Worldliness: A Perennial Danger

By Rev. Martyn McGeown - Posted at Reformed Free Publishing Association:

There are two passages in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit explicitly warns us against the world. The first is James 4:4 where James calls Christians and church members “adulterers and adulteresses” because of their friendship with the world, adding that the one who will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Earlier in that same epistle James says that “pure religion and undefiled” is (among other things) “to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

The other passage is 1 John 2:15, where John commands Christians not to love the world. The force of the Greek grammar is: “Stop loving the world.” The reason John gives is similar to James: “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

I believe that we all know instinctively what worldliness is. We can sense it; we know it; and we are very quick to see it in others and to excuse it in ourselves. Worldliness is one of the greatest dangers to the church. The Christian has three main enemies: the flesh, the devil, and the world.

Worldliness also causes division in the church. Some Christians have legalistic tendencies: they see almost everything, and especially what others do, as worldly. Therefore, they are quick to condemn worldliness in others. For some Christians, worldliness is defined almost as “whatever the world does, if the Christian does it, it is worldliness.” That, however, is an inadequate, inaccurate, and ultimately unhelpful definition. Other Christians, who want to avoid legalism, with its excessive rules and judgmental spirit, err on the side of worldliness. They are inclined to be too close to the world so that the world bewitches, fascinates, and ensnares them. Since love of the world is probably the number one reason for apostasy in the church, we need to find balance between world flight and worldliness. May God give wisdom!

The first thing to do if we are not to love the world is to identify what the world is. To be clear, we need to identify what the world is in 1 John 2:15-17.