“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17
One of the greatest hindrances to the body of Jesus Christ moving on with abandoned devotion to their Master and becoming captivated and activated with His vision and prophetic purpose in the nations is the presence of worldliness among us. It takes on multitudes of faces. It is the place of lukewarm living which appears much easier and less risky than pursuing the deeper life in God. Though it obviously is found in allowing our actions to be dictated and informed by the dark bent of the world, worldliness primarily finds its greatest breeding ground when we allow our minds and hearts to buy into ideas about God and His ways which are false and not representative of Him or the Bible in truth. As such ideas take root within us, our actions naturally follow suit and we end up living at a much lower standard in God than He intended. A few examples will help us see this more clearly.
Some cling to a faulty understanding of “grace” as we pursue our own desires and ambitions (the lust of the flesh) believing that God is okay with this. This is usually characterized by an underlying greed for reputation, certain lifestyles or to please others instead of God. We rationalize that God will forgive our waywardness (or somehow completely overlook it) because of His mercy and grace, which is a right understanding of God. Yet, the wrong understanding is that there will be no ramifications or consequences to such waywardness. However, it naturally brings with it a coldness of heart and a desensitizing toward spiritual realities leading us into deeper worldliness. We cannot live life according to our own standards and think we will not be affected. God, motivated by His love and knowledge of how He has created us, has set up His kingdom in such a way as to require His people to live a certain way and by certain standards. To deviate from this will bring spiritual consequences. A second wrong understanding here is toward repentance. If it is true, repentance always seeks to amend its wayward ways and not continue in them claiming God’s “grace.” True repentance is action oriented and makes a clean break from the offense, not returning to it as we receive God’s enabling power.
Some struggle with areas of sin (the lust of the eyes) and fail to recognize Jesus’ victory over these things. We tend to put ourselves unnecessarily through seasons of probation in order to somehow show God how serious we are over our failings and shortcomings. In doing so, we betray the essence of a religious spirit and a wrong idea of God’s heart for His people. It says we must add something to the blood of Christ which was shed to forgive all sin and eradicate it. We feel that if we somehow lay low in our pursuit of God, putting ourselves through some strange probation period we can show God we are serious about our offense and that we are sorry. This appears noble and right yet goes totally against what Jesus has already done through the cross and resurrection – to set us free from sin and its power. Instead, the right response is to cling to Jesus’ full flowing blood which cleanses us from every form of failure and shortcoming. Then we immediately get back up and choose to walk in wholehearted pursuit of God, deliberately forgetting about our past sin even as Jesus does as soon as He forgives it.
Much of the spiritual deadness and complacency in our midst finds its roots here. We are so ashamed of our sin, which is initially good, that we don’t believe we’re good enough for God or to receive His cleansing blood alone for the failing. We would never fully turn our backs on Him but choose instead to live at a minimal level of life in God because of our deep-rooted sense of filth and shame. We most often do this even after receiving His cleansing blood and forgiveness. It stinks of our own pride in wanting to relate to God on our own terms. The cross and the blood of Christ available to cover all shortcomings is foolishness to our minds and we think that we have to pay for our wrong-doing in some form and this seems right to us. Such thinking is the height of worldliness as it buys into the way the world thinks as it holds its grudges toward others who offend them. Deep down we believe Jesus holds such grudges toward us as well. Jesus’ kingdom, however, is not run in such a manner.
Colossians 3:1-4 are a powerful few verses opening our eyes to God’s critical game plan for living victoriously over the worldliness. It is the blueprint for overcoming every form of worldliness that arises due to a faulty way of thinking about God and His ways. If we will buy into these few verses and pursue the Lord vigilantly as a result, we will find our often cold hearts set before the burning of His own heart and in doing so we cannot help but be changed. There is outstanding revelation in these verses and they deserve much personal study and consideration by those hungering after God. The following are several key points that are helpful for overcoming the worldliness so common in Christ’s body today.
