“In the world but not of the world” is a formula you will commonly hear expressed that characterizes the Christian’s relationship to the world. The implication is that Christians are to live differently than those who do not profess Christ as Savior. To be in the world and of the world is to be worldly.
And yet many and varied are the opinions about what constitutes worldliness. Many religious groups and denominations forbid, either explicitly or implicitly, certain behaviors that they catagorize as worldly. In some Christian circles, smoking is still forbidden—it’s considered “worldly” and therefore sinful. (I once had a church member, who really liked his pipe, ask me with a grin and a wink, “Pastor, will smoking send me to hell?” I responded with a grin and a wink, “No, but it’ll sure make you smell like it.” He didn’t think that was funny at all). Some Christians believe that drinking alcoholic beverages, or dancing, or listening to rock music or attending movies or play cards are “worldly” pursuits to be abstained from. Just last week, one of our tweens asked me, “Why don’t Baptists dance?” I said, “Some do.”
Some Baptists will look at fellow Methodists and Catholics who imbibe adult beverages and consider that “worldliness”. But then again, most Pentecostals would consider the Baptist woman with her styled hair and who dresses in slacks as “worldly”. I once heard a Pentecostal preacher refer to lipstick as “devil’s grease”. He believed that using cosmetics was “worldly”.
And then there are the old-order Amish who are fighting the government’s demands that they place triangular warning reflectors on their buggies. They consider the bright orange reflectors as too “worldly”. In some Eastern European cultures, some Christians consider attending public sporting events as “worldly”.
My point is: The Church’s definition of worldliness is often relative to the culture in which the Christian is living.
Although the present passage does not give us rules and regulations, it does make plain the incompatibility of love for the world and love for God. John’s conception of worldliness goes far deeper than the idea of abstaining from certain behaviors that non-Christians tolerate. Which may be why he didn’t give us a list of rules and regulations. He calls his congregation to an active devotion to God that shapes all that they are and do.
The world is not simply a passive entity, but a rival for the allegiance of every person. So this morning, let’s try to unpack what worldliness is and the dangers it poses to the Christian life.
1 I. THE WARNING AGAINST THE WORLDLY SYSTEM
CON. So how do you determine what is worldliness in your own life? Let me point you to the Apostle Paul and what he had to say about Christian liberty: “ Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake— the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:23–33, NIV84). How do you determine if an activity or behavior is worldly?
1) Is it beneficial to you? Will it build you up spiritually? Will it help you to grow in your faith
or will it hinder your faith?
2) Is it glorifying of God? Can you participate in a certain behavior or activity and
conclude, “This activity or behavior is something I can do and bring glory to God by doing it.?
3) Is it hurtful to others? If another Christian sees you participating in a certain behavior or
activity, will it harm their conscience? Will it cause them to stumble in their spiritual life?
4) Is it detrimental to my Christian witness?