This is a lesson I did for Christian Fellowship on "worldliness." A lot of my information was taken from "Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C. J. Mahaney." Please keep in mind, that this is not 100% complete. I.E. I could have gone on to talk about materialism, our dress, etc., but I wanted, in the space I had, to focus on entertainment choices a little more.
When: Feb. 26th, 2009
Place: Christian Fellowship
What do you usually think of when you hear the word “worldliness?” For some it brings to mind a stoic puritans bent on keeping church members from engaging in any action which would be considered, “pleasurable.” For others it conjures up images of the evil Hollywood entertainment business and the sins of attending a movie theater, listening to popular music, and drinking alcohol. Most of us don’t view ourselves as worldly people. We have our own scale in which we are at the center, while those who are legalistic sit to our right, and those who are worldly sit to our left. We place ourselves in the, oh-so-comfortable “godly” center. This scale is based upon a listing of standards we have predetermined based on our own perception of the world. For instance, some may see playing cards and watching television as “worldly,” while others may see such actions as perfectly acceptable activities becoming of a “godly” individual. As you can see, we will get a different definition of the terms “worldly” and “godly” based upon a preferred list of rules. Since when did following Christ become a subjective exercise? Let’s bring clarity to this issue be first defining some terms.
Legalism: “Anyone trying to achieve acceptance through obedience.” This is the problem the Pharisees had. They took a legalistic approach to the law of God, trying somehow to gain salvation from God through their good deeds. I believe it’s important to understand that it wasn’t their “obedience” which was wrong, but their notion that they could gain God’s favor through it. In other words, it was their motivation which disqualified them from God’s favor (the very thing they were trying to achieve). Salvation is freely available to anyone humble enough to accept it on Christ’s merit, and not their own. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” - Titus 3:5 Therefore, the solution to legalism, is not lowering our standard, but rather raising our response to God.
Godliness: “Anyone set apart too, and following after Christ’s example.” Godliness and Holiness are fairly similar ideas. Holiness means “being set apart too.” Godliness signifies the object to which we are to be set apart. We are to be set apart to God. This doesn’t mean following a standard of do’s and don’ts, but rather pursuing and mimicking an example, that example being Christ. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” - Philip. 2:5
Worldliness: “love for the fallen world-system.” 1 John 2:15 commands us not to, “love the world, nor the things in the world.” The word “world” signifies “the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God.” What philosophies are we talking about when we say “organized system,” and where can these philosophies be found? Atheism, hedonism, evolutionism, materialism, spiritism, etc., are all philosophies that directly contradict God’s Word, and they can be found almost anywhere we go. The university campus, the shopping center, the highway, the television, the radio; there is almost no place in which we can travel without bumping into a system of beliefs which reject the God of the Bible. John says, “do not love these things!” He goes on to describe what these philosophical systems contain. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.” David Jackman states, “The ‘worldly’ characteristics of which this verse speaks are in fact reactions going on inside of us, as we contemplate the environment outside.” Therefore, worldliness is internal not environmental. Worldliness is a heart issue. If I could boil these three categories down to one word, I would use the word “selfish” to describe them. Notice, worldliness is not an R-rated movie, but rather the lust of the eyes, It’s not sexual gratification, but rather the lust of the flesh, and it’s not buying a brand new car, but rather the boastful pride of life. As John Calvin said, “The evil in our desires lies often not in what we want, but in the fact that we want it too much.” The solution to worldliness is not simply tightening our standards, but rather changing our motivations. Godliness and worldliness are not determined on the basis of precept, but principle. That principle, is God’s word. Let’s now examine what God’s word has to say about worldliness.
The first thing to realize, I believe, when studying the topic of “worldliness,” is that no one is above the fray. We are all affected by this world, and to deny this fact, means that we are in the process of being affected without realizing it. Demas was a close friend and traveling companion of Paul the Apostle. He participated in strengthening the fledgling church throughout the Roman Empire. He left all he had, and stood by Paul even when he was cast into prison. However, in 2 Tim. 4:10 we find something remarkable: “for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” I don’t believe Demas woke up one morning and said, “I’m going to desert Paul.” I believe this was a slow, gradual shift in his beliefs, until he had totally accepted the “world-system” as a way to live his life. We are no different than Demas. The road to serious rejection starts with little things: watching movies we know we shouldn’t, listening to songs with ungodly lyrics, buying “stuff” to make us feel happy, sleeping in during church, and the list goes on. As James Hunter stated, “The main problem in the church is not persecution from the outside, but worldliness infiltrating the inside. Sexual integrity is even softening.” How do we as believers avoid the pitfall of Demas, and not get sucked into the philosophies of this world? I believe the first step is rooting out the sin in our lives.
The second thing to realize, is that we aren’t the standard, the Bible is. We are corrupt fallen human beings. Even as Christians, though we are being transformed, we are also affected by the “mediasphere” we live in. We must go outside this fallen world, to look for a true standard. This standard resides with God. Let’s take a look at a couple Scriptures to find this standard, paying particular attention to the commands within the text.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.
Negative commands: Do not let a hint of immorality, impurity, or greed characterize you. No filthiness, silly talk, or coarse jesting. Don’t participate with the wicked. Don’t be deceived by wicked. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness.
Positive commands: Imitate God, walk in love, give thanks, walk as children of light (goodness, righteousness, truth), (learn) discern what is pleasing to God, expose unfruitful deeds.
