What Does it Mean to be Worldly?
What does it mean to be worldly? Sometimes we find biblical terms that get thrown around with little or no consistency in regards to definition. People use them how and when they want to. Worldly is one of these terms. Often worldly is associated with trends, media, and entertainment that a person disapproves of. Before we label something worldly we should ask ourselves, “What makes this worldly?” Is it worldly because I disapprove of it, or is there some biblical basis for me calling this thing worldly? We also need to consider how it is used in the bible. If we simply go off what other people say is worldly, then there is no standard. According to some, worldly is anything from a pair of jeans with holes in it, to attending a rock concert. In the past worldly has been defined as owning a deck of cards or a set of dominoes. Does the definition of worldly continue to evolve, or have we completely missed what it means to be worldly?
One indication that we have the wrong definition of worldly is if the world can or has adopted the definition we are using. For example, if all worldly is to me is dressing modestly and not using foul language, then how does my ethic differ from an atheist group who adopts the same principles? Although this ethic is different from some of the world, it is not different from all of it. There are worldly people who would adopt this definition of worldliness. When it comes to defining worldly I believe we have often aimed too low. Is Christianity simply a social club that disapproves of immoral behavior? Certainly not, but we may come across this way if we are not careful. Our definition of worldly needs to aim higher. It should be directly related to the faith we profess. It should show how we are different from not just some of the world, but all of the world.
According to John, who has a lot to say about the world, the difference between us and the world is that we have been born of God (John 1:12-13). Now obviously our definition needs go beyond this, but this is where it needs to start. To not be worldly is to have a different outlook on life, because we are children of God and we now belong to Him. It means my allegiance is not to the kingdoms of this world, but to the Kingdom of God. It may be more worldly to put my faith in elected officials, than to attend a rock concert. To not be worldly means that I have a completely different perspective about my body and my possessions. This means that wearing immodest clothing may be worldly, but so might wearing an expensive suit or dress (1 John 3:17). This view demands my loyalty to Jesus. It demands that I deny myself and follow Jesus. We may have opted for other definitions of worldly because they were less challenging. This view causes causes me to look at myself before I look at others.
To live in a way that is not worldly is a challenge. It means that I am going to have to live each day of my life fully committed to God and His Kingdom. Worldliness goes beyond a few morality laws that change with each generation. It is a mindset and lifestyle that is contrary to what God is doing in the world. The world belongs to God and God is coming back to reclaim it from sin. We as Christians are living in a world captivated by sin, but our hope is in what is to come. We have a different reality and outlook than worldly people. We know and understand that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8).
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9-13)