Many Christians think that worldliness is going to movies, watching too much television, spending money at the mall (particularly on Sunday), and having a well-paying career. Yet if I refrain from doing those things, I can still be worldly.
Worldly is better defined as “life thought of and lived apart from God.” A more familiar term is “secular,” which is not exactly the same idea, but close.
Worldliness is more about the inner person, the mind and motivations, than it is about what I am doing. Of course, having a worldly mind-set will affect what I am doing. The bottom line is that my Christian life will be in danger whenever my thoughts leave out God.
John warns me, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15–17)
Whenever I read this, I think of blatant desires such as too much food, sinful relationships, having more than I need, boasting and showing off, the obvious sins that mark a life lived apart from God, but by definition, worldliness is not always that obvious.
Today’s devotional booklet says that worldliness is about my thought-life. When my mind leaves God out, does not consult Him, does not consider His will, does not turn to Him when I feel needy, does not consider giving Him glory or saying thanks when things go well, then I am worldly. It is a spiritual danger because life flows out of our thoughts.
Jesus had this spiritual danger of worldliness in mind and prayed for His people about it. He said, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11)
Here, being kept by God means oneness with Christ, a unity that is cannot be worldly as long as that oneness is enjoyed. Unity is also oneness with other Christians, but it can be broken when any of us leave God out of our lives.
Jesus continued to pray, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:14–19)
Here I can see what might cause me to leave God out. The first thing is being hated by others because I am not worldly. One person yelled at me, “I don’t want to talk to you because you always bring God into the conversation.” That sort of rejection is a temptation to worldliness.
The evil one is always at it too, suggesting all sorts of ways to ‘do it yourself’ and not bring God into the picture. He is subtle. I think of those days when I’ve been so busy doing my own thing that I didn’t think of God or bring Him into any of my plans and actions.
Another temptation to worldliness comes with being different and set apart for God, which is what sanctification means. That can make me feel out of the loop, odd, misunderstood and other negatives which worldliness might do away with, at least for a little while. If I were not sanctified, if God were not at the center of my life, I might feel like I fit in and am not so alienated from others.
Another pressure is that idea of being ‘sent’ by Jesus into the world. He’s my boss, my motivator. Leaving Him out of things would allow me to do what I want to do, live like I please, satisfying those worldly desires and feeling good about fitting in, being accepted.
All of this sounds like a big ‘pity-party’ and it can become that, but not by keeping my focus on God. It is leaving Him out that makes me eventually experience that ‘poor-me’ feeling about the blessings I am missing.
Indulging in worldliness is not at all what it promises. Leaving God out leaves a huge space empty. It does not work. Worldliness is a snare and a trap that I need to avoid.