Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Worldliness is one of the greatest dangers that constantly faces the individual Christian and the church as a whole. Many a Christian has been ruined by worldliness. Whole churches have been destroyed by it. When the Christian or the church becomes worldly it loses its testimony in the world, it is no longer worthy of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, it ceases to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When the church becomes worldly, she becomes the object of mockery to the world, and the occasion of reproach of the name of the Lord she worships and serves, and of the truth she confesses. Scripture warns us so very strongly against the evil of worldliness. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God,” James 4:4. “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, and 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 lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever,” I John 2:15-17. How very serious these passages of God’s word are! There is an absolute antithesis between the love of the world and the love of God, so much so that anyone who loves the world is called an enemy of God. All that is in this world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of God. What absolute language. There can be no compromise. The Christian must constantly maintain the absolute antithesis with the world in which he lives. There can be no engaging in and taking pleasure in the things of this world. In the measure in which the Christian does this he does not possess the love of God. The great call of the Lord is, “come out from among them, and be ye separate,” II Corinthians 6:17. And again in Revelation 18:4 we read this warning from the Lord; “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” These are words of warning given in connection with the announcement of the fall of the Babylon of this world. Constantly, and under the instigation of the devil, the world is seeking to build its Babylon. The purpose of the devil is to try to get as many of the members of the church as possible to become citizens of Babylon. His purpose is as much as possible to obliterate all distinction between the world and the church. His purpose is somehow to tempt every Christian to follow after the abominations of the world.
God Himself has made us to differ from this present evil world by the wonderful work of His grace and Holy Spirit in us. Scripture often reminds us of this. It speaks of the wonderful and absolute difference that God has made. “And you hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; among whom also we all had our conversation in time past in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” Ephesians 2:1-3. That must all be left behind us. We have now been made new creatures in Christ Jesus, fashioned after the image of Christ Jesus, renewed in the true knowledge of God and created in true righteousness and holiness. We are called to walk in the good works which God has ordained for us and to show forth the glorious praises of our God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We will never do that if we are worldly. We must be a separate, holy, and peculiar people unto the Lord our God.
We must not set our affection upon the things in this present world, but on the things which are above. Our whole conversation as Christians must be heavenly in perspective. This alone by the grace of God will keep us from worldliness. We must always remember that we are but pilgrims and strangers in this world. We have the hope of the glorious inheritance that is reserved in heaven. Because of this hope we have to forsake the world and its lusts and keep ourselves pure and holy unto the day of the coming of our Lord.
Worldliness is a subject little spoken of in modern day churches. It is considered to be a subject which the old Puritans discussed and wrote books about but which is not very relevant for today. It is considered a matter of greater urgency for the church to accommodate as much as possible to the world and seek to be relevant to the people of the world. At all cost the modern day church does not want to be considered too conservative and out of step with the times. The church must bend over backwards to prove to the world how tolerant it can be and how free in permitting any and all sorts of life styles that men might choose for themselves. Discipline and excommunication from the church because of worldly and ungodly living is almost unheard of. We must tolerate all things in the supposed “love of Christ” spirit. Because of the awful state of gross worldliness in so many churches, it is necessary for the true church of Jesus Christ to maintain a separatist stand. We as Christians and as churches must condemn the great evil of worldliness that is so prevalent in many churches. We must not imagine that all who call themselves Christians are truly people of God whose teaching and example we can follow.
Besides taking a separatist stand over against the modern apostate church and condemning the worldliness in her midst, we must also be constantly on our guard against worldliness coming into our own lives as Christians, and into our own churches. In order to do that we have to identify worldliness in our own life and in our own midst. Worldliness takes on many forms. Each age brings new forms of worldliness. It is not good enough to imagine that we have kept ourselves from worldliness if we have merely avoided the areas of worldliness which have for many years been condemned, such as worldly entertainment, dancing, and movie attendance. There are many more forms of worldliness than these. It is often the case that people who condemn worldliness in these areas are grossly guilty of it in other areas of their lives.
We must maintain our doctrinal foundations if we are to stand fast against the tide of worldliness. The origin of our churches had to do with the whole issue of common grace. One of the great reasons why our spiritual forefathers condemned the teachings of common grace is because this false doctrine seeks to make a compromise between the Christian and the world, between Jerusalem and Athens. We must maintain steadfastly the doctrinal heritage of our church. But we must also maintain our doctrinal position in our practice lest we compromise the very thing which our forefathers fought so hard to maintain by the actual conversation of our life. We must always ask the question very directly; “Are we becoming worldly?” It is with this in mind that we purpose to write something further on this subject in coming installments for this department.
We are aware of the great dangers involved in approaching this subject directly and from a practical perspective. The whole matter of worldliness and our calling to be separate from the world has often been misunderstood. Many well-meaning Christians have failed to see that the antithesis between the world and the Christian is not a physical but a spiritual one. These have advocated that we must totally isolate ourselves physically from the world, restricting as much as possible any contact we have with the world. This of course is wrong. This kind of teaching does not guard against real worldliness. History has proven again and again that advocates of such a position have often themselves lived in the grossest worldliness. The Lord calls us to live in the midst of this world and yet be truly spiritually separate and distinct from it. The real test of the Christian life comes as we live next to and in the midst of the world. There we must bear our Christian testimony and there we must show forth the distinctive virtues of the grace of God in our lives. There have also been many advocates of separation from the world who have in fact been nothing but legalists and Pharisees who have sought to restrict again the liberty which we have in Christ. We may not lay upon the conscience of the Christian any burden which our Lord Himself does not give to us. The position of legalism will only lead to a spirit and attitude that is judgmental of our fellow saints. There are things of our Christian life that belong to Christian liberty. On the other hand we need always also to take heed to the warning of the apostle Paul that we use not our liberty as an occasion to sin. We must not excuse in our life what is clearly condemned in the Word of God. With this in mind we seek to consider some of the areas of worldliness that threaten us, and by contrast how we as children of God ought to live.
We are called to live in spiritual separation from the world as the holy and peculiar people of the Lord. Separation is first of all a matter of the heart of the child of God. He must not love the world nor set his affections upon the things of this world. We must separate ourselves spiritually from the world in its worldly purposes and objects and desires. We must be absolutely separate from the materialism, selfishness, man-centeredness and covetousness of the world. We must be separate from the lust and adultery and fornication that characterizes so much of what the world does. We must separate ourselves from the ungodly speech of the world. Our whole life must be different: all our goals and purposes. Our conversation must be different. The things we spend most of our time and money on must be different. This must be real and evident. If our conversation is largely about the same things as our neighbor’s, who is not a Christian, then we are in danger of becoming worldly. If most of our talk is about making money, about our businesses and farms, about sports and vacations, then we are in danger of becoming worldly. The question of worldliness must be answered on the basis of how we spend our time, what brings us the greatest joy, what is the chief interest of our life. Is the Lord really central in our life? Are our hearts and souls and conversation filled with the things of God and of His truth and kingdom? Do we know the statistics of our favorite sports heroes but very little about the truth of the Bible? Then we have become worldly in that area of our life. As we continue to consider this subject in future articles, let us humbly examine ourselves before the Word of God. May the Lord by His grace make us more truly God-centered and less worldly in all our life.