You may be saying after reading this, “Wait these don’t help me! They’re principles, not prohibitions!,” and you’d be right. The goal is to “discern” what is pleasing to God. This isn’t a guessing game, because we have principles to work off of. When confronted with any situation, we need to apply the godly standards spoken of in this passage. Start by asking questions: Is this immoral? Does it tempt me towards greed? Are there dirty double ententes (i.e. course jesting)? Is this beneficial? Can I give thanks for it after participating? Let’s look another passage.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.”
This passage provides a complete list of principles to work off of. Notice that this isn’t a restrictive standard, but an affirming one. We aren’t to be looking at situations and asking ourselves, “Does this contradict Philippians?” but rather ask, “Does this affirm Philippians?” There is a big difference. One is reaching for something higher (godliness), the other is merely trying to avoid something however (worldliness). Let’s reach, instead of stoop.
Let me ask you a series of rhetorical questions so you can examine yourselves to see if you’ve been affected by worldliness. Imagine your pastor were to take a blind test in which his task is to identify the genuine follower of Jesus Christ. His choices are an unregenerate individual and you. I’m given two reports detailing conversations , Internet activity, manner of dress, iPod playlists, television habits, hobbies, leisure time, financial transactions, thoughts, passions, and dreams. The question is: Would he be able to tell you apart? Would he discern a difference between you and your unconverted neighbor, coworker, classmate, or friend? Page 20-21
Now let’s get practical. How do we combat the system of this world? Well, let’s start with what we don’t do. We already know that merely outwardly conforming to a higher standard will not work, because the issue is our heart, and not our actions. Another method which will not work is trying to resist worldliness by ourselves; meaning, expending all our energy into negatively avoiding worldly pitfalls, to the exclusion of positively affirming anything. This will cause us to fall into another pitfall: legalism. We are to “be holy as he is holy.” Meaning once again, that we are “set apart” to God, as well as being set apart from this present world. Try to ‘not’ think about the movie you saw last night, or the advertisement you noticed on your way to work. What’s the first thing that pops into your head? Of course it’s going to be the very thing you were trying to avoid thinking about! The solution lies in positively focusing our energy on pursuing God (i.e. dwelling on His sacrifice, thanking Him for blessings, etc.), not negatively avoiding the world. If the solution is focusing our energy towards God, how do we do that in the situations of everyday life? Let’s take a few different situations, in which we are confronted with the philosophy of the world, and apply this principle.
I want to start off with Hollywood, because I think that this is a problematic area for most collegiates and high schoolers. I have felt in my own life a noticeable spiritual downward slide when I am continuously exposed to visual material which does not affirm what’s right. I like to justify my viewing habits by saying, “well there’s nothing ‘that’ bad in it,” or, “I hear this kind of stuff every day, it won’t matter if I hear it again.” It’s not until sometimes weeks later that I realize my viewing habits have caught up with me, as words I wouldn’t normally say make their way to the tip of my tongue, my longing for more visual stimulation has grown, the standard I’ve set for myself has more to do with a television character than it does a Biblical one, inappropriate sexual passions are more noticeable, and suddenly my devotional time shrinks. In short, it becomes an idol. How is this combated? The same way every sin is combated. As Psalm 119 states, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word.” The Bible has plenty to say on this topic. First of all, every situation, including visual stimulation, must be filtered through Colossians 3:17, which says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” If I can’t honestly pray and thank God for it, there’s no reason for me to be viewing it. Another principle comes from, Ephes. 5:16. We are to be, “making the most of (our) time, because the days are evil.” Is what I’m doing really the best thing I could be doing with my time? How about the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Does it show love for my neighbor when I pay them to sin for my own enjoyment? We often don’t think about actors on a screen being people, because after all, they’re on a screen. But it is the equivalent of going to see a play. Would you pay for someone to commit sexual indecency, or use foul language, in your presence? Is it a wise use of your finances to be supporting a production company to put out more indecent films? These questions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to thinking through an entertainment decision.
It’s important to understand firstly, that music is God’s idea (1 Sam. 13:14, 1 Chron. 16:5-7), however like anything else, it can be greatly distorted. Bob Kauflin said, “. . . a wise Christian understands that listening to music without discernment and godly intent reveals a heart willing to flirt with the world.” I can’t even stress how unqualified I feel like I am to write about this subject, because it is probably my weakest area. I have constantly listened to songs which convey bad messages because I like the beat and melody. I find myself singing along to lyrics on Monday, which don’t match what I sang about on Sunday morning. James talked about this by saying, “from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” Another thing to consider is those who are listening. Think about the children who follow your example. (Luke 17:1-2, says, “. . . It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Remember who’s within earshot of your music station, morning program, etc. Even though the band isn’t playing right next to you, and the DJ isn’t shouting in your ear, you should realize, it wouldn’t be any different if they were. When you press that “on” button, you are letting the outside come in. It doesn’t have to be worldly but it very well could be. They are in a sense, your companions, for the time you’re “tuning in.” It is wise to remember what Proverbs has to say about companions. “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” I know far too many Christians who have, instead of staying as far away from the edge as possible, thought themselves to be “super-spiritual,” and have put themselves in dangerous situations. In short, they have become idolatrous. Bob Kauflin stated, “Music makes a precious gift but a terrible God, by God’s grace may we always know the difference.” Let’s hope we know the difference when it comes to every area of our lives.