those of the unbelieving world around you? Or are you more often than not just like the Gentiles that Jesus pointed to in the Sermon on the Mount, constantly stressed and anxious over “What shall we eat, what shall we drink, what shall we wear??”
If the past twenty months or so has revealed in you a mounting anxiety over the fragility of your prosperity—if you have been living in a constant state of anguish over how the economy is messing with your retirement savings or anger and frustration over the precarious political future of our state or our nation, or apprehensive about the erosion of the liberties and freedoms that our nation has always promised—then God has not just been shaking what can be shaken in our world—He has been shaking what can be shaken in you.
Because the Scriptures call that apprehension and anxiety and anguish you have been experiencing by another name—it is unbelief. You simply do not believe that the treasures you have in Heaven in Christ are worth more and more lasting than your 401(k) or your health care coverage or your robust immune system or reliable midterm election results. Jesus tells you not to be anxious over these things, and you are being anxious anyway. He is in the middle of shaking the “American Dream” to pieces, and it bothers you more than it should.
And so what I want to do this morning, as we come to the end of 1 John 2 is to show you from this text is that
When you DELIGHT in God you will not be DISMAYED by the DEATH of the American Dream
John’s message for his readers here at the end of Chapter 2 is very similar to what Jesus told His followers in Matthew 6:
1 John 2:15 (ESV)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
And so, leading up to that warning in verse 15 not to love the world or the things of the world, John begins with a poem of sorts—one that gives us

I. Three reasons to TREASURE God more than the WORLD (1 John 2:12-14)

1 John 2:12–14 (ESV)
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Now, commentators are split on why John uses these different descriptions for his readers—he calls them “little children” several places through his letters, and it’s most likely a term of endearment for the believers (after all, John was probably in his eighties at the earliest when he wrote this letter, and when the average lifespan of the times was forty or fifty, it certainly fit to call just about everyone he knew a “kid!”)
But I think it is helpful to look at the way he addresses his readers in terms of their walk with Christ (which is the whole subject of the letter!) In every church (including this one!) there are Christians who are “little children”—folks who have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ relatively recently—people who are just learning to “walk” with Christ.
To these new believers, who perhaps are still struggling with their new identity in Christ, or are still haunted by the past they have left behind, John encourages them by reminding them,
You are FORGIVEN (v. 12)
1 John 2:12 (ESV)
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
When John says that you are forgiven “for His Name’s sake”, he is connecting your forgiveness in Christ with God’s jealousy for His glory. Now, what do I mean by that? Think of it this way; the Stewardship Committee is currently in the process of reviewing bids from various contractors about some repairs and remodeling that we hope will take place here at the church this year. At our monthly Leadership Council meeting, Steve said that one of the contractors told him the reason his bid was late was because he was making sure that he could “do a job he could put his name on”. In other words, he was jealously protecting his reputation, his name.
In the same way, God is jealous to preserve the glory of His Name by saving the people He has promised to save. We see this throughout the Old Testament:
Psalm 25:11 (ESV)
For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Jeremiah 14:21 (ESV)
Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us.
Psalm 79:9 (ESV)
Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!
Isaiah 43:25 (ESV)
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
And so what John is saying here is that you have been forgiven for all your sins by Jesus’ work on the Cross—you have called on His Name to save you, and so that means that God will by no means allow His Name to suffer a bad reputation by failing to save you! you can treasure God more than the world because your sin, your guilt, your shame before God is forgiven—and God stakes His eternal glory on it! What greater assurance can you have, Christian, than the truth that your sins are forgiven for His Name’s sake!?
New believers can take comfort that their sins, their past really is forgiven in Christ.
