Worldliness equips readers to avoid the dangers of being shaped by the subtle influences of the world and offers practical help for pursuing godliness through the grace of the gospel.
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About the Author
C. J. Mahaney is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. He has written, edited and contributed to numerous books, including Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology; Don't Waste Your Sports; and Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God. C. J. and his wife, Carolyn, are the parents of three married daughters and one son, and the happy grandparents to twelve grandchildren.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God; Don’t Waste Your Life; This Momentary Marriage; A Peculiar Glory; and Reading the Bible Supernaturally.
Craig Cabaniss (MDiv, Fuller Seminary) serves as lead pastor of Grace Church in Frisco, Texas. He and his wife, Ginger, have four children and two grandchildren.
Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the president of Great Commission Collective, a church-planting ministry. Dave pastored for thirty-three years, founded AmICalled.com, and travels widely across networks and denominations as a popular conference speaker. He is the author of When Sinners Say “I Do”; I Still Do!; Am I Called?; Rescuing Ambition; and coauthor of Letting Go. Dave and his wife, Kimm, live in southwest Florida. He also writes at RevDaveHarvey.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.
Bob Kauflin is a pastor, songwriter, worship leader, and author with over thirty-five years experience. After pastoring for twelve years, he became director of Sovereign Grace Music in 1997. He teaches on congregational worship through WorshipGod conferences, seminars, and his blog, worshipmatters.com. He is currently an elder at Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Julie, have six children and an ever-growing number of grandchildren.
Jeff T. Purswell (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the director of theology and training for Sovereign Grace Churches and serves as the dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College. He is the editor of Bible Doctrine, an abridgement of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and serves on the board of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Read an Excerpt
Is This Verse in Your Bible?
C. J. Mahaney
HUNCHED OVER HIS DESK, penknife in hand, Thomas Jefferson sliced carefully at the pages of Holy Scripture, excising select passages and pasting them together to create a Bible more to his liking. The "Jefferson Bible." A book he could feel comfortable with.
What didn't make it into the Jefferson Bible was anything that conflicted with his personal worldview. Hell? It can't be. The supernatural? Not even worth considering. God's wrath against sin? I don't think so. The very words of God regarded as leftover scraps.
Christians rightly shudder at such arrogant presumption. And no true Christian would be so bold as to attempt to create his or her own Bible, blatantly omitting whatever they don't prefer.
But if we are honest, we too may have to admit that we have a Bible of our own making — a metaphorical one, perhaps, but a cut-and-paste job just the same. For if we ignore any portion of God's Word — whether unintentionally, conveniently, or deliberately — we too are guilty of Jefferson's offense.
Sadly, I've been guilty on more than one occasion. I've opened my Bible and moved quickly to the encouraging and assuring passages, trying to avoid the difficult and challenging passages along the way.
Here's one verse I find easy to ignore. It's the simple, provocative words in 1 John 2:15:
"Do not love the world or anything in the world" (niv).
There's nothing subtle about this sentence. It's abrupt and to the point — only ten words. It is categorical: "Do not love the world." It's comprehensive: "Do not love anything in the world." And it's intrusive, strategically aimed at whatever we desire most: "anything in the world."
It forbids worldliness in no uncertain terms.
First John 2:15 isn't a verse we tend to underline when we come across it in our daily Bible reading. We're not inclined to put "Do not love the world" on an index card and rehearse it during our daily commute. We don't hear many sermons on this verse and its prohibition of the sin of worldliness.
We read, we live, as if it doesn't belong in our Bible.
Clip. Clip. Clip.
Before we know it, we have a Bible like Jefferson's, and
1 John 2:15 is nowhere to be found.
Put Away the Scissors
Why do we try to create a Bible exclusive of this command?
Maybe, for all its simplicity, we're not exactly sure what it means. What is the author, John, getting at here? What does it mean for a Christian — what does it mean for me — not to love the world?
Does it mean I can't watch MTV or go to an R-rated movie?
