Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What is "worldliness" anyway?

Romans 12:2“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

2 Corinthians 6:17 “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,”

2 Corinthians 7:1“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

1 John 2:15-17 - “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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Luke 11:39-40And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleans the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?”

I’ve been in Fundamentalism most of my life and, until the last 5 years or so, I’ve always known what “worldly” looked like. It was actually a fairly comfortable position to be in…I could take one look at somebody and tell you if they were “worldly” or not. Perhaps it was their hair style, or a man’s facial hair, or a particular style of clothing. Maybe it was an ear ring or a tattoo. Maybe it was the music I caught them listening to, or the church that they attended…worldly was essentially anything that was different from me.

In Fundamentalism we’ve always had it down pat. As a guy I had to do the following to avoid the tag of “worldliness”:

  • Keep my hair cut short and combed out of my face – nothing on the ears or collar.
  • Keep my shoes tied (80's) and my pants pulled up (today).
  • Wear a belt (even if you don't need one).
  • Tuck in my shirt (even if it was t-shirt).
  • Keep my face clean shaved.
  • Don’t listen to loud music…..
In essence, by simply looking a certain way, I was guaranteed to avoid being accused of wearing that mantle of worldliness. This is the way I got by for most of my life, but then something changed.

I’m not going to go into details of what happened (I’ve touched on those things off and on elsewhere on this blog), but I’ll tell you about a couple of situations that happened some time ago that I never quite got over. When I was 19 or 20 years old, I had dropped out of college due to a lack of money. During the ensuing semester, I worked at a small church – leading the music and youth programs – and worked several other jobs in order to save up some money and…..grew my first goatee. The goatee was really rather pathetic, but I was proud of it. It went pretty well with my new sideburns (they came all the way to the bottom of my ears – prior to that I’d cut them completely off so as to avoid the look of worldliness). I grew the goatee and sideburns, not as an act of rebellion, but simply because I wanted to – I thought it was a nice look. Some time later, while visiting friends, I found out that some folks had been praying for me. “That’s nice”, I thought. When I asked what they were praying about, the answer kind of stopped me in my tracks. Due to my “appearance”, specifically my choices in facial hair, some people had come to the conclusion that I was in rebellion and running from God. There was even a pretty good rumor going that I was singing in a “hard rock” group! Beginning with that insane incident (that has stuck with me for 15 years now) I began to question what this thing called worldliness really is.

In Fundamentalism we have chosen to define worldly almost exclusively by the outward appearance. Five years ago, had I come across a guy that looks like me, I would probably describe him as worldly. Why? I have a “soul patch” (kind of like this guy, but much cooler!) and I comb my hair forward rather than back…sounds silly, doesn’t it? I don’t mean my “look”, but that insane definition of worldliness! I’m coming to realize that the “worldliness” we are called to separate from has less to do with outward appearance than it does with an attitude, associations, and perhaps countenance.

Yesterday while listening to a new CD, the words in the first line of the last song kind of arrested my attention:

Which Jesus do you follow?
Which Jesus do you serve?
If Ephesians says to imitate Christ
Then why do you look so much like the world?

I’m not sure what the author is saying here…particularly since he looks a lot like what I used to consider “worldly”. This song is one of my favorite songs period (complete lyrics here), but I’m not certain that I understand that part. What does the world “look like”? I'm not sure that one can biblically answer that question. In Fundamentalism we've always been really good at putting out a list of do's and dont's in regards to this subject, but we are really lousy at backing it up scripturally.

An excellent set of articles on the subject can be found here, here, and here. The comments sections are worth a read as well - folks on both sides of the conversation discuss the question, "What does worldly look like?"

By the way, one more excellent article can be found here. I agree with the author when he says,

"The sin of "worldliness" is the tendency to set one's affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2). "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). It is positively sinful to love this present world and imbibe its values more than we love heaven and order our lives according to heavenly values (cf. Philippians 1:23; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21; 16:23). In other words, worldliness is a sin of the heart."


Joyce Howerton said...

Have you ever read Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray? I think worldliness is a lifestyle not a matter of how you look. Anyone who is caught up with his life here on earth is worldly. I think if you live for the weekend b/c then you can just have fun with your friends even if it is good clean fun that you could be considered worldly in God's eyes. What matters is God's opinion not mans. Am I seeking to please God, is my every decision based on His word? Another good book is Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper. If we are busy loving God with all our hearts and serving him then I think it is hard to be worldy.
It is definatly easier to follow a list of rules but following rules doesn't make someone "unworldly". The heart is what God looks at!

Ellis Murphree said...

I've not read Piper's book, but I've read Murray's book several times. I think I've got it somewhere here in my library, but I'm not able to locate it...

What you are saying here is dead on, Joyce. Unfortunately, too often we have chosen to teach people rules rather than biblical principles coupled with discernment. When I was caught up in looking the "right way" and doing all the "right things", it finally occurred to me that I was doing these things to please people and not God....