What is worldliness?
Worldliness is departing from God. It is a man-centred way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man’s fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be a ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.
Worldliness is the mind-set of the unregenerate. It adopts idols and is at war with God. Because ‘the flesh’ still dwells in the Christian he is far from immune from being influenced by this dynamic.
It is of believers that it is said, ‘the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary one to another’ (Galatians 5:17). It is professing Christians who are asked, ‘Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?’ (James 4:4) and are commanded, ‘Do not love the world’, and ‘keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 2:15, 5:21).
Apostasy generally arises in the church just because this danger ceases to be observed. The consequence is that spiritual warfare gives way to spiritual pacifism, and, in the same spirit, the church devises ways to present the gospel which will neutralise any offence.
The antithesis between regenerate and unregenerate is passed over and it is supposed that the interests and ambitions of the unconverted can somehow be harnessed to win their approval for Christ. Then when this approach achieves ‘results’ – as it will – no more justification is thought to be needed. The rule of Scripture has given place to pragmatism.
Converted to the world
The apostolic statement, ‘For if I still pleased men, I would not be the servant of Christ’ (Galatians 1:10), has lost its meaning. No Christian deliberately gives way to the spirit of the world, but we all may do so unwittingly and unconsciously.
That this has happened on a large scale in the later-twentieth century is to be seen in the way in which the interests and priorities of contemporary culture have come to be mirrored in the churches — the antipathy to authority and to discipline; the cry for entertainment by the visual image rather than by the words of Scripture; the appeal of the spectacular; the rise of feminism; the readiness to identify power with numbers; the unwillingness to make ‘beliefs’ a matter of controversy – all these features, so evident in the world’s agenda, are now also to be found in the Christian scene.
Instead of the churches revolutionising the culture, the reverse has happened. Churches have been converted to the world. David Wells has written: ‘The stream of historic orthodoxy that once watered the evangelical soul is now dammed by a worldliness that many fail to recognise as worldliness because of the cultural innocence with which it presents itself. … It may be that Christian faith, which has made many easy alliances with modern culture in the past few decades, is also living in a fool’s paradise, comforting itself about all the things God is doing … while it is losing its character, if not its soul’.
This same worldliness has come to affect the way in which the gospel is often presented to the unconverted. Leonard Sweet has pointed out that Evangelicals and liberals are often similar in the inducements which they propose to their hearers why they should become Christians. Both offer such things as more success in life, a happier marriage, an integrated personality, more meaning to existence, and so on. In other words, the reasons for becoming a Christian are pragmatic and they are presented with stories of how it has worked for others.
The subject of worldliness, however, has a deeper bearing. Human conduct is not capable of being understood so long as it is imagined that man is self-contained and insulated from any power other than his own. Worldliness, it is true, is the outcome of man’s fallen nature, but the same fall which introduced that nature also brought man under the control of Satan and demonic powers. Worldliness is no accident; it is the devil’s use of such idols as pride, selfishness, and pleasure, to maintain his dominion over men.
The malice of Satan
What Satan proposes for man’s happiness is, in truth, the result of implacable malice towards the whole human race. He means to exclude God and to destroy men, and the system he has devised to do this is so subtle that man is a willing and unconscious captive: ‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him’ (John 8:44).
Scripture says a great deal on the reality of the demonic, and yet the subject is today largely passed over in silence. Human wisdom has no place for the very idea and diverges completely from the revelation in Scripture.
The devil is a mere fable and superstition, so men believe; according to Scripture he is the unseen enemy who constitutes the greatest problem for men in general and for the churches in particular. Man is in the midst of a supernatural conflict; and the adversary – ‘the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience’ (Ephesians 2:2) – is vastly superior to all the intelligence and energies of men. – To be continued
– Iain Murray