Acceptable Sins Not Excepted: Worldliness

Most Christians understand that worldliness is not something we are called to as children of the living God.

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

…You shall be holy as I am holy. (1 Peter 1:15)

After all, we cannot be living a life of holiness if we are celebrating the sins of the world. This is why there is such a strong outcry from the church today on grievous social issues like abortion.

Yet, is this the extent of worldliness? Does it stop with these gross, immoral sins, or is there more to the concept?

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Our hearts are an enigma at times. Regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit at salvation, they possess new desires in alignment with the things of God. At the same time, our fallen flesh still beats within us, thereby making our hearts seats of deceit (Jeremiah 17:9).

This can be profoundly evident when we find ourselves caught up in the trends of the world. Whether it is enjoying the latest sinful television trend (e.g., Game of Thrones) or consistently pining over the newest toy or gadget as a means of keeping up with those around us, we must be mindful of where we set our desires.

Now, it is important to note that some of these things are not inherently sinful in and of themselves. We are not Amish. We do not shirk things of this world or modern conveniences as a means of enhancing our holiness or obtaining our salvation or moving to the front of the line in Heaven. It is okay to have an iPhone, even the newest one. It is okay to wear clothes that are in fashion, so long as we are dressing modestly and to the glory of God. It is okay to own a car (yes, even a new car if you are able). Driving a horse and buggy and donning long skirts or suspenders does not draw one close to God.

We err when we think that shunning material things is akin to shunning worldliness. Yes, this certainly may be part of the process. In fact, if you have been saved for any length of time, you likely can review your life and see how the shiny objects of this world have lost their luster. This is good and right and illustrative of ongoing sanctification in our lives. Yet, this cannot be all of the process, else this means of striving for righteousness has been reduced to mere outward works.

As with all sin, worldliness begins in the heart, and here is where it must be addressed.

Says J.C. Ryle

A man who is born again does not use the world’s opinion as his standard of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the world’s ways, ideas and customs. What men think or say no longer concerns him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure in things which seem to bring happiness to most people. To him they seem foolish and unworthy of an immortal being.

He loves God’s praise more than man’s praise. He fears offending God more than offending man. It is unimportant to him whether he is blamed or praised; his first aim is to please God.[1]

So we study the Scripture and earnestly ask the Lord in prayer to conform our hearts and minds to align with His will and His desires, so that we long for things of the Kingdom, and not for the transient pleasures of this fallen world. Yet there is more.

We noted above 1 John 2:15. “Do not love the things of this world.” While this could easily be relegated to refer to the material world, a proper understanding of this text is that “world” refers to the evil, wicked system that stands in opposition to God. As redeemed children of the King, we are no longer slaves to the world’s system; rather, we are slaves of the greatest, kindest Master conceivable.[2]

John MacArthur notes,

The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God are inherently incompatible. The two are mutually exclusive and opposed to one another. They are antithetical, and cannot peacefully coexist. True Christians therefore will not be characterized by a habitual love for the world, nor will worldly people demonstrate a genuine affection for the gospel and its Lord.[3]

In his commentary on 1 John, MacArthur expands on this, and offers three overall reasons the Apostle John describes in his epistle for why believers must not love the world or the things of this world.

First, those who love the world do not have the love of the Father in them (1 John 2:15). We have already alluded to this above. Those who have been saved by God, who possess salvation, who have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and who have a knowledge of the true God, will by their new nature stand in opposition to the wicked ways of the world. At the same time, believers are not “immune to the world’s allure.”

Because they are still fallen sinners—though saved by grace—true followers of Christ are tempted through their remaining flesh by the world’s behaviors and enterprises.[4]

Indeed, this is all the more reason for us to run to our great Savior in times of temptation.

Second, the Apostle notes that believers should not love the world because of what the world does.

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. (1 John 2:16)

As MacArthur notes, “sin is the dominant reality in the world;” however, sin ultimately is embedded in the heart of men (see Jeremiah 17:9 again). In 1 John 2:16, then, the Apostle John outlines the various means by which the world invites and entices men to sin. Through these avenues, even believers are tempted to sin, whether instigated by the world, Satan, or their flesh. The glorious news of the gospel is that those who have been redeemed “possess the ability to successfully resist the temptations of this world.”[5]

Finally, believers ought not love the world or desire the things of this world because the world is passing away.

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

The things of the world are transient. The pleasures they bring are temporary and, in the end, all will be burned like chaff. The one who does the will of God—the one who trusts in Christ—will live forever. Not only will he live forever, he has waiting for him a promised eternal inheritance beyond human comprehension (see Ephesians 1).

When we consider such great and precious promises, the things of this world grow strangely dim, do they not? When our focus rests upon our sweet Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, the things of this world fade into a nothingness that is neither remembered nor missed.

1. J.C. Ryle, “Are You Born Again?” accessed 04 September 17.
2. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John (Chicago: Moody Press, 2007), 83.
3. Ibid., 84.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 90.

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