Worldliness is dangerous because it stains us.
James says true religion is to ‘keep oneself unstained by the world.’
In other words, if you are not actively keeping yourself, you are going to be stained by the world.
The reason you have to actively keep yourself unstained by the world is because the world is constantly seeking to press us into its mold. You hear a lot these days about tolerance. But the truth is the world is not tolerant towards God and towards true believers. The world wants you to think like they think. That’s why the apostle Paul explains in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
If we are not on our guard, we are in danger.
You’ve all heard the story of how you boil a frog. You don’t just set him down in boiling water. No you put him in a pot of water that is a nice temperature, and then you slowly turn up the heat. That’s the way worldliness tends to stain us and to infect our lives. We let down our guard.
You see this happening in the Old Testament.
One author explains, “As Israel became apostate, it’s practices were progressively less distinguishable from those of the Canaanites.” Slowly but surely they began to think and act just like the world around them because they were not on their guard. They weren’t keeping themselves unstained from the world.
And “Just as Israel was told repeatedly to separate itself from the immoralities of the pagan peoples it was displacing in Canaan the early church was to separate itself from the beliefs and practices of the … civilization within which it existed. Christians were not to feel at home in the world but rather were to conduct themselves as strangers and exiles, without becoming conformed to the surrounding society.”
If we are not careful, what happens is that we being to integrate worldly ideas and principles with our Christian practice, without even really realizing it. We become more and more worldly but are unaware of our worldliness because we are still participating in religious activities.
Herbert Schlossberg in his book Idols for Destruction explains, “Rarely when Israel fell into idolatry did they openly renounce the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to bow before the pagan shrines. Instead…the nation combined the old rituals with what it knew of Canaanite religion. We can see this in the description of the religious revival under King Josiah. The king commanded the priests to remove from the temple the vessels that had been introduced for the service of Baal and of the heavenly bodies, he deposed the priests who burned incense to the pagan deities, he scattered the cult prostitutes…In turning away from God, the nation had not fallen into irreligion, but had combined the temple religion with the pagan beliefs and practices of the surrounding peoples.” Their lives were stained by the world, and thus their worship was unacceptable to God.
When I was a young man I went to the border of Rwanda. And if you remember Rwanda a number of years ago was the scene of a terrible tribal war. Hundreds if not thousands died. And it was so sad as I talked to one of the missionaries about Rwanda he told me that before that event occurred Rwanda had been considered a Christian nation. Many missionaries had gone to Rwanda and many had been supposedly converted. But what had happened in reality was that many of the Rwandas just added Christianity to their old tribal religions. It was a surface Christianity. They went to church, they went through the motions of worship, but down deep, they hadn’t changed. And so when the war broke out, they went back to their old ways because they had never really turned to new ones.
It’s easy to point our fingers at the Rwandans, but I’m afraid many professing Christians are like that. We’ve just added going to church and praying as kind of a surface covering over a heart and life that is completely devoted to the world and our previous way of life.
If we take a step back we can see this happening in the church at large. Too often the ideas and principles that control the church are just the same principles and ideas that control those in the world, only perhaps they are clothed in more religious language.
For example I was reading in a newsletter, that in a past issue of Newsweek their religion editor asserted that ‘mere tolerance of other religions is not enough..’ and the ‘acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient.’ According to the editor, ‘the most important theological agenda in the millennium is for committed Christians, Jews and Muslims to find within their own traditions sound theological reasons for valuing other faiths without compromising their own.”
Now you think, that’s the world, I can understand that. Apart from God, that makes sense. But you don’t expect that kind of thing from the church. But turn to Christianity Today, in a recent article by a college professor from a well known Christian college, we read that Christians ‘should seek Muslim prayer partners and gather together to pray to the true, one and only God to have mercy on us.’
“When evangelicals capitulate and attempt to soften the offense of the gospel this way, they blur the lines between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible.” That’s just thinking like the world. We can love Muslims and reach out to them without compromising the truth. To do otherwise is to be stained by the world.
Another example is that of psychology. A University of Illinois psychologist “studied over a long period of time the relationship between academic psychology and the American churches.” And you know what he found? He discovered that “psychology and psychiatry were beginning to discover the damage done by their naturalistic assumptions…” But on the other hand, many in the churches had become so enamored with the naturalistic assumptions that were contradictory to their own beliefs that they were more committed to psychology and psychiatry than the psychologist and psychiatrists were.
There are certainly other examples.
James Montgomery Boice gives four. “Like those liberals of past years, evangelicals today…1.) Pursue the world’s wisdom…If they are asked whether the Bible is the authoritative and inerrant Word of God, most will answer affirmatively. But many have abandoned the Bible all the same because they don’t think it is adequate for the challenges we face as they enter a new millennium. They don’t think it is sufficient for winning people to Christ so they turn to felt-need sermons, to entertainment, or to signs and wonders. They do not think the Scriptures are sufficient for achieving genuine Christian growth, so they turn to therapy groups…2.) Embrace the world’s theology. Like liberals before us evangelicals use the Bible’s words but give them new meanings. Sin becomes dysfunctional behavior. Salvation becomes self-esteem or wholeness…3.) Follow the World’s agenda. The world’s major agenda is not hunger, racism…The world’s major agenda is being happy and happiness is achieving the maximum amount of personal peace and sufficient prosperity to enjoy it. But is that not the bottom line of much evangelical preaching today? Being happy? Being content? Being satisfied…4.) Employ the world’s methods. Evangelicals have become like liberals in this area, too. How else are we to explain the stress so many place on numerical growth and money? How else are we to explain that so many pastors tone down the hard edges of Bible truth in order to attract greater numbers to their services…”
But we must be careful here. It’s easy to talk generally about worldliness. It’s even easy to talk about ways in which the church at large is becoming more and more worldly. But we must remember that the church at large is made up of who? Individuals. And the church as a whole compromises with the world because individuals do. So if we are concerned about the worldliness in the church, we need to start by being concerned about the worldliness in our hearts. Take your time this week and evaluate your life in light of Scriptures.
Am I being stained by the world?
Sometimes it is hard for us to identify the ways in which we are worldly because we have become so accustomed to it. I’m sure many of the Rwandans didn’t think much about killing members of the other tribes because that’s the way they had always lived. And many times we don’t think much about our worldliness because that’s our culture and we haven’t examined ourselves in light of Scripture.
Donald Grey Barnhouse tells of how “Some years ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone wrong with the chimes and they were discordant. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch.
So we tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all of the music of the world.”
Again, Herbert Schlossberg explains, “Idols are hard to identify after they have been part of the society for a time. It became ‘normal’ for the people of Jerusalem to worship Molech in the temple, and it seemed odd that people calling themselves prophets should denounce the practice. Molech was part of the establishment religious scene, one that directed the national worship throughout living memory. The idol was supported by all the best elements of society, the political, economic, and religious power structure. The prophets therefore denounced the powerful, wealth, and respectable, not because there is anything inherently wrong with those attributes, but because in that society people so described organized and validated a system of idol worship and injustice.”
That’s why we must be on our guard. That’s why we need to be called to ever-renewed vigilance and watchfulness in the war against worldliness.
If we are not warring against worldliness we are giving in to it.