What is Worldly?

Here is a question for you: Where is worldliness? Is it in the world? Or is it somewhere else?

That is a huge question and how you answer it will determine your Christian worldview: how you view and practice life as a Christian.

I propose to you that worldliness is not primarily external, in the world itself. Once upon a time I thought it was so and the logical outworking of my belief was to draw lines between me and my culture, separation from my culture. Oddly enough I did not learn this from Jesus. Jesus embedded himself in his culture.

Should I draw lines? I think so. But where should I draw them? That is the question.

And the answer to that question has changed for me over the years. Where I used to draw a line between me and my culture I now draw the line between me and my heart. I have since relocated worldliness not so much in my culture as in my heart. I get this from my re-understanding of worldliness according to 1 John 2:15-16. John, the beloved Christian, seems to locate worldliness not in the world, but in the heart or as he defines worldliness, i.e. desires, lust and pride.

1Jn 2:15 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.

1Jn 2:16 For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world.

Desires, lusts and pride are, in the Bible, synonyms for heart attitudes, the inside of a person. John tells us not to love the world nor the things in the world. And then he sets out to describe what is in the world. He does this by talking about pride, lusts and desires. For John, this is what is in the world. This is how worldliness is described and/or defined for him. John is not teaching me that I should draw a line primarily between me and where I go, what I wear, who I hang with, what I say, what I eat or drink and the like. And if I draw the line primarily based on external factors then I could unnecessarily alienate folks from me, which is unnecessary and, even worse, unbiblical and anti-Gospel: Christ came to/into/penetrated the world.

So how should I dress and where should I go and who should I associate myself?

Here are a couple of thoughts to think about:

#1—We are our brother’s keeper; the bible is clear. This is the point Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 8. If there is a weaker brother that is easily offended by things that are permissible, then the “mature” Christian should refrain from such things within reason. These weak Christians thought it was a sin to eat meat and Paul warned those Christians who knew that “external” meat eating was not a big deal and they should be careful not to flaunt their accurate biblical knowledge in front of them.

Therefore, I may draw a line between me and “meat eating” if it is a stumbling block for a weaker brother. I’m not drawing a line between me and meat eating because meat eating is a sin, it is not. I’m drawing a line because of my temptation to be proud (John’s descriptor of worldliness) and ignore my weaker brother and not love him in his weakness.

Major Caveat: be careful not to guard against everything that can possibly offend a weaker brother or sister. If you try that then you would probably never leave your house, turn on a TV, launch the Internet, go to a restaurant and most anything else because a legalistic Christian culture can be easily offended about most anything.

#2—Another area that would be “worldly” for many is to dress in such a way as to impress others or be esteemed by others. This is drawing your approval or acceptance from “men” rather than from God.

John says, in essence, worldliness is in the heart, not in my clothes (the external). I think it is better to be culturally relevant than to wear clothes from a bygone era. However, in the wearing of those clothes it is important they are “modest” in that they don’t tempt someone to sin (to be worldly, i.e. lust). For a woman that would mean to dress modestly so that you don’t reveal or semi-reveal body parts that can tempt someone to sin.

And I should not dress in such a way to draw attention to myself, which could be over-modest, i.e. wearing culottes in the ocean. The worldly temtpation here could be self-righteousness by NOT looking like my culture. Jesus was culturally relevant and modest.

I think these two points can help you “draw the lines” in reasonable places. You can be relevant and reach your culture without caving to the immodesty of our culture. However, I must guard my heart from the temptation of thinking that the external is sinful. It is my heart that must be guarded. It is my sinful lust, desires and pride that make me worldly not whether I drive cars like pagans or go to the same restaurant that pagans attend or whether my wife wears pants similar to what pagans wear.

This is what John was getting at in that worldliness is defined in the heart not in the culture primarily. When we examine our hearts and offer grace to our friends, we are beginning in a better place. We are attacking worldliness.

This entry was posted in Reflections of a Legalist by RickThomasNet. Bookmark the permalink.

About RickThomasNet

Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking. In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).

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