Thursday, November 15, 2007

Worldliness

Worldliness isn't what it used to be, at least not when it comes to popular evangelical piety. Once upon a time, worldliness could be defined very simply by a list of prohibitions: No cinema, no smoking, no alcohol and no popular music. So, shun films, fags, booze and pop, and you will be blissfully free of worldliness. Simple isn't it? Well, not quite. We must define worldliness biblically and theologically before we reflect on how we may avoid it. When the Bible speaks about "the world" or worldliness, it does not do so in terms of a series of taboos. In biblical terminology, "the world" means life in this present evil age. It is humanity existing in a state of rebellion against God, subject to the slavery of sin and the power of the devil. In this sense, "the world" is the product of the fall and is the object of God's just wrath (See 2 Corinthains 4:3 & 4, Ephesians 2:1-3, 1 John 5:19). This world will be destroyed when Christ comes to rid the creation of evil and make all things new.

How do Christians stand in relation to the world? Well, by his death and resurrection, Christ has condemned this world and its ruler - the devil (John 12:31 & 31). He has overcome the world (John 16:33). In Christ, the kingdom of God's saving righteousness has been inaugurated. The days of this present evil age are numbered. Believers may live in the world, but they are not of the world. Because they no longer belong to the world, the world hates them (John 17:15 & 16, 15:18 & 19). The world may be hostile to the child of God, but by faith the believer is able to overcome the world (1 John 5:4 & 5). Does this mean that the world holds no allure for the Christian? Not quite. The child of God is still a sinner. There is something in our natures that finds the world enticing and attractive. Hence the warning,
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves 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 is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever". (1 John 2:15-17)
Are we to say that to avoid worldliness, the believer must withdraw from engagement with the cultural and social life in the world? No, for the arts and culture are an expression of the creative gifts that God has given to humanity in his common grace. While some aspects of art and culture may be so debased by sin that Christians should avoid them, there are many good things that we may enjoy. Going to the cinema, listening to classical or contemporary music and so on are not intrinsically worldly. But we can be worldly in our religion if we are not careful. If we look down on other believers as "worldly" because, for example, they drink alcohol, is that not a symptom of "the pride of life"? If we lust after a reputation for theological greatness, is that not worldly? Worldliness can be very subtle and we do ourselves no favours when we reduce such a complex thing to a simple set of rules.
So, what is the antidote to worldliness? It is the love of the Father. He so loved this world of worldly sinners that he sent his Son to save us from the world (John 3:16). The gospel, not a set of taboos will enable us to resist worldliness. Paul begins and concludes Galatians on this note,
"Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen." (1:3-5).
"But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (6:14)
We have been delivered from this present evil age by the death of Christ. In him, the world is crucified to us and us to the world. Our concern is not for the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life. We are dead to all that. Now we will boast not in our own achievements or religious superiority, but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who believe that Jesus, the crucified one is the Son of God will overcome the world. They will love God and keep his commandments.

3 comments:

Jonathan Hunt said...

Did anything in particular prompt this post?

I have been made aware of a sermon preached recently in which the preacher criticised 'UK Pastors who make lists of worldly music they enjoy on their blogs'

Is there a subtle hint of worldliness, not perhaps in listening to pop music which is not profane or immoral, but in 'glorifying' this world's fallen culture by blogging about it?

Don't take this personally, tis just a thought. I don't agree entirely with your article, but nor do I agree with the condemnation of pastor-bloggers I have been hearing recently...

J

Alex said...

Jonathan,

You phrase "this world's fallen culture" struck me. I don't think culture as a whole is necesarily fallen. I think by and large our culture is a product of desires, aspirations, and enjoyments that God created us to have. On the other hand there are aspects of our culture wherein humans exhibit their falleness. But on the whole, I don't think our culture, including our food, our music, our dance, our traditions, etc. are fallen.

Furthermore, the word "wordly" is not inherently bad as some, including this preacher would have us believe. God created the world and the parts of each human that contribute to creating what we call culture. I think when the word wordly is used in the Bible it has a negative connotation that I don't think is necessarily the only way to use the word. Let's remember that God cares very much for the world.

Let's also remember that just because music calls itself Christian and mentions Jesus name, doesn't necessarily make it more favorable in the eyes of God than music that does not mention Jesus name or claim to be Christian in any way. In fact, those, including myself, who would claim to be the people of God, must hold themselves to a higher standard.

Exiled Preacher said...

J,

No, I hadn't heard anything about what seems like a veiled attack on me. Or am I just being paranoid?

In once sense, all human culture has been affected by the fall. That means Rachmaninoff as well as Radiohead. But does that mean that we should reject everything that is not produced by Christians? I don't think so. That would be a denial of the Reformed doctrine of common grace. I shall continue to make my little lists of things I enjoy.

Alex,

You are right that "world" is not always used in a bad sense in the Bible. It sometimes simply means the created order.