Do I have to give up my favorite TV shows? Is it okay to watch a movie as long as I fast-forward the sex scene? How much violence or language is too much?
Are certain styles of music more worldly than others? Is the rap or indie music that I'm loading onto my iPod okay?
How do I know if I'm spending too much time playing games or watching YouTube clips online?
Can a Christian try to make lots of money, own a second home, drive a nice car, and enjoy the luxuries of modern life?
Am I worldly if I read fashion magazines and wear trendy clothes? Do I have to be out of style in order to be godly? How short is too short? How low is too low?
How do I know if I'm guilty of the sin of worldliness?
You may have questions like these. But maybe, if you're honest, you don't really want the answers — at least, not from middle-aged pastors like my coauthors and me. You may assume that we're out-of-touch and that worldliness is the predictable concern of men over forty who can't relate to the younger generation.
Maybe you worry that the aim of this book is to impose legalistic restrictions and enforce unrealistic rules. The idea of "resisting the seduction of a fallen world" sounds like something out of an Amish handbook. "Besides," you wonder, "how can we evangelize the world if we don't relate to it?"
Or perhaps you consider these matters to be private: "Don't tell me how to run my relationship with God." No one has the right to question or intrude. Your personal standards are sacred. You know how much of the world you can tolerate without becoming intoxicated, and no one else can tell you when you've had too much.
Whatever the reason, this verse makes you uncomfortable. It invades your personal space. You're afraid if you get too close, these ten little words might come between you and the things in the world you enjoy. You're reluctant to discuss "worldliness" because then you might have to change.
Or perhaps you think 1 John 2:15 (and thus this book) doesn't apply to you. Maybe because of your age, or your position in the church, or your reputation for godliness, you think you're immune to worldliness. From all outward appearances you're anything but worldly — a solid member of your local church, an exemplary Christian who worships on Sunday and faithfully attends a small group. You've never committed a scandalous sin. In fact, you may be reading this book for someone else.
If we don't ignore 1 John 2:15 outright, we load it up with qualifications. We file down its edges with explanations. We dismiss it as applying only to those more "worldly" than us. We empty it of its authority, its meaning for our day-today lives.
"Do not love the world" is not, however, an outdated command or a remnant of an over-scrupulous tradition. It is God's Word. It comes straight from a loving heavenly Father to you and me. And it demands our urgent attention.
For if we ignore this verse, we are not merely guilty of presuming to manufacture our own Bible; we're in danger of being seduced by a fallen world.
And this threat is not confined to a specific group of people. We're all susceptible. There's no such thing as immunity based on age or position or ability to absorb the world without its affecting us. When it comes to worldliness, we're all at risk.
Don't believe me? Then let me introduce you to one of the most tragic characters in the Bible. Meet Demas.
Demas the Deserter
If ever there was a guy you'd have a hard time labeling "worldly," it would be Demas. Or so it seems.
As a close friend and traveling companion of the apostle Paul, Demas participated in spreading the gospel and strengthening the fledgling church throughout the Roman Empire. He left home and family to hit the long, dusty, and dangerous road with the itinerant apostle. He stood by Paul — likely at great personal risk — when the apostle landed in prison for the first time. We read of him sending greetings to the church in Colossae and to the Christian Philemon.
Here would appear to be a model Christian. A guy we would all admire, respect, and want to emulate.
Yet, a postscript in Paul's second letter to Timothy forms his epitaph: "Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me" (2 Tim. 4:10).
Whoa. These words are like a kick to the gut. It's impossible to read them without feeling the sadness that was no doubt acutely felt by the apostle.
What a tragedy! A life wasted. A testimony ruined. The gospel maligned. For Demas, in love with this present world, not only deserted Paul and the saints — he deserted his Savior.
What happened? How did Demas go from passionate follower of Christ, close companion to the apostle, willing to risk all for the sake of the gospel, to deserter? Where did things go horribly wrong?
