Thursday, February 05, 2009

Worldliness: A Preliminary Prod

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?—Jesus, Luke 6:46.

We must resist the spirit of the world—or worldliness—in whatever forms it takes in our age. So warned Francis Schaefer in 1968 in The God Who is There. But what exactly is worldliness? Here is a rough and ready definition of worldliness: Any pattern of living that refuses God’s ways and embraces the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil instead. Worldliness does not mean to care of the things of this world or to be knowledgeable about the world (one definition of this term). Biblically, it means that our perspectives and priorities are out of alignment with God’s way, as revealed in the Bible and as quickened to us by the Holy Spirit. It is a framework for unholiness that often masquerades as Christian and highly “effective.” Worldliness is the way of the fallen world, its ideologies and systems.

This is not a complete treatment, but let us consider a few key Scriptures that warn us of this soul-sapping, Kingdom-betraying condition and how we may repent of it and embrace nothing but God and Kingdom living (Matthew 6:33).

1. Worldliness begins on the human scene with the seduction of the serpent in Genesis 3. This charge was that God was holding something back from our first parents. By disobeying the one thing God forbid—eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—they could gain something beneficial not otherwise available. This is the essence of sin: disbelieving God and consulting and obeying counterfeit sources of information. On the other hand, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” See also Psalm 119.

2. Ancient Israel was called by her covenant Lord to be separate and different from the pagans roundabout her. In so doing, Israel would not be a gated community or a fortress, but “a light to the gentiles.” That is, following God’s way of life shines a light in the darkness. Yet Israel repeatedly turned away from her Lord, forgot his promises, and turned to lesser things: idols. Or they attempted to combine holy worship and living with things that contradicted the covenant, such as worshiping in “the high places” instead of at designed holy places.

3. The prophets repeatedly called Israel from worldliness to repentance and godliness. The knowledge of God must not be suppressed for forgotten. God will not be marginalized for long. The false prophets will be found out and ungodliness/worldliness will be exposed for what it is. Jeremiah, for example, warned of those who prophesied without the counsel of God. Thus, there words were vain and dangerous (Jeremiah 23:25-27).

4. Jesus was holiness Incarnate, so detected and exposed worldliness throughout his ministry, especially in the guise of religion. Consider his stinging rebuke, “He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God's sight” (Luke 16:15).
Popularity or tradition does not equal godliness. The audit of Eternity is what matters eternally. As Soren Kierkegaard repeatedly highlighted, the crowd is usually wrong, and we can seek solace for our sinfulness therein.

5. The Apostle Paul clearly warned of worldliness in Romans 12, after he has given a systematic account of Christian doctrine:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will—Romans 12:1-2.

6. The Apostle John warns the early Christians about worldliness in comparison to matters of eternity.

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever—1 John 2:15-17.

John understands worldliness not as involvement in physicality, but as a sinful approach to life.

7. Worldliness is often subtle and attractive. Think of Paul’s warning about the ways of the devil:

13 For such persons are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.—2 Corinthians 11:13-15.

To avoid worldliness, we must attend to biblical truth studiously and prayerfully; otherwise, we will be misled by what seems to be good, but what is evil. As Jesus warned, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly" (John 7:24).


pennoyer said...


Any tips on how we are to embrace the lordship of Christ (even to the point of being willing to suffer in his name and for his name) without falling into the trap of pharisaism? That trap is always near at hand and the devil loves to shunt zealous Christians into it. If he can't keep us sleeping or overtly compromised, then he is more than willing to misdirect Christians onto the path of some kind of legalism. Either way the true lordship of Christ is missed and, to that extent, we remain unfruitful.

I recently read the little book by Timothy Keller The Prodigal God and that brought this whole issue home to me again. I think the answer has to do with both the grace of God and our true motivations, but the balance is quite difficult and the church can never get enough sound teaching on this. Is the issue big enough that you might consider a separate post on it?

Thanks, Ray

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

"If you love me, keep my commandments," said Jesus. Abide in the Vine; be filled with the Spirit; we wary of legalism in the place of heart-felt, Spirit-led obedience.

Jeremy said...

This is really good. I've been thinking a lot about this issue since I'll be preaching on Cain and Abel on Sunday. I think you've given me some good insight into connecting the viciousness of Genesis 4 with the redemptive work of Christ. Specifically, I've been trying to think of a way to connect Genesis 4 with the Lord's Supper (which we take at the end of every service). I don't have time to go into the link, but it's there. I'll send you the outline.

I'll probably appropriate some of the material (with the appropriate citing of my source, lest I be accused of sermon stealing).