Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lusts thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. 1 Jn. 2:15-17
What is worldliness? It is fundamentally the love of this world, where “world” encompasses all the values, opinions, and philosophies of humanity in rebellion against God. It is that system of values that blinds us to the love of God by replacing it with other things. It is idolatry. It is desiring that which God forbids and loathing that which God loves. Worldliness is placing one’s hope in the present order of things instead of looking to that which is unseen and eternal.
David Wells in his book God in the Wasteland gives a good definition of worldliness that exposits for our day what the apostle was warning about in his. He puts it this way: “For worldliness is that system of values and beliefs, behaviors and expectations, in any culture that have at their center the fallen human being and that relegate to their periphery any thought about God. Worldliness is what makes sin look normal in any age and righteousness seem odd.” He then goes on to make this very perceptive observation: “Modernity is worldliness, and it has concealed its values so adroitly in the abundance, the comfort, and the wizardry of our age that even those who call themselves the people of God seldom recognize them for what they are." This is the danger of worldliness. Rarely does it come right out and beckon you to abandon the love of God for the love of other things. It steals upon you unawares. It gradually gnaws at your heart and soul until it has replaced Biblical values with sinful and man-centered ones. Before long, you may still be going to church and reading your Bible, but you discover that you have become dull of hearing, and that gospel realities just don’t land on you the way they once did.
How do you know that you are entrapped in worldliness? As Wells put it, you know that worldliness has taken you when sin looks normal and righteousness seems odd. This is something we will all struggle with until the day we die because not only is the “world” in the Biblical sense of humanity in rebellion against God competing for the allegiance of our hearts, but the remaining sin in our hearts is an ally within of the enemy without and makes the arguments for worldliness so often seem very plausible. If we are not constantly fighting against it, we will inevitably fall before it.
The values of this world and God’s values are not compatible. When once you give in to one you must release your grip on the other. As our Lord himself put it, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6:24).
The point of all this is that this is a battle which is waged first and foremost on the level of the heart. We must resist anything which makes sin look normal and which makes righteousness look strange. That may mean changing some habits. It may mean that we don’t go certain places (whether physical or digital), or watch certain TV shows, or do certain things. Worldliness is caught more than it is taught. So we must social distance ourselves, so to speak, from those things which catechize our hearts towards the values of the world. Do not be surprised if this looks strange to the world – we should expect that, for if worldliness makes righteousness seem strange then it is going to look strange to the world. In fact, the apostle Peter affirms this in his first epistle: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4). So, brothers and sisters, fight the temptation to worldliness.