Saturday, November 16, 2013
What constitutes worldliness? For many raised in fundamentalism, worldliness has much to do with outward appearance: the clothes you wear, the places you go, or refrain from going. It always struck me as humorous that in certain circles, it was bad to go to the movie theater, but it was okay to watch the same movie at home on video.
Many Christians even outside of fundamentalist circles tend to have an externalized idea of worldliness. Hence, in many conservative Reformed circles, the manner of one’s dress is a hot issue. Now I’m all for modesty in dress, but some of these people seem to think that Victorian era dress was the most modest in the history of the world, hence most to be emulated. One wonders how Christians in Corinth would have done on the modern modesty scale. In some circles, where your children are in school is a defining factor. Home school? Thumbs up! Christian school? Maybe thumbs up, maybe thumbs down, depending on whether it has the right curriculum. Public school? You heathen!
These rubrics of worldliness and holiness are prominent in evangelical circles. The Bible, however, doesn't seem to have much to say on any of them, except for modesty in dress. And even on that the Bible doesn't say all that much, except to encourage it. I think the difference is due to the fact that we like to be able to define godliness and worldliness and other such concepts on the basis of what we can see. The Bible doesn't do that.
Instead, we find passages such as 1 John 2:15-17. Verse 15 says, Don’t love the world. Love of the world and love of God cannot exist together. No man can serve two masters. But what is the world? Verse 16 tells us: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. This is a subtle allusion to the deception of Eve. She saw that the fruit was good for food (the lust of the flesh), was a delight to the eyes (the lust of the eyes), and was desirable to make one wise (the boastful pride of life). The world is ever before us, drawing us away from the love of God and into love of the world.
But what is the problem with love of the world? Verse 17 tells us that the world is passing away (and its lusts as well). The lover of the world will pass, as will the world. But the lover of God abides. Note that worldliness is not just a love of sin. It is a preference for the temporary over the eternal. It is a preference for what we can see over what we cannot see. It is a preference for sight over faith.
We can’t see worldliness. It grows in the heart. But we may be able to see some of its fruits. And those fruits are not primarily in how we dress or how we educate our children. Instead, worldliness shows itself in carelessness about spiritual things. It shows itself in prayerlessness. It shows itself in using the weapons of the world to fight the battles of faith.
Are you worldly? I don’t know. But you might want to ask yourself: Do I prefer what I can see over what I can’t see? Am I disappointed with God because he didn't do what I wanted him to do? Do I prefer this present life over the life to come? Do I desire heaven? Do I pray that his kingdom come?
It is easy to pass external tests for worldliness, because we make up those rules. It is much more difficult to mortify the root of worldliness that lies within us.