In verses 13 and 14, John gives another reason to treasure God over the world—because
You KNOW God as your FATHER (vv. 13, 14)
1 John 2:13 (ESV)
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
Not only does God stake His reputation on your salvation, but He also brings you into relationship with Him! John says that you are a child of the Father—you belong to Him! What a transformation from your relationship with Him before you came to salvation through Christ—Ephesians 2:3 says that you used to be a “child of wrath”, but now you are a child of His love and mercy!
And as well as you know Him now, in His love for you and His mercy toward you to deliver you and atone for your sins for His Name’s sake—John says that the longer you walk with Him, the better you will know Him!
Notice how John says in both verses 13 and 14, “I am writing to you fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning…” This is a treasure not just for “baby” Christians who have just come to know God through Christ, but it is surely a deeper and more precious treasure for those who have been walking with Him for years and for decades!
As deeply and intimately and wonderfully as you know God now—as much as He has revealed Himself to you to be your Father, your Friend, your Refuge, your Strength, your Joy—someday you will look back on your relationship with Him now and marvel at how much more deeply you know Him!
In his classic work Knowing God, J. I. Packer opens the chapter entitled “The People Who Know Their God” with these words:
I walked in the sunshine with a scholar who had effectively forfeited his prospects of academic advancement by clashing with church dignitaries over the gospel of grace. ‘But it doesn’t matter,’ he said at length, ‘for I’ve known God and they haven’t.’” (Packer, J., I. (1993). Knowing God (Anniversary ed.). InterVarsity Press. p. 24)
How precious is that kind of treasure, Christian?! To know God on those terms--that you have experienced His love and faithfulness and delight in you in such a way that the hardships and opposition you face in your life “don’t matter” in comparison with what you have gained by knowing God! 
Treasure God more than the world because your sins have been forgiven for the sake of His Name, treasure Him because you know Him as your Father, and treasure Him because
You are VICTORIOUS in the FAITH (vv. 13, 14)
Look again at verse 14:
1 John 2:14 (ESV)
I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Just as we have young Christians who are just learning to walk with Christ and we have Christians who have walked with God and known Him for many years and who bring others to faith, so we have the “young men”—the warriors, the ones who are growing and maturing and learning to fight and win over all of the temptations and attacks of the Devil. (Now, to be sure, learning to fight the temptations and schemes of Satan is for every believer—but John uses the image of “young men” to remind us that no one is too young or too old to fight in this war!)
John says that when it comes to overcoming the Evil One, our strength comes from two places. First, he says, you are strong because “the Word of God abides in you.” If you have been a believer for any length of time, you know this to be true, don’t you? Your greatest success in fighting off the temptations of sin and Satan comes from reading and retaining this Book!
Psalm 119:11 (ESV)
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Jesus Himself, when He was 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, being tempted by the Devil, fought those temptations by quoting the Scriptures whenever He was tempted to disobey His Father’s will—and when you store God’s Word in your heart, you are strong to resist the Devil’s schemes as well!
But there is another sense in which we can say that the Word dwells in us—Jesus Christ Himself is the “Word of God”, as John writes in the introduction to His Gospel. Christian, you are strong to overcome the Evil One with his schemes and lies and accusations because of the work of Christ for you on the Cross!
1 John 3:8 (ESV)
...The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
Christian, you are strong because the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ has taken away your condemnation! Satan has been cast out of the throne room of heaven and can no longer bring formal charges against you—and instead of an Accuser standing before God day and night, you have Jesus Christ as your Advocate!
See how far greater a treasure you have in Christ than in any worldly gain you could possibly find in the dying American Dream! When you delight in God, you will not be dismayed at the death of the American Dream—John gives you three reasons why you can treasure God more than the world, and he goes in in verses 15-17 to give you

