Three Marks of Worldliness

Title: Three Marks of Worldliness

Text: 1 John 2:15-17

Time: September 4th, 2011

 

Last week I mentioned that we were covering one of the most relevant and important topics as Christians living in the midst of the modern, prosperous, secular world. We looked at the problem of worldliness. The Apostle John, that senior saint who wrote much of the New Testament including the Gospel of John, the Letters of John and the Book of Revelation, in all of these prophetic writings, which we consider the very Word of God, he warns us Christians about the fallen, sinful world system. Now in the old days, even in this country back before the 60s rebellion against authority and morality, it was common to hear messages in churches warning Christians about worldliness – or the attitudes and actions of the fallen world we live in. Believers were warned against following after the ways of the fallen world. Followers of Jesus were urged to resist the temptations to conform to the worldly crowd. Just because everyone is dancing to certain songs doesn’t mean we need to do it. Just because most people are talking about and going to see certain movies doesn’t mean we as Christians need to be joining the crowd in a mad dash to the theaters. Just because everyone these days is breaking all the old sexual moral and ethical rules doesn’t mean we should. Just because most people are chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and pursuing money and material possessions doesn’t mean we should do the same. In other words, it used to be the case that in the Christian church you’d hear warnings against the worldly life. For example, churches used to warn about the evil influences of Hollywood and certain fashion styles or the dangers of listening to particularly explicit music. It used to be a great concern among Christians, because the Bible warns us in both the Old and New Testaments to avoid the influence of the world. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. Why? Because Israel was out of Egypt but it took that long to get the Egypt out of Israel. In other words, they needed to give up the worldly ways of the pagan culture of their captivity and to learn the ways of God as a new nation. Then, when the Jews entered the Promised Land they were warned to avoid picking up the sinful worldly ways of the pagan nations. In the New Testament, Christians are warned to “be in the world, but not of it.” Jesus prays for Christians not to be taken out of the world, but that they would resist the evil one, John 17:15-16 – “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” The Apostle Paul warns Christians not to let the world pour us into its mold, Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing out your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – is good, pleasing and perfect will.” So the Bible gives us plenty of warning to watch out for and resist the fallen, sinful world. But today, we don’t hear that much anymore in churches and Christian teachings. It’s not popular. It upsets people. It steps on people’s toes. It offends. The problem is we are a lot more worldly than we admit. We don’t like to be told we are worldly. But it does us good once in a while to hear the warning God gives from the Bible about worldliness. We need to hear it so that we can protect our souls against the corrupt influence of the fallen world. So with that in mind let me read again from 1 John 2:15-17 (read) and focus specifically on verse 16 where three characteristics of worldliness are mentioned. We can test ourselves against these three things mentioned and make corrections wherever we need to in our lives.

 

First, the Apostle John warns us about the “cravings of sinful man” as an example of worldliness. 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world – the cravings of the sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” Some translations state, “the lust of the flesh.” This refers to the worldly preoccupation with satisfying our bodily needs, but not just our needs, but indulging the sinful flesh. Now I need to remind everyone that John is not saying we can’t enjoy a good meal or falling asleep after a tiring day or sexual pleasure between a married man and woman, or enjoying treats like ice cream, candy, cake or other deserts. There are many legitimate bodily enjoyments that are perfectly fine. After all, God created Adam and Eve in the perfect Garden of Eden before the fall into sin – and they were given permission by God to enjoy everything except for one thing. The only thing they were forbidden to eat or enjoy was the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the Garden. But everything else was perfectly fine for them to enjoy. Likewise, today there are so many good and healthy things God gives us to enjoy on earth that we shouldn’t feel guilty at all enjoying. That’s not what John is warning Christians about. What he’s warning us about is the sinful cravings, the sinful desires of the body. There’s nothing wrong with a big Thanksgiving feast, but our own sinful, bodily desires push us to continue eating and eating until we become sick. In Rome they used to practice gluttony with food where people would eat and eat until they had to throw up, then they’d come back and eat some more until they had to throw up again, and so on. But it’s not just food we must be careful of, it’s anything related to the body. All sex outside of marriage is sinful, but worldly people don’t care what God’s rules are, they just indulge themselves in anything they desire. It could be drinking alcohol in excess, it could be taking drugs in order to get high – that’s part of the cravings of sinful man. This first category John mentions is related to the body. We have to be careful that we don’t become preoccupied in anything related to our body, or take anything that is good and take it to excess. It could be something like over-sleeping, indulging the body in that way. The Apostle Paul says that he “buffets the body so that he might not be disqualified,” 1 Corinthians 9:27, as an example of his fight against over indulging its urges. We need to make sure our bodies know who is boss. The body is supposed to serve us as we serve God; we aren’t supposed to serve our bodies. That’s the wrong order. But the world and worldly people follow the sinful cravings of their bodies – and that’s an example of worldliness, or something done in the fallen, sinful world, we must resist. How are you doing resisting worldliness in your body? Are you weak, strong or so-so in this area? Let’s keep it in mind as we go about our business.