Before Demas deserted, he drifted.
It wasn't immediate. It wasn't obvious at first. He didn't go from disciple to deserter in a day. No, it was a gradual weakening, a subtle contaminating, and an eventual conforming to this world.
We all know a Demas — someone who, like a spiritual meteorite, burned bright with the love of Christ for a while, then suddenly (or so it seemed) faded from fellowship and turned his back on Christ, or fell into serious sin, leaving all to wonder what happened.
So often we're ignorant of the signs, the symptoms of worldliness. People can be attending church, singing the songs, apparently listening to the sermons — no different on the outside than they've always been.
But inside, that person is drifting. He sits in church but is not excited to be there. She sings songs without affection. He listens to preaching without conviction. She hears but does not apply.
A love for the world begins in the soul. It's subtle, not always immediately obvious to others, and often undetected by the people who are slowly succumbing to its lies.
It begins with a dull conscience and a listless soul. Sin does not grieve him like it once did. Passion for the Savior begins to cool. Affections grow dim. Excitement lessens for participating in the local church. Eagerness to evangelize starts to wane. Growth in godliness slows to a crawl.
In this way, the person who was once genuinely passionate for Christ — like Demas — is, over time, taken captive by sin.
It's simply one more step from apparent follower to deserter.
So, are you drifting?
"Oh, it's not serious," you say. "I've just been in a busy season. Yeah, I'm not as excited about the gospel or the Christian life as I used to be, but I'm fine. I'm still attending church. It's not like I've left God or anything. I've just been preoccupied lately. I'll get back on track soon."
Was there a time you were passionate for God, characterized by extravagant devotion and love for the Savior? Demas was like that once too.
What about now? Have you fallen in love with this present world?
Sadly, Christians are largely unaware of the peril. Because we've ignored verses such as 1 John 2:15, we've become completely desensitized to the clear and present danger of worldliness.
Author James Hunter observes that we've "lost a measure of clarity" when it comes to how we relate to the world. He explains:
Evangelicals still adhere to prohibitions against premarital, extramarital, and homosexual relations. But even here, the attitude toward those prohibitions has noticeably softened.
This softening, he points out, brings an inevitable result:
Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from "worldly conduct" have been challenged if not altogether undermined. Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning.
We've softened. We've lost clarity. Within a generation, worldly and worldliness have lost most of their meaning, becoming mere clippings on the floor of our lives. The distinctions between Christian and worldly conduct — once so clear — have blurred beyond recognition. The slippery slope from drifter to deserter has, in only a few years, grown increasingly slick. This rapid loss of clarity has culminated in crisis.
Today, the greatest challenge facing American evangelicals is not persecution from the world, but seduction by the world.
Unlike so many of our Christian brothers and sisters who live in countries with oppressive regimes — where the church is flourishing, by the way — we in America don't face imminent threat to our families, livelihoods, and well-being for professing faith in Christ. Our peril is far more obscure and far more insidious. We aren't under attack from without; we're decaying from within. Our success as ambassadors for Christ, as witnesses of the life- changing power of the gospel, hangs in the balance.
We've let down our guard against worldliness. And as a love for the things of this world has infiltrated the church, it has watered down and weakened our witness. It threatens to silence our clarion call for repentance and faith in the Savior.
Charles Spurgeon, writing 150 years ago, nevertheless speaks poignantly to the problem in the church today: "I believe," he asserted, "that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church."
Further substantiating his claim, he calls history as a witness:
Put your finger on any prosperous page in the Church's history, and I will find a little marginal note reading thus: "In this age men could readily see where the Church began and where the world ended." Never were there good times when the Church and the world were joined in marriage with one another. The more the Church is distinct from the world in her acts and in her maxims, the more true is her testimony for Christ, and the more potent is her witness against sin.
The greater our difference from the world, the more true our testimony for Christ — and the more potent our witness against sin. But sadly, today, there's not much difference. The lines have blurred. The lack of clarity between the church and the world has undercut our testimony for Christ and undermined our witness against sin. In Spurgeon's words once again: "Worldliness is growing over the church; she is mossed with it."
