Originally published August 31, 2018
Lately, every time I turn around, I keep bumping up against the same biblical concept. It’s showing up in my personal Bible study time. In Sunday School. In sermons. Even in a revival my husband and I served at this week.
Worldliness, and the need for Christians to be set apart.
What is worldliness? It’s thinking, acting, and “attituding” the way lost people think, act, and attitude. It’s taking everything in through a fleshly filter instead of a biblical one and putting yourself out there through a fleshly filter instead of a biblical one. It’s dealing with the world around you in any way Jesus wouldn’t.
God has called His people to be set apart from the world from day one. (OK, day six, if you want to get all technical about it.) You can’t be more set apart than living at an address God personally designed for you and plopped you down in the middle of.
The whole purpose of the Promised Land, the Law, driving out the pagan nations and destroying them, depending on God to miraculously win wars and conquer the enemy, was for God to set apart a people for Himself. To raise up a nation that the rest of the world could look at and say, “Hey, those Israelite folks are different, and their God is different, too. What’s their one God got that our pantheon doesn’t?”.
Jesus reminded God’s people what it looked like to be different and set apart from the world. So did His disciples. And the New Testament is chock full of passages in which the apostles exhort Christians and the church to be holy and distinct from the world in heart, mind, and behavior.
Why? Because being different, and holy, and counter-cultural is weird, and counter-intuitive, and attention-grabbing to the world. And once we’ve got their attention, we’ve got an opportunity to share the gospel with them.
Yes, sister, God has called you to be a weirdo for Jesus.
And you’re going to have to fight the flesh to do it, because worldliness is insidious and subtle. Just like that sneaky, slimy serpent slithered in to paradise with no alarm bells ringing, we modern day Eves often don’t even notice worldliness has slipped in and tempted us to think and act in ways it has never even occurred to us aren’t godly. Sure, we don’t drink, and we don’t chew, and we don’t go with boys who do. And we don’t rob banks or murder people. But is that all there is to it? Avoiding the big, bad, behavioral no-no’s?
Before Eve ever extended her hand to pluck the fruit off the tree, Satan had already won several skirmishes with her heart. He had gotten her to doubt God’s character, disbelieve God’s word, and disregard God’s desires in favor of her own. And isn’t he still doing that with us today? Jesus warned us:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45
As we look at these four ways worldliness can tiptoe into our actions unannounced and unnoticed, let’s also think about how our actions are merely the fruit of what’s going on in our hearts.
What are some of those sneaky snakes of worldliness, and how can we mortify those sins and respond in a godly way?
Being quick to take offense
It’s getting to the point where you can hardly carry on a mundane, “Nice weather we’re having,” conversation any more without being accused of racism, gender bias, or having some sort of “privilege”. Even compliments and positive comments are likely to be twisted and heard by the easily offended as insults or condescension.
Think of the way Jesus endured and responded to the verbal abuse and false accusations intentionally and maliciously hurled at Him. Can you imagine Him freaking out at an innocent, offhand remark, someone’s tone of voice, or somebody unintentionally sticking her foot in her mouth?
Neither can I, yet this form of worldliness is probably my biggest area of weakness. It’s just the pride of life, pure and simple. (Well, not pure, I guess.) How dare anyone ruffle my feathers!
And how do I respond? Maybe the same way you do. I get my back up and strike back, fighting fire with fire. I rarely take a moment to step back and think that maybe this person didn’t intend for her tone to sound like that, or maybe to her that word means something different than what it means to me, or maybe she’s just PMS-ing today, or maybe I misheard or misinterpreted what she actually said. I don’t think, “How can I respond in godly love to this person?”. I don’t think at all. I just vomit my fleshly emotions all over her. Instead, I’m to respond in patience, kindness, and love, even if the situation calls for standing firm on Scripture without budging.
The Serpent Slayer:
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:16-18
The world has been torturing this poor word “tolerant” for at least a few decades now. The definition has morphed from its actual meaning of “peacefully putting up with something that bothers you” to “embracing and celebrating any and every behavior and ideology (except biblical Christianity) as worthy and valid.” You’re not even allowed to think someone else’s worldview or behavior is wrong. You have to think it’s good or you’re a terrible person.
