As a young Christian, when I heard the world ‘worldliness’, what often comes to mind is listening to ‘secular’ music, putting on fashionable and trendy clothing, delighting in non-Christian movies and books, enjoying the company of non-Christian friends, and so on. The community I grew up in typically frowned upon these and discouraged them as unworthy of a true believer. The ideal lifestyle was one which emphasized prayer, bible reading, spiritual conversations and religious activity.
The attitude today is much different. Worldliness is hardly raised as a problem. In fact, it is barely mentioned. Much of contemporary Christianity lives under a fascination with the grace of God, and regards talk about ‘worldliness’ as a relic of a past misunderstanding of Christianity. Christ has rescued us from the condemnation of the law; to obsess about moral behaviour is simply to revert back to the law.
Both attitudes are sadly mistaken. The first attitude is a symptom of a pietistic withdrawal from the world. Such mindset often views the world as consisting of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ halves. Holiness requires immersing oneself in the sacred bit and avoiding the secular aspects as much as is possible. The second approach is based on the false assumption that the grace of God relieves us of the need to live faithfully in the world. It ignores the call for us to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’. Under such an outlook, the gospel is distorted into a system of cheap grace.
As the term itself indicates, worldliness is the sin of believers thinking or living like the world. It is the problem of God’s redeemed people losing sight of their true identity. Christians become worldly when we lose sight of the fact that we are God’s elect, called out from among the world to live faithfully – like a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14). Sadly, it is a condition every believer must always deal with, since we still struggle with our sinful natures.
Ever since Eden, the human population has been split into 2 camps: God’s people and the world. There is no neutral ground. While the whole world lies under the allegiance of Satan, those who have declared their support for the true God must live according to his worldview, his principles, and his agenda. To think and live otherwise is to be worldly.
The repeated warnings in the Old Testament for the Israelites to shun idolatry, is a call against worldliness. When God’s people reject his revealed truth, they lose what sets them apart from the rest of the world. When God’s people aspire to worship false gods, be it the ancient idols of Baal, Dagon or Artemis, or the modern equivalents of money, sex, and power, they betray the God who has created and redeemed them. False worship breeds godlessness in the thoughts, desires and actions.
And this was not a concern only for the Old Testament church. It remains a challenge for us on this side of Pentecost. Paul’s call for mind renewal in Romans 12:2 is a corrective for worldliness. So also is Peter’s reminder in 1 Peter 2:9. A holy nation must walk in holiness. And if we are to avoid worldliness, our minds need to be constantly renewed by the truth.
So, as we seek to shun worldliness and live as the salt of the earth which God has called us to be, here are some truths to carefully ponder:
When I fail to love my neighbour as a being created in God’s image, and focus on just myself and my interests, I am being worldly.
When I think about the forthcoming elections the same way as everyone, and assume that a mere change in administration is the key to Nigeria’s flourishing, I am being worldly.
When I am satisfied that my child is being educated to see the world as neutral, without any connection to God, I am being worldly.
When I reflect on social problems from a supposedly ‘rational’ or ‘secular’ perspective, out of relation to divine revelation, I am being worldly.
When I fail to see my work as a platform through which I glorify God and serve others, but merely approach it as a way of earning a living, I am being worldly.
When I relish cultural products – music, movies, books, art, etc – without caring to sift out what is good from the distortions within them, I am being worldly.
Constant mind renewal through God’s word and spirit is the antidote to worldliness.