Excerpted from a sermon by
Sermons on worldliness are rare these days. The new word is “secularism.” Billy Sunday used to say that the term “worldly Christian” was a misnomer. Of course, Billy didn’t put it that way. He said, “You might as well talk about a heavenly devil!” That is in line with the New Testament definition that the friend of the world is the enemy of God.
I am convinced that many people we call worldly Christians are not Christians at all. Our Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me” (John 10:27). A sheep may fall into a mud hole but is not satisfied to stay there. A hog is at home in a mud hole, and Peter tells us that false teachers who revert to their evil ways belong in that category.
It is true that we are not to judge people. “The Lord knoweth them that are his” (1 Timothy 2:19), and I am glad that He does, otherwise some of them would be pretty hard to identify! That same verse goes on to declare that all who claim to be the Lord’s should depart from iniquity. When I see a bird that talks like a duck, quacks like a duck, paddles in the water like a duck, and prefers the company of ducks, I conclude that it must be a duck. “Birds of a feather flock together,” and where we feel most at home is where we belong. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,” (John 3:14). If we do not enjoy being with the brethren, certain conclusions are in order. When Peter and John were let go, we read that they went to their own company. Where do you go when you are let go? I’d hate to track down some church members when they get several hundred miles away from home. When Peter got out of jail, he headed for a prayer meeting. We gravitate to what lures us most and eventually show up where, at heart, we belong.
The world that God so loved that He gave His Son is the world of lost souls, and we ought to love lost souls. It was Dr. Candlish who said: “If we loved this world as God loved it we would not love it as we shouldn’t love it.” When God’s Word says, “Love not the world . . .” (1 John 2:15), it means this present age and set-up which is under the devil, the god of this age, and the prince of this world. The whole world lies in wickedness. Our Lord came to deliver us from this present evil world (Galatians 3:4). Before we were saved, we walked according to the course of this world, (Ephesians 2:2), but after we are saved we head in another direction.
John has more to say about the world than any other New Testament writer. In our Lord’s high, priestly prayer, in the seventeenth chapter of John, He forever locates us as believers with regard to this age. First, He says we have been saved out of the world (v. 6). We are the called-out ones. We have been saved out of this world system and given a new position with Christ in the heaven-lies. Our citizenship is in heaven, and our standing up there and our state down here, our position up there and our condition down here ought to match. We are pilgrims and strangers, exiles and aliens, and this world is our passage but not our portion, as Matthew Henry said long ago. The Scriptures tell us, “. . . this is not your rest” (Micah 2:10), and “. . . here have we no continuing city . . .” (Hebrews 13:14). A dog is at home in this world for this is the only world a dog will ever know, but we cannot make ourselves at home here for we were made for another world.
I am convinced that many people we call worldly Christians are not Christians at all.
Our Lord said furthermore that we are in the world (verse 11). Although we have been saved out of it, we still have to live in its houses, trade in its stores, and mix with its people. The old mystics tried to make themselves holier by hiding from society, but living in a hole does not make you holier! Indeed, Paul wrote that to avoid companying with evil men, we would have to leave this world (1 Corinthians 5:10). Our Lord prayed in this same high priestly prayer: “Pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (verse 15). He was in the world, and was not a recluse nor a hermit. He went to weddings, and was called a friend of publicans and sinners. Where cross the crowded ways of men, He could be found. He was criticized by the Pharisees who were separated from sinners but not from sin. He associated with the world, but had no fellowship with it.
Vance Havner was asked his opinion about the Hollywood movies coming out that were based on Biblical themes. Havner noted the irony of Hollywood putting the Bible on film: “I’d just as soon hear a gangster lecture on honesty,” he observed.
He says further, they are not of the world (verses 14,16). This is so important that He repeats it. When the boat is in the water, that is one. matter; when the water is in the boat, that is something else. We are not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2); we are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27); we are to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). We are not to love the world, neither the things that are in the world (1 john 2:15). We are to deny ungodliness and the lusts of this age (Titus 2:12). This imposing world set-up with its pagan culture, is no friend of grace to help us on to God. We cannot serve two masters. Alexander McLaren said: “The measure of our discord with the world is the measure of our accord with Christ.” Gypsy Smith said: “If you are in with God, you are at outs with this world.” Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said: “The world hates Christian people, that is, if they see Christ in them. The measure in which the world agrees with us and says we are really a fine type of Christian, we are so entirely broad, is the measure in which we are unlike Christ.”
Our Lord said to His brothers: “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (John 7:7). He said to His disciples: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18,19). Put all of this together and we have this: the world cannot hate its own, but it hates Jesus Christ and will hate His true disciples. “. . . the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not” (1 john 3:1). All of these verses from john ought to settle forever the status of the Christian in this world.
The Savior said one thing more in His prayer concerning this matter: “As Thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (verse 18). Here, then, is the summing up of the Christians relation to this world as set forth in our Lord’s prayer. We have been saved out of the world; we still must live in the world; we are not of the world; we have been saved to go back into the world to win others out of it, and that is the only business we have in the world! We ate not to sit in judgment on the age. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and, as our Lord, said in this same prayer (verse 19) for their sakes we should sanctify ourselves—be set apart—to minister to the need of this age.
The Way of the Cross Leads Home is a familiar old song. Everybody would agree to the first verse, that there is no other way, but we are not so agreed on the last verse:
The world behind me, the cross before me,
No turning back, no turning back …