Now, of course, most Christians would not go around blatantly proclaiming that any old religion is just fine or that sexual immorality and perversion are perfectly acceptable or that abortion is a valid health care choice. But what about shying away from sharing the gospel with our Muslim neighbor for fear of appearing to be an Islamophobe? What about attending the homosexual “wedding” of a friend or loved one in order not to offend him and to maintain the relationship? What about failing to stand up for what’s right at work when unethical practices are the industry standard?
The Bible is very clear that following Christ and loyalty to His Word divides people. It divides family members from one another. It divides friends from one another, and it divides God’s people from those who claim to be God’s people and from the rest of the world. Jesus came to unite repentant sinners to God, not to unite unrepentant sinners to saved people. We must do what is right and biblical, refusing to participate in sinful and worldly activities, and lovingly, yet firmly, calling sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, even if it costs us family members, friends, our reputations, our churches, or our jobs.
The Serpent Slayer:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God…Submit yourselves therefore to God. James 4:4,7a
Being Flippant or Consumeristic about Church
The world has no reason to think going to church is important. Why would they? They’re lost. And if they do darken the door of a church, it’s not because they love Christ and want to worship Him, it’s ultimately for self-centered reasons. To assuage their guilt, to get Mom or the wife off their back, to feel better about themselves, to satisfy their curiosity.
Gathering to worship God is what genuinely regenerated Christians do. We have a God-given craving for fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ and approaching His throne in prayer, praise, and the study of His Word together. Skipping church at the drop of a hat, shopping around for a church with all the slappy happy bells and whistles that make you comfortable, demanding that your church cater to your feelings, opinions, and preferences, strolling in with a “what’s in it for me” attitude? Uh uh. Those are worldly, self-centered attitudes, and might even indicate that you’re not saved.
Christians see faithfully attending and serving at church as vital to their relationship with Christ and other Christians. It’s not, “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I serve you?”. It’s not, “What did I get out of the worship service?” but “How can I wholeheartedly throw myself into the worship of Christ?”.
The Serpent Slayer:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, Hebrews 12:28
If ever there were a generation of Americans who treated defying authority as the national pastime, this is it. Have you seen all the videos of people pulled over by the police who refuse to comply with their every request, sometimes even turning violent? How about the way wives these days run their marriages and treat their husbands like children? And the way children are allowed to rebel at school and at home? What about the rioting in the streets we’ve seen over the last few years?
The more I study the New Testament, the more passages I find instructing Christians to submit to the authorities in our lives. I’m not sure if I’d call it a major theme of the New Testament, but it sure isn’t a minor one. We’re to submit to the government, governing officials, earthly “masters” (literally if we’re slaves, figuratively – bosses, supervisors, etc. – if we’re not), wives are to submit to our husbands, children are to submit to their parents, and church members are to submit to our pastors and elders. Every human institution.
God’s people are a submitting people. Submitting to the authorities in our lives paints a picture for the watching world that one day every knee will bow in submission to the ultimate authority – God. And because God is our ultimate authority, the only time we disobey the human authorities in our lives is when what they’re asking us to do would cause us to disobey or dishonor God. Otherwise, we humble ourselves and joyfully and graciously submit.
The Serpent Slayer:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution. 1 Peter 2:13a
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
There are so many more ways Satan tempts Christians to act like the world. We put our faith in politicians to fix things rather than in God. We approach the world with a posture of entitlement and demand our rights instead of laying them down to serve others. We lash out in bitterness at those who have hurt us, holding grudges and cutting them out of our lives instead of forgiving as Christ has forgiven us. The list could go on and on.
But however worldliness manifests itself, it all has the same serpentine root in the heart: doubting God’s character, disbelieving God’s Word, and disregarding God’s desires. And when our hearts become ambivalent about God, and we push His desires and directives aside, the void that’s left has to be filled with something.
That “something” is the idol of self. I want to do what I want to do and I don’t want anybody standing in my way. This thing, or person, or idea makes me happy and comfortable, and keeping it is more important to me than what God says about it. That’s ultimately what’s going on in our hearts when we think, speak, and act in worldly ways.
out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks
Submit to the Scriptures. Be subject to the Savior. Slay the serpent of worldliness.
What are some other forms of worldliness that can sneak into our lives,
and what Scriptures can we use to combat them?