Is There a Difference?
Are the lines between Christian and worldly conduct blurry in your mind — and more importantly, in your life? To put it another way, is your lifestyle obviously different from that of the non- Christian?
Imagine I take a blind test in which my task is to identify the genuine follower of Jesus Christ. My choices are an unregenerate individual and you.
I'm given two reports detailing conversations, Internet activity, manner of dress, iPod playlists, television habits, hobbies, leisure time, financial transactions, thoughts, passions, and dreams.
The question is: Would I be able to tell you apart? Would I discern a difference between you and your unconverted neighbor, coworker, classmate, or friend?
Have the lines between Christian and worldly conduct in your life become so indistinguishable that there really is no difference at all?
If the difference is hard to detect, you may be in danger of drifting down the deserter's path with Demas.
In front of the deserter's path is a warning sign. It's 1 John 2:15: "Do not love the world or anything in the world."
This little book is a call to heed that warning. It's a passionate plea to a generation for whom the dangers of worldliness are perhaps more perilous than for any that has gone before.
But 1 John 2:15 isn't simply a "Do Not Enter" sign. These ten words (and the verses that follow) don't simply forbid worldliness, leaving us confused and unsure of where to go. They point the way to life in Christ. They help us see the pathway to what John Newton called "solid joys and lasting treasures."
To understand this verse, you must first understand the nature of warnings. They're not legalistic restrictions from an irritated God who doesn't want us to enjoy ourselves. And they aren't relics of a bygone era, irrelevant for us today. No, warnings are expressions of God's mercy and wisdom. They're given for our good, to protect us from sin and its consequences.
So let's ignore this warning no longer. Let's paste our Bibles back together and receive from God his wisdom and mercy found in 1 John 2:15.
Do Not Love the What?
First, let me be clear. The author of this book, John, is not calling for some kind of monastic separation from the world.
The "world" of 1 John 2:15 doesn't refer to the created order or to the blessings that come from living in a modern society, such as modern conveniences or medical and scientific advances. For God created the world and declared it "very good" (Gen. 1:31).
Nor does this verse refer to economic and social structures of society — our family, friends, vocation, field of study, government, or community. All of these are ordained by our heavenly Father. As David says, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps. 24:1).
And of course, we're supposed to love all men — not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but also those who are not Christians — because "God so loved the world" that he gave his Son (John 3:16). In fact, true love for God is demonstrated by a growing passion to tell others about his love. (That's why my good friend Jeff Purswell will conclude this book with a chapter on how to rightly love the world. Sound paradoxical? Keep reading to find out why it's anything but.)
So what is the "world" we are forbidden to love?
The world we're not to love is the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God. The world God forbids us to love is the fallen world. Humanity at enmity with God. A world of arrogant, self-sufficient people seeking to exist apart from God and living in opposition to God. It's a world richly deserving of the righteous wrath of a holy God. Dead set against the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the world we're forbidden to love.
While remaining in the world, we're not to become like the world. In the words of John Stott, we must be "neither conformed to [the world] nor contaminated by it." But this sinful, fallen world is right in our face. Our affluent and technologically advanced society brings the world to our doorstep, into our homes, into our very presence. It baits our eyes and tickles our ears. We're saturated with media — bombarded by images on television and movie screens, and by music on our iPods. We have unlimited access — text messages on our cell phones, and Internet access on our laptops and hand-held devices. We enjoy countless options in clothes to wear, cars to buy, vacations to take, entertainment to view, music to listen to.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Worldliness"
Copyright © 2008 Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Is This Verse in Your Bible? C. J. Mahaney,
2 God, My Heart, and Media Craig Cabaniss,
3 God, My Heart, and Music Bob Kauflin,
4 God, My Heart, and Stuff Dave Harvey,
5 God, My Heart, and Clothes C. J. Mahaney,
6 How to Love the World Jeff Purswell,
What People are Saying About This
"C. J. Mahaney and friends-men I trust-have written an excellent treatment of a vital and recently neglected subject. The difference between the world and the church is eroding at an alarming rate, and we need help with holiness. This book is biblically grounded and Christ-centered, full of grace and truth. Every chapter raises the bar of Christian living without falling into legalism. One of the most timely and much-needed books I've read in years. I highly recommend it."