First, we see here that intimacy with God is the bedrock of all spiritual growth and the ability to stay free from the faulty ideas that are swirling around within the body of Christ today. These faulty ideas are not usually understood as such as it appears they are godly or noble ideas, but this is the deception. Yet in a subtle way they are teaching something about God and His ways that doesn’t align with His Word and the peace of His Spirit, which He supplies liberally. These ideas pave the way to our buying into greater measures of worldliness. As a result, it is our responsibility to go deep as students of God’s Word, inviting Him as the author to teach us deeply, illuminating truth and applying its principles to our hearts and minds. A regular consecration and offering of ourselves unto God to be taught by Him and to learn from Him is pivotal. It ought not be a one time deal.
Second, as born again followers of Jesus Christ who have availed ourselves of the glorious benefits implied in this, we are to no longer seek the things that are of the earth – the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and pride of life. We are now to align ourselves fully with our citizenship in heaven. We are no longer members of this world but our home is in heaven with God. The concerns of heaven are to occupy our thoughts and activities. Worldliness, such a detriment to the people of God, is to be eradicated as we fix our minds on the plans, ways, systems, purposes, and thoughts of heaven. True believers are to have their aims, ambitions, dreams and entire outlook on life and the reason of living it centered on Jesus and His purposes alone. A true believer will regularly assess how they are doing in this area and make changes necessary in order to make sure they are continually, step by step, growing in their fixation with the concerns of God and that the things of this world are diminishing in their hearts. Some questions to ask in this arena are (1) Am I more concerned about pleasing others, myself, or God? (2) Am I using my time, money and life energies to further His heavenly purposes or my own? (3) Am I regularly seeking to align myself with His upside down kingdom? (4) Do I seek God’s favor or the favor of a human being?
Third, we are able to overcome worldliness and not get caught in its web because Jesus Himself is seated at the right hand of God. Our longing to commune with Him and be with Him drives all of this. If such a longing and hunger for God supersedes our love for the world, the one will get greater and the other diminish. He is our aim, our ambition, our very vocation and vision. He is exalted to the highest place of honor and glory and we have been granted access to know Him, love Him and draw near to Him. His utter superiority reveals the foolishness of living for anything less then He alone.
Fourth, the apostle leads us directly into the practice of effective Christianity here. How we live is always determined by what we believe or the ideas we have about God, as right actions and practices come out of right ideas and believing. But belief alone is never enough. Right practice will always follow right belief. If worldliness remains, we must ask ourselves if we have the right understanding and ideas about God and if we are allowing ourselves to rightly believe in Him in truth.
Lastly, worldliness can be eradicated in our lives by living every day with eternity beating in our hearts. The second coming of Jesus to the earth will be the full revelation of the children of God. On that day of revelation and ultimate victory, we will share in Jesus’ glory. It is with a vision toward this end that we can live every day with the eternal realm at the forefront of our thoughts instead of the temporal realm. Living for the temporal betrays our complete lack of grasping what we were created for. We will spend billions of years in eternity with the glory of the risen Christ saturating our spirits constantly. Our term on earth is a mere 70-80 years only. Let us catch His revelation and choose to live free from worldliness and temporal pursuits and instead bear fruit that will last for eternity.
Worldliness is a plague within the body of Christ today. It is time to consider with greater understanding where it comes from and ask the Lord to do a deep work in each of our own hearts in order to set us free from such bondage. Jesus wants us living set apart from the world and viewing the ways of the world and its systems as totally foreign to us as His followers. We are to live according to His Kingdom’s ways. As those whom He is preparing to use as His hands and feet among the nations, it is critical that we buy into His calling and power to set us free from areas of worldliness in our lives and ministries. How have we been viewing God lately that has given us reason to rationalize a lesser devoted life of seeking His face? What shame and filth have we been carrying around that Jesus wants to set us free from this very moment? Have we been putting ourselves through a period of probation for some sin we committed last week, last month, last year? Receive by faith Jesus’ power over all these things and give yourself to the cultivating of a fiery heart in God and going after Him wholeheartedly as a forgiven and washed servant of the Most High God.