A Word about Worldliness

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 in Culture, Scripture, Sermons

Writing 150 years ago, the Prince of Preachers Charles Haddon Spurgeon pointed out one of the glaring problems in the church: “I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church…Worldliness is growing over the church; she is mossed with it.”  Spurgeon went on to show that the world in the church/church in the world motif was not unique to his generation, but manifests itself throughout the history of the church

Put your finger on any prosperous page in the Church’s history, and I will find a little marginal note reading thus: “In this age men could readily see where the Church began and where the world ended.” Never were there good times when the Church and the world were joined in marriage with one another… The more the Church is distinct from the world in her acts and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin. [1]

We’re all susceptible to it.  No one is immune to worldliness, no matter their level of maturity, whether they are children, young men, or fathers in the faith (1 john 2:12-14).  When it comes to worldliness, I agree with C. J. Mahaney, “We’re all at risk.”[2]

And yet, when it comes to this one command, “Do not love the world or the things of the world” (1 John 2:15) we perhaps rationalize in an attempt to justify more than any other area in our lives in an effort to soothe our consciences.  For others, a list of do’s and don’ts immediately pop into our mind.  We might even have the picture of a person or a thing that we consider worldly.  When we consider worldliness, our questions often gravitate towards something like this:

  • TV/MOVIE: Does it mean I can’t watch TV or go to an R-rated movie?  Is it okay to watch a movie as long as I fast-forward past certain scenes?  How much violence or language is too much?
  • MUSIC: Are certain genres of music more worldly than others?  Is the rock or rap or indie music that I’m loading onto my iPod okay?
  • MEDIA: How do I know if I’m spending too much time on the Internet, on Facebook or Twitter or watching YouTube clips online?
  • POSSESSIONS: Can a Christian earn lots of money, own a second home, drive a nice car, and enjoy the luxuries of modern life?
  • CLOTHING: Am I worldly if I read fashion magazines and wear trendy clothes?  Do I have to be “out of style” in order to be godly?

While these are important questions, perhaps even necessary in rightly examining ourselves, the questions often provide only a part of the picture of worldliness.  Why? Because at the root, worldliness is a spiritual problem – a problem of spiritual relationship.  “The goal of worldly people,” observes Joel Beeke, “is to move forward rather than upward, to live horizontally rather than vertically.  They seek after outward prosperity rather than holiness. They burst with selfish desires rather than heartfelt supplicationsIf they do not deny God, they ignore and forget Him, or else they use Him only for their selfish ends.  Worldliness… is human nature without God.” [3] Elsewhere, Beeke states  the heart of the issue, “Worldliness, then, is human activity without God.” [4]

The lure is great because of the flesh. The world has something to sink its ways into – it seeks to mold it, conform it. But it can only do so as the flesh allows. Hence, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your  mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” [Romans 12:2]; and, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” [Galatians 5:16]. Word and Spirit, working in us and through us, to know the will of God and to overcome the world. After all, John wrote that the cure for worldliness is to “do the will of God” [1 John 2:17].


[1] http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0305.htm, accessed 02/25/2014.

[2] C. J, Mahaney, Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, (Crossway, 2008), 18.

[3] Joel Beeke, Overcoming the World: Grace to Win the Daily Battle (P&R, 2005), 16; cited in Worldliness, ed. C. J.Mahaney (Crossway, 2008), 27.

[4] Joel Beeke, The Epistles of John, (Evangelical Press, 2006), 90.

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