The Tightrope of Separation: Worldliness


From Voice, Mar/Apr 2014. Used by permission. Read the series so far.

Worldliness defined

What is a definition of the term “the world” or “worldliness?” Romans 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world.” That passage of Scripture really describes the whole matter. In 1 John 2:15 we find, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” In both passages, God is saying there is something out there which we as Christians are not to love. A true Christian is contrary to it. We are not to love the world because we are contrary to it.

Different words are translated “world” in the New Testament. One word refers to the inhabited earth. Another refers to an age or time and it can have a wicked connotation. A third word is the one which is most frequently used. It is the Greek word kosmos.

The world (kosmos) is that system organized by God’s enemy Satan. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer in his theology defined the world as “civilization now functioning apart from God” (Systematic Theology, Vol. II. Dallas Seminary Press, 1971; 77). The unseen powers of spiritual evil, which have Satan as their head, are organized on a vast scale with great efficiency (Ephesians 6:12). This evil organization dominates the lives of unredeemed humanity, and Satan rules this kingdom in opposition to God and everything devoted to God and everyone dedicated to God. As Dr. Chafer expressed it, this civilization is dominated by Satan, functions apart from God, does not recognize God, and has a philosophy of independence (Chafer, 76-90). People of this world’s system say: “I have a right to go my own way, do my own thing, be what I want to be. I don’t owe God anything, I owe no allegiance to anyone.” That is the philosophy of Satan and the world. It is this world system which God says “do not love it, do not be conformed to it.” And so essentially we as Christians are to have no association with the world’s philosophies, ideas, pollutions, or system—because this world is functioning apart from God and in opposition to Him.

Jesus noted the line of demarcation between the world and the believer in His high priestly prayer in John 17. He used the term “world” many times in that prayer, differentiating us from unbelievers and projecting us into the holy of holies with Him in heaven. The Lord Jesus said in verse 14, “the world hated them” (i.e. the believers). The world (i.e. the organized system of Satan opposed to God) hates the true believers in Christ, those who are His own. Then Jesus added, “they [i.e. the believers] are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Jesus and believers have something in common: neither is of the world. Then in verse 15 He said, “I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil” that is, the evil of this world, the evil one who dominates the world. Our Lord was praying not that the believers be taken out of the world, but that the Father would keep them from the world, its influences, temptations, sins, wickedness, everything that Satan, who dominates the world offers.

A series of statements will help us get the perspective:

  • Our contrast with the world arises out of who we are in Jesus Christ. Christ is contrary to the world and we have been placed into Christ, so we are therefore contrary to the world. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” That is our position in Jesus Christ. We are also commanded “Be holy (i.e. you believers be set apart), for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). God in essence is saying, “I am set apart from all sin; therefore you be set apart from all sin.”
  • Then He says, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). People are prone to call a church building the temple of God, but it actually is not. The only sense in which a church building is the temple of God is that believers, who are the temple of God, meet there for worship. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Now, even as we are urged to respect places of worship, much more should we respect this place of worship which is our body, the temple of God. It is a place set apart, a place of holiness, separateness, devotion, worship, blessing—it houses God.
  • The Scriptures emphasize to us that there are opposing persons, God and Satan. There is a war on. The banners are light and darkness. We are in enemy territory, a dominion dominated by Satan. Recognize, therefore, that we are God’s soldiers, and we should always be opposed to Satan.
  • God calls us strangers, exiles, pilgrims (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11). What is a pilgrim? He certainly is not one who has roots in the world; his home is elsewhere. We are here as ambassadors, pilgrims, strangers. This world is not our home. We are in the world, but not of the world.

These statements give us an indication of our relationship with this world system. We are the children of God, Christian soldiers, on the side of God, under His banner. We are His people, and He is saying to us, never allow your loyalty to be questioned in any way. Let no one ever identify us as the soldiers of Satan, as the children of the devil.


There is another word derived from the word “world” which needs to explained. “Worldliness” is not a scriptural term, although it is certainly a scriptural concept. Worldliness is any human activity apart from God which does not consider God and operates with an attitude of independence from God. Worldliness seeks success in the world’s eyes. Yet the prime objective of the true Christian must be holiness, the glory of God, the exaltation of Jesus Christ, and the edification of other believers.

Whatever in this life occupies the place that God should occupy is worldliness, whether people identify it as such or not. Whatever dims our love, our loyalty, our view of God, is worldliness. Whatever comes between us and God, whatever Satan uses to accomplish this kind of attitude or condition is worldliness. Whatever denies our pilgrim character is worldliness. Anything that tends to root us in this world so that we say, “This world is my true home, my objective, my final purpose in life,” is worldliness.

Worldliness covers all areas of our lives: our body with its appetites such as hunger, thirst, sleepiness or sex. Hearing, seeing, feeling and tasting all enter into the subject, as well as appetites of the mind and ambitions. Education, success, prominence, rival claims of career, home, family, money, comfort, all of our objectives enter into the area that we are discussing. Jesus spoke of it in Matthew 16:24 when He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” What does it mean to deny one’s self? It means to say “no” to your own ambitions, desires, purposes, motives in life, and to say “yes” to God. You in essence say: “Everything belongs to you, Lord; I’m going to be devoted to you, I belong to you.”

Interacting with this sentence - "system"

And so essentially we as Christians are to have no association with the world’s philosophies, ideas, pollutions, or system—because this world is functioning apart from God and in opposition to Him.

Sounds simple until one considers the phrase "world's .... system"

Here's a partial dictionary definition of "system": "an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole" 

Think about it, there are:

One might say ... well that's not what the author meant. As for me, I don't know what he meant, but the use of this word could be very confusing to young believers. 

Paul wasn't reticent to claim his Roman citizenship, fall on the Roman legal system, use the Roman transportation system or the Roman financial system. 

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