What Does Worldliness Even Mean?10 min read


If some Evangelicals today were asked to define worldliness, what would they come up with? After all, many find nothing wrong with advertising “Beer and Bible Study” so as to attract others. Tattoos and piercings are seen as perfectly acceptable, since there is no verse that directly says “Thou shalt not…” except in the book of Leviticus (But who cares about Leviticus, anyway?). Modesty can’t be touched, since one’s standards can’t be forced upon another. Style, movies, music, etc. – many professing Christians can take part in these things in the very same way as the world, while finding no discomfort in the conscience. But it isn’t an issue, because there are no “thou shalt”s against these things, right? Or maybe there is a Biblical principle laid out in Scripture that applies to all these things without a “thou shalt.” This is the principle of Christian separation from the world. What does it mean to be worldly? What does it mean to be separate? Let’s see what Scripture has to say.

Why All This Fuss?

In order to understand why conformity to the world is such a huge issue, we need to ask what is meant by the term “world.” It is not simply the creation we see around us, or even the global population. The world basically encompasses any man-based system that opposes God. It is the sphere over which the devil has control, which is why he is called “the god of this world.” It is under his power; thus it follows his leading (though unknowingly). It is under his blinding force; thus it knows nothing of God, nor the leading of His Spirit. That is why its morality and understanding are thoroughly corrupted. Its morality is characterized by rebellion against any standard God sets, whether in nature or in His Word. Its understanding is characterized by estimating the things of God as foolishness, while considering man-made philosophies the last word in academia and society. If the world accepts something, the chances are that the thing opposes God. Compare this with the calling of the believer. The believer does all to the glory of God. The believer is freely given revelation of the deep things of God. The believer estimates the world’s wisdom as foolishness, while embracing God’s wisdom (though not the popular opinion of the day) as the only and highest wisdom. The believer is no longer under the devil’s blindness or control. We are polar opposite what the world is! Notice the stark contrast given in 2 Corinthians 6: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” This is the reason we need a fresh look at how we relate to the world. If we find ourselves adapting well to it, the problem is with us; for we will never see the world adapt to true godliness. To be worldly is to deny the value and power of the cross; that is why the issue is so important. It delves into the very heart and soul of what Christianity is. Thus, Scripture prescribes a very specific description of how we are to relate in the world.

It tells us that the world will intensely hate God’s people and what they stand for. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”(Jn. 15:19). Paul adds to this when writing to Timothy: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12). While at first this seems like a bad thing, it is actually very good. This is one of the chief purposes of Christ’s work. “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” (Gal. 1:4). Further in the same book we read that the cross crucifies us to the world and the world unto us. The cross cuts us off from one another. For one to drift into worldliness he has to pass by the cross of a suffering Saviour who bought Christian separation with His blood. Solemn reality! This is why we can’t afford to let the world dictate our lives in any capacity. If we find our standards affected by the world, we should be very concerned. That is the same world that crucified our Saviour. That is the same world that has rebelled against God ever since man fell. To love Christ with any sincerity is to despise such a system.

Worldliness is…

With all this talk about why worldliness is so evil, we need to know what constitutes worldliness. The chief text in which we find this concept is 1 John 2:15-17. It begins by saying “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” So then, here we have the first two criteria for worldliness: (1) it is marked by a love for the system itself, which can be seen in being drawn towards it, (2) it is marked by a love for any and all that the system contains and is marked by. These are two very broad statements, but we should like such generalizations, since it then makes it easier for us to make decisions. We actually don’t have to look for a “thou shalt” for everything we do. We just ask simple questions, like “Does the world indulge in this? Maybe I should not take part in it, then. Is the world marked by this? Maybe I should just stay away from it, then, so there won’t be any confusion that I am a Christian.” The passage goes further, though, to give three more specific criteria for what will mark worldliness: “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Under no circumstances are these things to be our motivation, yet if we think about it, they are the main excuses we give to justify our actions. Christians do not live off excuses; we act based on reasons. To have a reason for our actions is to be deliberate in glorifying God; but to have only an excuse for our actions is to expose wrong motives – motives rooted in desire to satisfy the flesh, appeal to the eyes, or advance ourselves in and before the world.

There are also more particular ways we can compromise with the world.

  1. We can compromise in ideology. The world has its own distinct set of philosophies, which may sound good at the time; but they are really just foolishness to God, as 1 Corinthians 3 says. The world says we need to embrace culture to be accepted by it; thus the seeker-sensitive church movement arose by adopting that. The world says secular science is the ultimate authority; thus compromises with evolution have arisen. The world says psychology is the answer to all of man’s problems; thus many churches dismiss Scripture as being sufficient to guide the believer through life. In all of these we may seem very sophisticated and acceptable, but the fact is these just aren’t supported in Scripture. These are a form of worldliness. “If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.”
  2. We can compromise in association. Scripture says “Come out from among them and touch not the unclean thing.” Do we take our cues from the world? Do we find our comfort amongst them? These are forms of worldliness.
  3. We can compromise in morality. “The lust of the flesh” was one of our criteria for identifying what is of the world. The world indulges in what feels good. Are we run by feelings or by divine revelation?
  4. We can compromise in conformity. The world has a very specific mold it wants us to fill. And it knows how to accomplish that very subtly – by making us insensitive to its morals and ideas, especially through Hollywood, media, and music. We don’t know it, but we are being influenced by these things; the longer we fail to recognize this, the greater impact the influence will have. Do we find ourselves swaying with what makes us more acceptable? Do we find ourselves passive toward things that Scripture utterly condemns?

Along with these is also a very subtle temptation. It is not worldliness per se, but rather it is living for things on earth, though they may seem fairly neutral. It is investing in the temporal. Christ said “Lay not up treasures for yourselves on earth.” Paul warned against those “whose glory is in their shame, who set their mind on earthly things.” He also said “Bodily exercise profits little; but godliness profits in all things.” Whether worldliness or “earthliness” we need to ask ourselves very solemnly “What realm am I living for? The realm of God, the realm of Satan, or the realm of physical enjoyment?” The question is very real and, if we are honest with ourselves, very piercing.

Where Can We Go From Here?

As we know, it is never good enough to simply stay away from something; we must replace the thing we are avoiding with something we want to pursue. Our pursuit is the will of God and personal transformation. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) Our pursuit is setting our mind on spiritual things: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Cor. 2:12). Should we get a true grasp of our calling, then we will be on the right track for true Christian separation. Of course, the battle is not our own; rather we look to the One Who is in us, Who is greater than the one in the world. The resources for this battle are ours. The question is, are we willing to be fully committed to the battle, or will we be fence-sitters? Will we walk away from God’s Word unconvicted, unexamined, and unmoved? Or are we ready for radical Christianity? This is the question that will define where we go from here. It’s not simply a matter of small reforms; it’s rather a lifelong struggle and commitment to do all to the glory of God. That will mean we compromise none with the world.

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world…Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

(James 1:27; 4:4-10)