What is Worldliness?

heart_globeIn Tim Challies‘ recent review of the new book, Worldliness (edited by CJ Mahaney; Challies offers a less-stellar-than-usual review ), he summarized the view presented of the term “worldliness:”

“He biblically defines worldliness saying that this world we’re not supposed to love is ‘the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God.’ Worldliness is a love for this fallen world and, specifically, ‘to gratify and exalt oneself to the exclusion of God.’ Mahaney is careful to point out that worldliness is not extrinsic to us but intrinsic, inhabiting our fallen hearts. Worldliness does not consist of outward actions (though such actions can certainly be evidence of worldliness) but instead is a heart attitude that rebels against God. The antidote to worldliness is the cross of Christ. ‘Only through the power of the cross of Christ can we successfully resist the seduction of the fallen world.’ Worldliness dulls our affections for Christ and distracts our hearts from him. Hence it is so serious ‘because Christ is so glorious.’

I believe the Bible leaves little room to doubt that definition or something close to it. Worldliness is more a disposition than a style

The Bible does say that worldliness is a matter of where our affections are placed. Compare these two verses:

I John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

I Samuel 2:17 Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.

It’s clear that Mahaney is right – worldliness is intrinsic. Our outward expressions may reflect that notion, but true worldliness is a matter of the heart. If one looked for a verse in the Bible that said “don’t look like the world” – a phrase often said – he would be disappointed. We are told to love not the world. Those who do are without the love of the Father. In 2 Samuel 17, Eli’s sons were obviously not content with what they received from the LORD. The Bible goes on to say they abhorred His offering. This world hates God and anything to do with Him. Again, the Bible makes this clear:

Romans 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

A worldly-minded person is self-serving. He looks to please his flesh and finds all that in the world. The Fall is characterized by that very thing. Adam and Eve had everything in God. But the chose to satisfy their desires through the perceived splendor of this world:

Genesis 3:6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

But what is actually all that is in the world?

I John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

And those three things are exactly what brought in in this world:

“the tree was good for food” – the lust of the flesh

“it was pleasant to the eyes” – the lust of the eyes

“desired to make one wise” – the pride of life

Worldliness turns one’s back against God and tries to find pleasure in the the things of this world rather than true pleasure in Him. I believe the description of worldliness brought forth in Mahaney’s book is right on. I haven’t bought it, though. Can you blame me after reading Challies’ review?

Anyway. . .

I bring this up because I want to avoid misplacing the emphasis of worldliness. Sure, there are things the world does we ought to avoid. But we absolutely can not reduce worldliness into a sort of style. This happens too often in some circles and it brings nothing but confusion. If style were the essence of worldliness, I can guarantee there will always be someone – probably an Amish person – who think you are more worldly than him!

We should avoid worldliness in every facet of life and ministry. But how do we detect it? Some say it’s as simple as having a drum-set. Or not wearing your “Sunday best.” It’s about the technology that you use or the methods of Bible study. I don’t think there is enough of a biblical basis, though, to charge anyone with being “worldly” because of any of those things.

If “worldly” describes style, then how can we know what is worldly and what is not? It simply becomes a matter of preference. For example, one can be charged with worldliness because he dresses casually in church. How is that worldly? Because others in the world dress casually? Of course that doesn’t fly because others in the world wear suits, too! See – it just confuses people to reduce worldliness, a very real and very important concept, to a matter of style. One can have all his i’s dotted and t’s crossed when it comes to not being “worldly” and yet, still be worldly! Why? Because worldliness is a heart disposition, not a style.

The anecdote for worldliness is to find ultimate satisfaction in the Person of God. As Paul Washer has pointed out, “everyone wants to go to Heaven – they just don’t want God to be there when they get there!” What makes Heaven worthwhile is the presence of God. What makes life here on earth worthwhile is the presence of God. When we learn to adore Him the way His redeemed ought to adore Him, we can avoid worldliness. We won’t ever be perfectly untainted by the world in this life, but as we learn to love the Lord and abhor the evil, we can rid our hearts of the terrible disposition that is worldliness.



3 comments so far

  1. […] While it seems this “fight” is noble and godly, it is really the social gospel repackaged, and an outward expression of worldliness. […]

  2. […] 8, I am prone to wonder: is this the battle in which Christians ought to fight? Or is this a worldly distraction? A soldier of Jesus Christ is not to be entangled with the affairs of this world (II […]

  3. fundyreformed on

    Great post, guys.

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