04 January 2013

What "worldliness" is...and isn't

We're grateful, as the new year rolls out, to re-start this feature and expand our bullpen of unpaid and overworked staff.  Every Friday, to commemorate the stellar contributions to internet apologetics and punditry made by our founder and benefactor, Phil Johnson, TeamPyro presents a "best of Phil" post to give your weekend that necessary kick.

This excerpt is from the original PyroManiac blog back in December 2005. Phil explains how the term “worldliness” is rightly understood, and how that understanding differs from what many people (including professing Christians) mean by it.

As usual, the comments are closed.

Worldly simply means "pertaining to this earth." On the one hand, Hebrews 9:1 speaks of "a worldly sanctuary"—i.e., an earthly and material one, contrasted with the "True tabernacle"—the heavenly temple, "which the Lord pitched, and not man" (8:2). So something can be "worldly" (like the Tabernacle) without being sinful.

On the other hand, Titus 2:12 speaks of "worldly lusts," meaning passions that are set on earthly and temporal things. Love for earthly things is inconsistent with true love for God, because the passions that drive this world's philosophies and value-systems are all characterized by pride and sinful lust (1 John 2:15-17).

The sin of "worldliness" is the tendency to set one's affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2). "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). It is positively sinful to love this present world and imbibe its values more than we love heaven and order our lives according to heavenly values (cf. Philippians 1:23; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21; 16:23).

In other words, worldliness is a sin of the heart.

Conversely, worldliness isn't necessarily related to movies, music styles, the latest fashions, or other typical fundamentalist taboos. Those things certainly can be worldly and obviously do have a tendency to provoke sinful worldliness insofar as they naturally appeal to our passions and tempt us to become obsessed with earthly things.

But there's an even worse kind of worldliness than that. Religion—even conservative, doctrinally-sound religion—can be worldly too.

Think about it: if a person cares less for heaven and heaven's values than for the trappings of "a worldly sanctuary"—be it an ornate cathedral, a megachurch with a Starbucks kiosk in the foyer, or a lowbrow church where snake-handling provides the entertainment—that person is worldly and living in disobedience to God.

As a matter of fact, I know some hard-core fundamentalists who are the rankest kind of worldlings, because they imagine that holiness consists only in external and cultural things, and they have not cultivated a genuine love in their hearts for that which is spiritual.

So you cannot discover whether you are worldly merely by seeing how you look or what kind of lifestyle you live. If you want to recognize true worldliness, you have to assess your desires and passions. What do you truly love? Since worldliness is inherent in the bent of the old man, when you examine your heart honestly, you're virtually certain to discover a degree of worldliness there.

The biblical instructions for how to deal with worldliness are surprisingly simple:

"Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and . . . put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness"
(Ephesians 4:22-24).