Q: Can you please explain how a Christian can determine what is worldly and define “worldliness” from a biblical perspective?
A: When it comes to this subject there is much confusion for Christians because they are in this world while being told they are not to be part of it. In other words, as believers we are not to belong to the world. But as you pointed out in your question, what actually constitutes or makes up the “world?” The more people are involved with the world, the more they become worldly or manifest “worldliness” in their ways, speech, mannerisms, preferences, and pursuits.
There are many things that make up the world, and those who refuse to belong to it will be hated by it. In other words, there should be a real distinction between a Christian who serves the Lord and those who serve the world. The Bible is clear how we are to respond to the different attractions of the world.
In 1 John 2:15, we are told that the world is made up of the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, and the lust of the eyes. In other words, the world is designed to attract the flesh (appetites of man) into a state of obsessing for the things of the world as a way for the world to actually possess his soul. It also uses the pride of man to exalt his self-life and self-importance to the status of idolatry and to entice the eyes of man to the point he will pursue and worship the things of the world. Ultimately, whether man recognizes it or not, the price to gain the world is his soul. Whether it is taking his will captive, ensnaring his emotions into a destructive spider web of obsessions, jealousies, addictions, or indoctrinating his intellect with lies, the world is bent on owning man’s soul. It is for this reason Jesus warns, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26).”
As Christians the solution to the world captivating our very soul is found in reckoning that we are dead to the world’s different attractions and influences upon our lives. In Romans 6, it tells us we have been positionally baptized into Jesus’ death; therefore, we should not yield the members of our body to serve sin, but to serve God in righteousness. The Apostle Paul declared that he was crucified to the influence of the world in Galatians 6:14 and the Apostle John stated in 1 John 5:4, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” When a person is born again of the Spirit of God he or she will not find any real agreement with the world.
There is also the concept of the world, which points to a particular age. Hence, enters the word “world” being interchanged with the word “age.” We see this interchange in 2 Corinthians 4:2-4. “Age” points to a particular time. This time is distinguished by various factors such as cultural influence, belief systems, and acceptable practices. When you put these factors together, you have a type of philosophy that is influencing people’s attitudes towards the issues concerning God, life, and morality. A good example of philosophy is that of “Political Correctness” which is being promoted today.
It is important to point out the different philosophies of the world are not new ideas but repackaged lies of Satan. If you study the history of the Communist takeover of a society, one of the philosophies it promotes is “Political Correctness.” It is a way to take away any clarity (true light) when it comes to God, morality, right/wrong, and eternity.
Philosophies influence attitudes that people adopt in a society. These concepts may seem logical to worldly ways, acceptable to religious practices, and reasonable to the masses, but they dull down morality, subtly change God’s glory into an acceptable worldly presentation, and exalt man’s understanding to an idolatrous insane reality. It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul gives this warning in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments (foundation) of the world, and not after Christ.” (Parenthesis added for clarification.) Jesus best described the end of these foundations in Matthew 7:27. They will all crumble because they are not built on the immovable Rock of truth, Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul was the one who instructed believers to not be conformed to this world (in attitude) but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). He tells us in Philippians 2:5 to have the mind of Christ and reproved the Christians in Corinth for being carnal (in their ways) because of their attitude towards spiritual matters. The Corinthians considered issues such as baptism according to the world’s attitude and not according to the teachings and examples they had been given. For this reason Paul made this statement, “I have fed you with milk (doctrine) and not with meat (proving what is the will of God): for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3). (Parentheses added for clarification. See John 4:34 and 1 Peter 2:1-2.)
There is also a spirit of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12). Spirit is what motivates a person. The spirit of the world has one goal and that is to seduce, instigate, and move man away from God, His ways and truth. This spirit wants to influence man in his thinking, attitude, and ways. This wrong spirit wants man to become stuck in the quagmire of oppression, eat of the world’s poisonous fruits and drink of its arsenic-laced waters. It wants man to roll in its profane pigpens, become blind to truth, dependent on the world’s wicked systems, seek it for happiness and purpose, and to ultimately bow before the real god of the world, Satan (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
It is clear as we consider the different aspects of the world, why those who belong to it will prove to be enemies of God (James 4:4). Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him by first denying the self-life (the flesh and pride) of any right to call the shots, picking up a personal cross (becoming crucified to the influence of the world) and follow Him away from it (Matthew 16:24-25). As Christians we no longer walk in the course of the world, but have been called to come out and be separate from any agreement with the wrong spirit, depart from all iniquity, flee youthful lusts, and follow righteousness, faith, charity, and peace (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:19-22). If a person loves or prefers the things of the world more than God, the love of the Father is not in him or her (1 John 2:17).
The Bible is clear that we can know people by their fruits (Matthew 7:16, 20). There are many people who call themselves Christians, but their fruits tell on them as to what is influencing their attitudes, who/what they are serving, and what they value. Can there be a worldly Christian, full of the world when both words together are really a contradiction. One clearly possesses the very spirit, nature, and rebellious ways of hell, while the other one has the living Spirit of God in them. Will Jesus even claim that such an individual belongs to Him (Matthew 7:21-23)? The Bible only speaks of a carnal Christian who has maintained a worldly attitude due to spiritual immaturity, and who needs to be transformed in his or her thinking in order to mature in his or her walk. Such Christians are not in danger of losing their souls, but the works they do will be consumed in the fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
Many Christians have a problem with the world because they refuse to do what the Bible instructs them to do in regards to the different aspects of the world. They think of Christianity as a lifestyle to be imparted to them, rather than the life of Christ that needs to be worked into their inner man. Their heart is divided between the world and their flesh fights against the Spirit’s impressions and leading away from its temptations and snares. They avoid making the right decision to deny self of rights to partake of the poisonous fruits of the world as they choose to pick up their cross and follow Christ in faith and obedience in the ways of true righteousness. They want God to simply make them what they should be instead of making the right decision to reject the attractions of the world, set their affections above, and have faith towards God as to what is Scripturally true, and obey what is right in order to establish the life and mind of Christ in them.
Scripture is clear that the world with its ruler (Satan), philosophies (attitudes), spirit (counterfeit), and ways (deceptive and wicked) is a great affront to God. There is no such thing as a worldly Christian, but sadly there can be much worldliness present that a Christian must be purged from in their thinking and ways. However, if there is any carnality (flesh) present, as believers we must give the Lord permission to purge us of it in brokenness and repentance as we turn in true conversion to righteousness.