In The World, But Not Of The World

Years ago, as a young preacher, I talked with an older Christian who told me that he was tired of life, and ready to leave this world in anticipation of the next one. It was not that he was ill or in great pain, he was just tired of living in a world where he felt he did not belong.
I have to admit that I did not share the sentiment. I was young, and had my whole life before me. I had a wife, and small children, and an optimistic, perhaps naïve idea that I could help change the world into a better place. Even today I confess I still am not ready to depart this life. I feel that I still have much to offer in my ministry as a preacher of the gospel, and I have family and loved ones that give me pleasure and love. Nearing the age of 55, I am a grandfather and will soon welcome my third and fourth granddaughters (twins!) into the world. I hope to see them grow up.
I do, now, more fully understand how that aged man of God felt. As I have grown older, the world has become increasingly strange and unwelcoming to me. I long for an eternity in the presence of my God, with its promised comfort and bliss.
I have no doubt that the righteous of every previous generation sorrowed at the ungodliness present in their day. I understand that evil has always existed in the world, and will remain until the coming of the Lord. But, I can't help but think that we have neared the nadir as we plot the relative righteousness of our world in the present.
I was born at the beginning of the sexual revolution. The 1960's in our nation brought a change in attitudes toward morality that has led to the state of ungodliness present in the United States today. The threads from then to now are unbroken as they trace a descent into libertinism. Consider the concept of "free love" that was championed by the young in that decade. It sowed the seeds that led to a breakdown of the family unit, a rise in promiscuity and sexual disease, an attack on the institution of marriage, and the scourge of abortion.
The entertainment realm serves as another demonstration of this moral breakdown. I remember as a child watching I Love Lucy and the Dick Van Dyke Show. At that time even married couples could not be depicted lying in the same bed. Such restrictions are today considered quaint and unrealistic relics, but it can't be reasonably argued the quality of the shows suffered from the limitations. Even today they remain on the air in syndication, and are recognized as classic and funny.
But, standards have changed. Profanity has become ubiquitous. Sexual innuendo and even graphic depictions of sex and sexual deviance are common. Gratuitous, graphic violence is used to further plot lines. And, children who have grown up watching such coarseness on television and in the movies have adopted many of the same attitudes and practices. Music (and the personal lives and morals of musical artists) have likewise contributed to to decline of morality.
Through these transformative decades, the ethic upon which our nation was built has come under attack. Things that were at one time considered shameful are now trumpeted as normal, healthy and moral. Opposition to immorality is condemned as intolerance and hate speech. The rule of law is disregarded, and those who advocate for it are labeled as racist and xenophobic. And, it seems in the last few years these changes in attitude and practice have increased exponentially.
We are shocked! Bewildered! How did it happen, and how did it come about so quickly? Most importantly, what is the correct response of the Christian to the evil that exists in our world today?

The Christian's Response to Worldliness

"Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain" (Philippians 2:14-16).
Paul's words show that every generation has its own perversity. In other words, we are not the only ones to be challenged by the world around us. Christians in the first century were challenged as well. If you want to read about an ungodly world that rivals the perversion and evil of our own, just read the first chapter of Romans, or a secular history of the first century Roman Empire. It follows that the instructions given to disciples in the New Testament can serve as practical advice to us as well. With that in mind, consider the following suggestions designed to assist us in avoiding contamination by the very world in which we live.
Recognize that God is the one who determines right and wrong! Paul wrote of his concern for his nation, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:2-3). When we begin to substitute our own views of what is right and what is wrong; what is good, and what is evil; we are in trouble. As the prophet Jeremiah acknowledged, "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). What do you think about modest dress? How troubled are you by profanity? Does the depiction of sex in television and the movies concern you? Do your views on moral issues differ from that of your parents or grandparents? If so, is it possible that those views have been molded by societal influences rather than upon a study and submission to God's will? This is an important question that is sure to challenge your thinking - if you dare ask it and answer it with honesty!
Change your Thinking! Paul pleads with us, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). Worldliness troubles the people of God because we retain vestiges of the thinking and reasoning that characterized our lives as sinners! Our own wishes, desires, preferences and inclinations should now be irrelevant to our decision making. Our only concern must be to do the will of the Lord! Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
Set your priorities! One kind of worldliness is the pursuit of material gain. This causes anxiety and a loss of perspective. In His sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke of the Gentiles, who were anxious about what they would have to eat, drink or wear. As such, their attention and interest were on those things. Jesus told His disciples, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:33-34). We need to understand that the kingdom of God is of inestimable value (cf. Matthew 13:44-46). As such, our focus should be on attaining it. As noted in our first point and repeated by Jesus in Matthew 6, this is accomplished by seeking the righteousness of God. Never let work, play, school, or even family come between you and your pursuit of the kingdom. "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
Run away from Temptation! Joseph is the poster boy to illustrate the value of this. When Potiphar's wife grabbed him in an attempt to seduce him, we are told, "But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside." (Genesis 39:12). It cost him his freedom as false accusations were made, but he maintained his righteousness and his standing with God. Paul wrote, "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). He told Timothy, "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife" (2 Timothy 2:22-23). Whenever possible, flee, avoid, run away from temptation. To do so is not cowardice - it is wisdom and discretion!
Resist the Temptation you can't avoid! Our Lord serves as an example here. When led into the desert to be tempted by Satan (cf. Matthew 4), He resisted the devil at every turn. It is helpful to note that our Lord's resistance was centered in scripture! At every turn the devil will seek to deceive, obfuscate, confuse. When we have a firm grasp of God's will for us, and a desire to obey that will, such tactics will be in vain. After Satan's efforts failed, Matthew notes, "Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him" (4:11). We too are promised relief if we resist the efforts of the wicked one, "Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Peter adds the following, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Defend the Truth! In the first century there were false teachers who sought to lead brethren into worldliness. Peter warned of them, "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage" (2 Peter 2:18-19). Their kind remain today, and as in the first century, they claim to be righteous. This is not surprising. "And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). We need to be aware of the tactics of such teachers, and reject their lies. But, we need also to acknowledge that "many will follow their destructive ways" and "they will exploit you with deceptive words" (2 Peter 2:2-3). Therefore, to protect the vulnerable, we must heed the plea of Jude, "I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Inoculate your children against worldliness! Fathers are instructed by Paul, "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). Our children are so vulnerable to worldly influences. Sin is ever present, and the electronic age (with televisions, computers, smart phones and social media) brings sin from every direction. It also makes it more difficult for parents to protect their children from unrighteousness. At no time in history has it ever been more important to diligently instruct your kids. Consider the words of Moses to Israel, "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).


Perhaps as the world becomes increasingly hostile to the profession of our faith, we will become more aware of just how ill fitting is our existence here on earth. The persecuted of past ages, "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13). In addition, they declared "plainly that they seek a homeland" (Hebrews 11:14). Their attitude is one we would do well to emulate.
By and large the American version of "Christianity" is not a 22nd cousin of the "faith once for all delivered to the saints." Christians are too often swayed by worldly values and pressures, and may not even realize just how compromised they have become. May we all heed the warning of John, "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).
Brethren, we need to wake up! We need to realize that we don't belong here on this earth! We need to live our lives so that we will make it to heaven! "...Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

By Stan Cox

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