—Randy Alcorn, Founder and Director, Eternal Perspective Ministries; author, Heaven, The Treasure Principle, and The Ishbane Conspiracy
"Around this book there should be wrapped a warning label: 'In Case of Drifting: Open Immediately. You could be in serious trouble and not even realize it.' C.J. Mahaney and his team of contributors expertly address the issues that prompt that subtle, insidious, silent slide away from God that each of us is prone to take. Pay attention to this thought-provoking work and protect your heart for God."
—James MacDonald, Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel, Rolling Meadows, Illinois; author, Vertical Church
"This book is biblical, practical, pastoral, and wise. It is honest about the authors' own temptations, and it is so specific it will be controversial! But such a book is greatly needed as a challenge today-for all of us."
—Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary
"In this broken world, it is not easy to promote holiness without succumbing to mere moralism; it is not easy to fight worldliness without giving in to a life that is constrained by mere rules. In these pages you find a valiant attempt at promoting holiness and combating worldliness without falling into these traps. Most of the focus is on the subtlety of individual temptations and sins rather than on the equally subtle temptations to large-scale social evils. But the strength of the work is that the authors try very hard not to let you forget the sheer God-centeredness of the gospel, the glory of the cross of Christ. We will best combat worldliness when we are most drawn to Christ. But that spectacularly wonderful truth does not mean there are no wise barriers to erect and no judgment calls to be made, such that we find ourselves pursuing excellence and refusing to be satisfied with mediocrity. If this book promotes such serious and joyful living, it will have accomplished its goal."
—D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; cofounder, The Gospel Coalition
"In the word worldliness is contained one of the great problems of evangelical Christianity in our time. Here in the West, in the English-speaking world, churches and Christians have been seriously compromised by worldliness. This danger and diagnosis is critical for us to understand. In worldliness, our mind, will and affections, our thinking, living and desiring become captive to a lesser joy than the real and true joy that is only found in treasuring God and His glory in Jesus Christ. Worldliness is thus soul-destroying and joy-robbing because it tricks our hearts into seeking satisfaction in what can never satisfy and thus slowly strangles us of the experience of being fully alive to God. That's why John Newton (who knew this from experience) wrote in one of his great hymns: 'Fading is the worldling's pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion's children know.' Because this spiritual malady is one of epic proportions, because it is destroying churches and Christians on every side, because it stalks me and my own congregation, I am deeply grateful that my dear friend C.J. Mahaney (along with Dave Harvey, Bob Kauflin, Jeff Purswell and Craig Cabaniss) has tackled this vital pastoral issue. These wise shepherds have a way of getting to your heart in this book (I know this because in reading it, they got to mine). And in Christianity, as J.C. Ryle liked to say, 'The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.' These skillful soul-surgeons are brilliant at diagnosis and treatment, and will help you see yourself, see your sin and see your Savior. I now know that first book I am going to reach for when a Christian is wrestling with worldliness, or isn't but should be! The questions they offer for self-examination are, in and of themselves, of strategic value in our fight of faith for joy. This is a book I will make use of, by God's grace, again and again."
—J. Ligon Duncan III, Chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi
"Worldliness is normally invisible to us, like water to a fish. That's one of the reasons why it's so dangerous to us. In this book, C. J. Mahaney and friends cause it to appear! Now we are able to discern and resist and contend. Praise God for this little tool-specific enough to be helpful, grace-filled enough to be really helpful!"
—Mark Dever, pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; president, 9Marks