One of the things that has been bothering me about modern Christianity is worldliness. Many Christian churches are turning out people who are not much different than the rest of the world. They think like the world. They act like the world. They look like the world. When you compare this to what the Bible says about worldliness, you get the idea that someone has been teaching that worldliness is not a serious issue to Christians.
- What is worldliness according to the Bible? (1 John 2:15-17)
When John tells us not the love the world, he is not referring to this physical world which God made for our enjoyment. Remember that He made the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve. He is not talking about the people in the world either since God loved the world. Instead, he is talking about a way of thinking. “The world … is a system of values and goals from which God is excluded” (Hodges 891). He is talking about the way we used to live before we were changed by God (Eph. 2:2). But it is even more than this.
The world is not just a bunch of temptations that stem from our own desires. It is a Satanic system that is organized to oppose God. “It means the world system, the organized system headed by Satan which leaves God out and is actually in opposition to Him” (McGee 774). So when we think of the world, we have to change our thinking about it. It is not an ambiguous idea that is out there somewhere. It is a way of thinking that is designed to turn people away from everything God stands for.
One of the clearest definitions of worldliness is found in 1 John 2:16. There John defines worldliness in three ways.
a. The lust of the flesh
The first category is the lust of the flesh. Lust is “a strong desire or craving… . [It] predominantly denotes an evil desire” (Hiebert 101-02). We need to be careful that we don’t confuse all human desires as evil, though. “The cravings which God has placed in the human body in themselves are not sinful; they are God-given and essential for continuance of life here on earth. But they readily become sinful when used for illegitimate ends” (Hiebert 102).
When it comes to the lust of the flesh, this is often seen in hedonism, the insatiable desire for pleasure. “Hedonism, the playboy philosophy that makes pleasure mankind’s chief end, still wages battles in people’s hearts” (Blue 829). When we are driven by our lusts in a sinful way, we are guilty of the lust of the flesh. This can be seen in gluttony and sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Adultery, homosexuality, rape, and pre-marital sexual activity is considered to be sin by God. Please note that God designed our bodies with sexual desires which are good, but when these are sought outside of the boundaries He put in place, they breed trouble.
b. The lust of the eyes
The second category of worldliness is the lust of the eyes. This has to do with “the cravings and lusts stimulated by what is seen” (Hiebert 102). These can include immoral desires but also covetousness. The world system is designed to tempt us to find happiness in the things we see. First, we see something, covet it, and then act on that impulse.
Is it any wonder that there are so many billboards, television ads, and color brochures? These are not bad in themselves until they are used to turn us from contentment in what God has provided to the insatiable desire for what we don’t yet have. Remember how the serpent tempted Eve. She listened to his deceitful message and then looked at the fruit. This created in her a desire for something that she wasn’t supposed to have. And as you know the desire was more than she or her husband could handle.
c. The pride of life
The third category of worldliness is the pride of life. This “signifies a proud and ostentatious way of life” (Hodges 891). Ostentatious is defined as something “designed to impress or attract notice” (Google). “It expresses the spirit of the professional ‘braggart’ (alazon), one who extols his own virtues or possessions. … It is an attitude of boastfulness and a hollow self-exaltation based on material possessions of social prominence. It is the disposition to ‘show off’ before others on the basis of worldly possessions or personal abilities and achievements” (Hiebert 102-03).
Is it wrong to be proud of an accomplishment? I suppose that it depends on the attitude you have. If you are constantly talking about what you have accomplished and you never mention God’s part in enabling you to do it, then yes, that would be wrong. Pride is taking the glory for something you have or have done instead of giving the glory to God for what He has done in your life. This is what Satan tried to do with Jesus when he tempted Him in the wilderness. Jump off the building and you will get lots of attention. Acquire all of these cities and you will be famous. The pride of life is designed to turn our attention away from God to ourselves. This is not what God intended.
- How serious is worldliness?
You might get the impression that it would be better for us to move to Mars rather than live in such a sinful environment. But “John is not calling for a monastic separation from the world but for an inner attitude of separation from the sinful world and its practices” (Hiebert 100). Remember that Jesus prayed not that the Father would take us out of the world but that He would keep us from evil.
In this section, let us consider three negative impacts of worldliness.
a. It replaces love for God the Father (1 John 2:15).
When we are focused on fleshly lusts, the lust for things we see, and pride in our own accomplishments, how much room do you think is left to love God. John tells us that if we love the world and are focused on these three categories of worldliness, then love for the Father will not be found in us. That is a serious problem. When you think of all that God the Father has done for you, do you think it good to have anything replacing your love for Him?
b. It makes you an enemy of God (James 4:4).