 

Second, the Apostle John warns us about “the lust of the eyes” as an example of worldliness. 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” Now this second category is related to but different from the first category. The lust of the eyes can mean a lot more than just related to the bodily urges and desires. It’s talking about interests and attractions. Yes, there are lots of bodily desires that are stimulated by the lusts of the eyes. For example, there’s pornography, where pictures can create bodily desires. Of course, there’s seeing food that can create hunger and the bodily desire to eat or even over-indulge. Whenever I’m in a all-you-can-eat buffet and I see something that looks good on somebody else’s plate, that leads me to go up and get what I saw in order to see if it’s as good as it looks. Yes, that’s an example of the eyes leading to bodily desires. But the Apostle John here is talking about more than lust producing bodily desires, he’s talking about our eyes craving new, interesting, novel things to keep our minds entertained and stimulated. And he’s talking about our seeing things that lead to us wanting them, desiring them, coveting them. There’s no better example of this than with advertising, commercials on television and radio or in newspapers and magazines. Why do you think companies spend millions and billions of dollars on commercials? Because they work! They can entice us to buy products through pictures and videos. Our eyes lead us to covet inside our hearts, and this leads us to take action in some form. Television is probably the most popular means of fulfilling the lust of the eyes because it puts us into contact with image after image of entertaining, fun, interesting content for our minds. Bruce Springstein sings about “Fifty-seven channels and nothing on,” well that was years ago; now there are 300 channels or more on cable or satellite television. When we lust after something, that means we strongly want what we are seeing. And it’s not just sexual lust, but all kinds of other lusts as well. I might lust after a new car or a new home or some new clothes or the latest gadget or computer or smart phone. For women, simply walking through a mall might get them lusting after the latest fall fashions or new shoes or whatever. A kid might be lusting after toys in the toy department, while the man might be in the tools lusting after a new circular saw. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s ok to admire things, to appreciate quality products, for example, but coveting and lusting is when we want to own everything ourselves because we are greedy and want to possess things. The Lord teaches us self-control. We don’t have to have everything we might want. Basements are full of things people lusted after and coveted and bought, but really didn’t need. We are all susceptible to materialism and greed, but John is warning us to resist the lust of the eyes. He’s warning us to resist coveting what we see. We don’t need everything we want. We can do without most things. How about you? Are you good at resisting the lust of the eyes? Or do you have to go out and get anything and everything that strikes your fancy? As prosperous Americans we really need to pray for strength to resist the temptation to covet the many products for sale, especially with credit available. It’s a worldly preoccupation to covet and lust after all the things of the world. Like Eve, we are weak in the area of temptations of the eyes. We are easily hooked by the visual. We need to be able to say “No” to our eyes, and with God’s help we can.