II. Three reasons that the “TREASURES” of this world are WORTHLESS (2:15-17)

1 John 2:15 (ESV)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
When John says that we are not to love “the world” or “the things in the world”, he is referring specifically to what we might today call a worldview—the governing philosophy of thoughts, values and behaviors that are set directly against God and His truth. And in the rest of this chapter, John gives three reasons why the so-called “treasures” that this world offers you are worthless compared to the treasure that you have in knowing God through Jesus Christ.
First, John says, the treasures of this world are worthless because
The world cannot give you what you NEED (v. 15)
Verse 15 says that you must not “love the world or the things in the world”. The great human need is to be loved; the great human tragedy is loving a world that does not love you! So many people have tried to find love by giving their love to someone or something that has instead devoured or abused or destroyed them. John says that you will not find the love you are craving from this world or the things of this world. In the end, loving this world is a self-destructive love. In fact, James writes in his epistle that “friendship with the world is hatred towards God” (James 4:4). John echoes this in our text— “If anyone loves the word, the love of the Father is not in him”. The love that you are looking for can only come from God. And if you give your love to this world trying to find love, you are rejecting Him—the only source of true and lasting love.
The so-called “treasures” of this world are worthless—the world cannot give you what you need, and
The world cannot give you what it PROMISES (v. 16; cp. Genesis 3:6)
1 John 2:16 (ESV)
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
Here in this verse, John is drawing on a story that goes right back to the beginning of the world—in Genesis 3, we are told of how the Serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Eve to disobey God’s command and eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Genesis 3:6 we read
Genesis 3:6 (ESV)
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
John describes the so-called “treasures” of the world in terms of that forbidden fruit—Eve saw that it was good for food—it would satisfy her appetite. The “desires of the flesh” are the things the world offers us that promise to satisfy our body’s needs and cravings; our lusts, our appetites, our luxuries and comforts.
Eve saw that the fruit was “a delight to the eyes”—the “desires of the eyes” that John warns about are the vanities and shallowness of physical attractiveness and beauty, as well as the hidden danger of lust and sin that comes through the eyes (as Jesus warned that looking at someone with lust is the same as the sin of adultery itself - Matthew 5:28).
Eve saw that the fruit was “desired to make one wise”—John warns about the “pride of life” that causes us to be wise in our own eyes, to puff ourselves up with how smart and successful and clever we are. The same temptations that Adam and Eve succumbed to still threaten us today, and John warns us that they are lies—they will never deliver on their promises.
And where the First Adam succumbed to those lies, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, exposed them for the lies they are and defeated them. When Satan tempted Jesus to satisfy His physical, fleshly needs by turning stones into bread, He exposed the lie of the desires of the flesh with God’s Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
When Satan tempted Jesus by showing Him all the splendors and glories of the world’s kingdoms, Jesus exposed the lie of the desires of the eyes with God’s Word: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Exodus 20:3).
When Satan tempted Jesus to leap off the pinnacle of the Temple so that He could show off His power and authority in a miraculous show of His greatness, Jesus exposed the lie of the “boastful pride of life” with God’s Word: “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16)—do not attempt to make God do your prideful, boastful will!
Jesus showed that this world can never give you what it promises—the so-called “treasures” that this world tries to sell you are worthless compared to knowing and treasuring God. And in verse 17 John gives us one more reason why not to treasure this world:
The world cannot give you what will LAST (v. 17)
1 John 2:17 (ESV)
And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Don’t rely on the so-called “treasures” of this world to give you the love and comfort and satisfaction and belonging and purpose that you are longing for—because none of these things will last! That career that you pour so many years of life and energy into—someday it will be nothing more than a gold watch gathering dust in a drawer somewhere—and that watch will get sold to a stranger along with the rest of your estate someday.
That home that you are so proud of, that you have worked so hard to build and keep—someday someone will come in with a sledgehammer and tear out that new kitchen, someday a bulldozer will level those walls down to the foundation because the new landowner wants something else built there.
Those friendships that mean so much to you that you are willing to distance yourself from your walk with Christ, and you are willing to downplay your faith in order to be accepted, you jump into the coarse words and reckless sin so that you can be part of the group—you do know they are going to eventually betray you, right? All of that “friendship” they offer you will someday leave you hanging out to dry.
That relationship that, deep-down, you know is unhealthy, the codependency and manipulation that you refuse to acknowledge—but you ignore all that for the sake of the “love” that you think you’ll finally find there in their arms? God’s Word warns you—that relationship is going to destroy you!
There is only one place where you will find the love that you were made for—and that is in the arms of Jesus Christ. Stop trying to find it out there in the world—there is no love of God out there, and whatever love the world promises you is neither love for God or love of God!
There is only one way to find the love and peace and joy and purpose that you were made for, and the fading and dying corpse of the American Dream cannot provide it! As one preacher put it, The American Dream can’t save you—only Jesus Christ can save you from the American Dream! You have a greater treasure in God through Christ than anything this world can offer you—He has staked His own glory on forgiving your sins in His Name! He is your Father—even if you never had one growing up or your earthly father was a failure or even a threat—He is the most perfect Father that you could ever want! He has given you victory over the attacks of the Devil on your life, with His own powerful Word hidden in your heart and His own powerful presence in your life!
If you are still treasuring the promises of this world to satisfy you, please hear what God has brought you here today to learn—this world is fading away! The American Dream is falling apart before your eyes—don’t waste your life chasing that which cannot satisfy you! Loving this world means hating God; loving the things of this world means rejecting the treasure that is offered you in Christ. If you commit yourself to pursuing everything this world tells you is worth pursuing, you will pass away with it. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever”. In his Gospel, John tells you what God would have you do: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent!” (John 6:29).
The American Dream can’t save you, but Jesus can save you from the American Dream! Let go of this world’s false and futile promises, and cling to the only Treasure worth having—a treasure that can’t rust or fade or devalue, a treasure that can’t fail you when you need it most, a treasure that you will have forever! Call on Him for forgiveness for your sin and cleansing from your guilt—come, and welcome to your True Treasure! Jesus Christ!
Ephesians 3:20–21 (ESV)
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


Why is it important to reflect on what we have in Christ, as John does in 1 John 2:12-14? Which of the “treasures” he lists there are most precious to you?
What does it mean to “have victory over the evil one?” How has Christ already won that victory over Satan’s accusations? How do we fight his continuing temptations as Christians today?
What does it mean to “love the world”? Does this mean that we are to despise the good gifts God gives us (family, home, health, belongings?) Why or why not? How does rightly loving God enable us to love the world we live in rightly?
Spend some time this week reflecting on “the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life”—are there any areas of your life where these temptations are waging war against you?
Read the account of Jesus’ response to Satan’s temptations in Matthew 4:1-11. How does He provide an example for you in your war against these attacks?
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