James takes it a step further. It is not just a lack of love for the Lord, but a rebellion against God. “A rebellious Christian who has an illegitimate relationship with the world is at enmity with God” (Blue 830). Enmity is another way of saying hatred. The Ukrainian soldiers hate the Russian soldiers who are invading their country. When two armies are fighting in a war, there is no love lost between the two. Their end game is to destroy the other soldiers so as to win the war. If you love the world and the lust and pride in it, you are an enemy combatant against God.
What would you think of a Ukrainian soldier who was friendly toward a Russian soldier on the weekend? You would think he was a traitor to his country. Why is he palling around with someone who is trying to destroy his country? This is the same way we should look at friendship with the world system. We should have nothing in common with the desires and thinking of Satan’s world system because it is entirely opposed to God’s character and what He wants for us.
c. It pollutes a Christian’s life (2 Pet. 2:20).
In this passage, Peter has been discussing the evil people who seek to turn Christians away from what God has done in their lives. As you recall, God makes each of us a new creation. He gives us a new nature, the Holy Spirit, and a desire to please Him that we didn’t have before. When God saved each of us, He cleansed us of our sins and washed us white as snow.
But there are some who seek to deceive Christians and to turn them back to their old sinful ways. They speak great swelling words, allure with the lusts of the flesh, and promise liberty but their influence doesn’t help people to become more like Christ. Instead, they pollute the Christian’s life with sinful desires and behaviors.
Someone once described television as a garbage pipe attached to the living room wall. Television, movies, the internet—all of these things can be good but can also pollute the Christian life. They give access to and promote lusts and pride that God calls sinful. We need to be careful what we allow into our homes because much of what is broadcast is not sympathetic with what God desires at best and is often completely against Him.
- What should our response be?
As Christians, our first response to worldliness is often hatred. We hate that worldliness is so tempting. We hate that it turns our love away from God. And when we see others imbibing in worldliness, we can become angry. But before we become too angry with those who have given in to worldliness, let us consider a few Scriptural ways to respond to worldliness.
a. Apply love and humility (Phil. 2:1-8; 4:2-3).
In this morning’s message, we were reminded that we should have the mind of Christ. Remember how Jesus responded to the adulterous woman? He didn’t berate her. Instead, he kindly told her to go and sin no more. Jesus was known for His love and humility. If you think about it, Jesus could look down His nose at us but instead chose to love us.
If we are to be like Jesus, we will notice the sin around us, but we will also remember from where we came. We were sinners. We are often still sinful and need God’s forgiveness and help from others to stop sinning. So, be careful how you respond. Make sure that you are not overly judgmental and that your attitude is based on God’s love and humility.
b. Guard yourself but try to rescue the worldly person (Jude 20-23).
It is interesting that Jude tells us to keep ourselves in the love of God. I think this “does not indicate that salvation depends on one’s own efforts… . Instead a believer is nurtured as he is occupied with God’s love for him, and is in fellowship with Him” (Pentecost 923). So even when we are addressing a worldly Christian, we need to first guard ourselves. We need to keep ourselves right with God and in His love.
But the second thing is that we should try to rescue those who have become worldly. remember that the temptation is great and that many fall. But we shouldn’t stand by and let it happen! We should reach out to worldly Christians and seek to pull them back from the precipice. How many times have you seen a Christian fall back into adultery or drunkenness? Instead of watching the person’s downfall, reach out to them with the love of Christ and prayerfully try to help them turn from their sin back to the Lord.
My initial intention was to address some specific instances of worldliness that are affecting today’s Christians. But that will have to wait until another time. But the foundation has been laid about worldliness and how we should respond to it. What have we learned? Worldliness is a terrible system of lusts and attitudes that are in opposition to God. We can’t love God and these lusts at the same time. If we continue in these sins we will eventually become enemies of God. So let us guard ourselves from the bad influence and also seek to help those who have been deceived by worldly thinking. Perhaps we can save some before their lives are destroyed.
Blue, J. Ronald, “James” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 829-30.
Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Epistles of John, Greenville: BJU Press, 1991, pp. 99-103.
Hodges, Zane C., “1 John” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, pp. 890-91.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. V, 1 Corinthians through Revelation, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983, p.661, 741, 773-75, 873-75.
Pentecost, Edward C., “Jude” The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983, p. 923.
κόσμος as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/kosmos on 5/7/2023.