 

Third, the Apostle John warns us about “the boasting of what one has or does” as an example of worldliness. 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” When I read a passage like the one I just read I automatically think about retirement homes in Florida. You say, “What? How is that related?” Well, my grandparents on my mother’s side used to own property in Florida years ago. They’d tell stories about these old retirees going down to Florida in the winters and bringing their tall tales with them. For example, the men would sit around bragging about all they’ve done and all they’ve accomplished in their careers. They would also try to impress each other by talking about what they’ve got as far as material possessions like homes, cars, RVs, country club memberships, retirement plans, investments, and on and on. From what I hear, that’s what a lot of retirees talk about in the winter down in Florida. But it’s not just seniors, it’s everybody, because we are all sinners, we are all wired the same way, we all like to toot our own horns and make ourselves look good in the eyes of the world. What the Apostle John is talking about here is bragging or boasting about ourselves in order to feel important. Now if we are really secure in our identity with the Lord God we don’t need to boast, brag and inflate ourselves up before others, because we already have the Lord’s love and affirmation. But in our fallen world, in the sinful society we live in, where God is pushed further and further to the side and human glory is exalted more and more, the habit is to make ourselves look good in order to get the world’s applaud and recognition. The sinful, fallen world actually teaches people to exalt their own ego, to toot their own horn, to market oneself and position oneself for maximum effect. Image is very important in the world. It seems like today in the modern world, everyone is puffing their resume 24/7 all the time. “Look what I’ve done. Look who I am. I’m special. I’m the best. I’m great.” It used to be boxer Mohamed Ali who bragged all the time, but now it’s everybody because that’s what the world teaches us to do. But the Bible teaches us “not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought,” Romans 12:3. Jesus teaches us humility, not pride. The world practices “one-upmanship,” but as Christians we need to learn to let that go, forget about it. We don’t have to impress everyone with what we’ve done or what we own. That’s worldly. We don’t need to boast and brag about this or that, because the person who counts most – God – already loves and accepts us, even as we struggle with sin and selfishness.

 

Now there are a lot more aspects of worldliness than these three, but these are some pretty important categories. As you look over the list I’m sure you’ve seen a few things that hit home for you. We all struggle with the temptations of the world. We are all fallen, sinful, selfish humans in need of salvation from Christ. The Father sent the Son Jesus to save us from our sins. Even after we are saved, we are still a work in progress. And one of the things about worldliness is that it’s one of those things that you can’t ever say, “I’m glad I’m over that now. I’m glad I was able to defeat that in my life.” No. Because there is so much to worldliness and so many different angles to it, we’ll never get to the place where we will have complete victory over it in this lifetime. For example, let’s say I’ve been convicted by the Lord that I’m watching too much television, indulging in the lusts of the eyes by enjoying entertainment too much or sports too much. So cut back on my television viewing and feel good about myself. I start telling people that I’ve stopped watching as much television because I was indulging in the lust of the attractions of the eye. But in the process, I find myself bragging and boasting about my non-television watching! I’ve fallen into the same worldly trap, only this time it’s the worldly practice of boasting and bragging, instead of the worldly practice of indulging the lusts of the eye. See how tricky worldliness is? So it’s a never-ending quest to rid ourselves from the ways of the world. Now you might say, “Maybe it’s better to become Amish and just go off somewhere, live apart from the world and that would help overcoming the worldliness of life.” Sorry, even becoming Amish won’t solve the problem, although it would cut down on the number of temptations to worldliness, it wouldn’t eliminate it altogether. For example, let’s say it’s Sunday and the Amish get together for church in the morning. All the buggies pull up to the church building. There’s some Amish guy bragging to another about the new buggy he just purchased. There’s another Amish guy coveting that new buggy the guy’s describing. Then, after church some Amish family goes home and eats the Sunday meal and not a few of them overeat, over-indulge, thus fulfilling the cravings of their sinful bodily desires. See the point? You can’t escape the world by fleeing the world, because the world isn’t just the world, it’s the sin in us, it’s the temptations of the Devil, it’s the sins of other people, it’s the whole system of fallen humanity. The best we can do is be aware of it and take steps to resist it. We’ve taken the first step in resisting it today by exposing it. Now that we are aware of it, we must work to minimize its effect on our lives. Jesus saved us for a purpose. Going to heaven is important, most important, but it’s not the only reason God saved us. We’re also saved to live holy lives in this earthly life. With God’s grace we can resist worldliness as we follow after Jesus in prayer, Bible reading, church and all the others means of help God gives us. Let’s pray.

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