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  • Chad Werkhoven

1 John 5:19-20 - World Domination

What in the world does it mean that the evil one controls the world?


1 John 5:19-20 (ESV)

19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.


Listen to passage & devotional:


Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 15: The Doctrine of Original Sin

We believe

that by the disobedience of Adam

original sin has been spread

through the whole human race.

It is a corruption of all nature—

an inherited depravity which even infects small infants

in their mother’s womb,

and the root which produces in man

every sort of sin.

It is therefore so vile and enormous in God’s sight

that it is enough to condemn the human race,

and it is not abolished

or wholly uprooted

even by baptism,

seeing that sin constantly boils forth

as though from a contaminated spring.


it is not imputed to God’s children

for their condemnation

but is forgiven

by his grace and mercy—

not to put them to sleep

but so that the awareness of this corruption

might often make believers groan

as they long to be set free

from the “body of this death.”

Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians

who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation.



The way John put it doesn't sound right, does it. How could he write "the whole world lies in the power of the evil one?" Doesn't this seem to fly in the face of the two weeks we recently spent coming to understand how the doctrine of God's providence teaches that God ordains everything that comes to pass? How can the evil one control the world if God Almighty controls all things?

The solution to our dilemma is understanding that the word 'world' has different meanings in different contexts. For example, the exact word John uses here is kosmos, which is the same word we still use to describe the entire world - not just our planet, but the sun, moon, stars, galaxies, and so forth. But clearly the evil one doesn't have power or control over any of these things!

Another clue comes in how John used the word 'world' earlier, when he commanded us to "not love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15)." Clearly he doesn't mean we can't love spring wildflowers or the smell of a freshly tilled field, or other beautiful things or people in God's kosmos!

What the Bible so often means when it uses the word 'world' in this sort of context is precisely what our Confession is currently unpacking for us: a world of people hopelessly addicted to sin. Such people certainly are "in the power of the evil one." His power is not absolute, and mysteriously, even the evil one is subject to God's sovereignty, but yet he has an entire arsenal of distractions, attractions, and lies that he uses to control people born with a comprehensive sin infection like puppets.

Dig Deeper

It's good to be reminded that "the whole world is under control of the evil one (NIV)," but that's not the primary point John wants you to remember from this passage. The big idea that John tells you here is that "we know that we are from God."

In other words, because you have been chosen to be set apart by God before the creation of the world, and because your sin has been fully atoned for by the blood of Christ, and because your heart/mind has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer included in the definition of the word 'world' when it's used in this context. This means the evil one doesn't have one bit of power over you!

John here explains exactly what it means to have your heart/mind regenerated. Jesus, the Son of God, "has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true." Whereas sin previously had blinded your mind to God's truth, you can now fully understand and know Jesus, who "is the true God and eternal life."

Once again we see that the key to living as Christians is using the muscle between our ears. Since you've been "given understanding," keep doing what you're doing right now, "so that you may know him" more and more by learning to distinguish the beautiful kosmos God has created from the fallen, sinful world under the power of the evil one.

  • ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, whom we are from and His Son, Jesus Christ who "is the true God and eternal life."

  • ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for the understanding He's given you, and pray for the discipline to exercise and grow your knowledge so you can separate yourself from the fallen, sinful world.



Read the New Testament in a year! Today: Matthew 21


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