The Nature of Worldliness (I)

Harry Ozment

Worldliness has always existed on the earth. Paul described such in Rom. 1:18-32 and called the world in which he lived a "crooked and perverse nation" (Phil. 2:15). And, the problem has always existed to a certain extent in the church. This is evident from a mere casual reading of the New Testament epistles. It seems, however, that the problem is becoming worse in our time due to weak preaching by some evangelists, ignorant ruling by some elders, and lax service by some saints. Indeed, worldliness in the church is a problem that demands our most serious and prayerful study.


Worldliness is generally defined as "of, relating to, or devoted to this world and its pursuits rather than to religion or spiritual affairs." (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) The Bible, however, is its own dictionary, and it offers a composite definition of "worldliness" in I Jn. 2:16: "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." John classifies all worldliness in three different groups:

(a) Lust of the flesh. This has reference to all desires which emanate from the carnal part (sometimes called the "animal nature") of man. Paul describes this carnal part of man in Rom. 7: 22-23, "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." In Romans 7, Paul is speaking of two different parts of man's nature a spiritual part and a carnal part. The spiritual part, to which the/aw of God appeals, is in war with the carnal part, to which sin appeals. Each of these parts is warring with the other because each is striving to gain control of that person's mind and life. Thus, Paul writes: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Rom. 7:18-19).

Each man is responsible not to permit his carnal or fleshly part to gain control of his mind and life; hence, Paul said, "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or .of obedience unto righteousness?" (Rom. 6: 13, 16) When a person relents to the lust of the fleshly part, worldliness results; and, the manifestations of such a condition appear in the works of the flesh: "This I say then, Walk in the spirit (or, the spiritual part of man), and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditious, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like." (Gal. 5:16-17, 19-21)

(b) Lust of the eyes. This form of worldliness would include all desires which have their origin in sight (e.g., covetousness). This is not to say that we are to want nothing we see; rather, John means to say that desire of things we see becomes wrong if and when it becomes the main purpose in our life to attain them. Paul clarifies this point in Rom. 1: 24-25: "Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts .... who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator."

(c) Pride of life. This refers to those things which contribute to insolent pride in worldly attainments. Such is vanity. It indicates that the standard of value of a person who possesses pride of life is upon earthly treasures rather than upon heavenly.

It is significant, I believe, that both Eve and Christ were tempted with each of the three forms of worldliness. Of course, one (Eve} Succumbed to the temptation (Rom. 5: 12), while the other (Christ) did not (I Pet. 2:22). However, for illustration of the forms o/ worldliness, consider the chart below.

General Characteristics

With the definition of worldliness in mind, we can now proceed to consider some general characteristics of worldliness:

(1) Worldliness originates with Satan. The Bible teaches that Satan is a real person. Although he stalks about "as a roaring lion" (1 Peter. 5:8), he is never seen in this light. He appears an innocent: "And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14) He seduces man with only those things that appear attractive and pleasant: "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." (2 Cor. 2:11)

This, by the way, is the very reason that worldliness is so prevalent: Satan hoaxed man into believing that the ungodly life is joyful and pleasurable, and therefore worldliness is most popular today. It is true that worldliness contains a seed of joy--it is not present misery to engage in sin! If it were, no man would commit it! Rather, man is deceived into believing that the joy of sin is lasting; in reality, it is very transitory and passing.

Satan, therefore, is the opponent of all that is good and the propagator of all that is worldly. Satan is indeed a very strong opponent. However, Jesus showed that Satan could be resisted (Matt. 4:1-10). By putting on the armour of God, Christians can likewise withstand the wiles of Satan, the ministers of Satan, and even Satan himself:




Lust of Flesh

Tree "good for food"

(Gen. 3:6a)

"Stones into bread" (Matt. 4:3-4)

Lust of Eyes

Tree "pleasant to the eyes" (Gen. 3:6b)

Shown kingdoms of earth (Matt. 4:8-10)

Pride of Life

Tree "made one wise"

(Gen. 3:6c)

Tempt God--boost ego (Matt. 4:5-7)

"Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked." (Eph. 6:13-16}

(2) Worldliness is against God. Because worldliness originates with Satan, it is wholly contrary to the nature of God. There can be neither compromise nor middle ground: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, 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." (Jas. 4:4) A person professing Christianity consistently simply cannot engage in acts of worldliness during the week and then worship God on Sunday.

Worldliness is against God, and whosoever partakes of worldliness must, of necessity, he in a position of rebellion against God. I stand amazed at times as I observe some worldly church members who think themselves great in the sight of God. Little do they know, evidently, that they are devout enemies of God, and subverters of His came. Paul informs us of God's attitude ,toward such people: "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and Whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." (Phil. 3: 18-19) Perhaps ff more people in the church realized how seriously God views their worldly ways, they would cease their ungodliness.

(3) Worldliness is rooted in the heart. Christianity is unique from all other religions in the emphasis it puts upon the attitude of the heart. Christianity finds its root in a person's heart and attitudes. If a person's attitude is right, no problem will be encountered in that person's working and living right. Jesus said, "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth evil things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things." (Matt. 12:33-35)

With this background, we can understand why worldliness is so serious and destructive--it affects and destroys the' very root of Christianity, the heart. Worldliness is a disease of the heart, and it can be remedied only with a transformation of the mind. Some people have the mistaken idea that worldliness refers to certain wanton acts (e.g., social drinking, gambling, etc.). Actually, however, such wanton acts are but symptoms of worldliness. A person could cease participation in certain ungodly acts and still love the world, just as a person could cease possessing money and still love it. The basic cure for worldliness is a change of the heart: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." (Rom. 12:2)

TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV; 32, pp. 11-14

June 18, 1970