towards an understanding of worldliness – pt. 2

To review a bit of our previous material, here are two definitions we are working with:

GodlinessGodliness is a manner of life dominated by reverence for God displayed in respect for others that is visible to outside observers and is not confused with worldliness.

Worldly  Something is worldly when it belongs to the affairs of life on this earth, especially as opposed to the life of the spirit or of heaven.

In coming to our definition of worldly, we recognize that some things are worldly because they belong to this world and its affairs. In this sense, worldly things are earthly or natural. There is nothing inherently evil about worldly things in this sense.

However, it is undeniable that there is also a negative sense of worldly in the Scriptures. In this sense, something of this world or this life is worldly because in its earthliness or in one’s preoccupation with it, it is or becomes opposed to the life of the spirit or of heaven.

I’ll offer a couple of examples to hopefully clarify what I mean:

  • The desire for marriage: marriage itself is ‘worldly’ in a neutral sense, it is a thing of this life and this world, it isn’t a part of the world to come, according to the Lord. But the desire for marriage can be ‘worldly’ in the negative sense if one is so preoccupied or desperate for marriage that it opposes the life of the spirit, distracts from spiritual service of ministry, or leads one to compromise the injunctions against marrying unbelievers (or even makes one willing to marry a professing Christian who has a questionable testimony).
  • The activities that go on at nightclubs are almost entirely worldly in the negative sense. They are ‘things of this earth’ and thus are part of life on earth, but the primary sense in which these activities are worldly is in that they are entirely opposed to the life of spirit and of heaven.

From our definitions, we need to move to a discussion of one of the most important passages for understanding worldliness, Titus 2.12.

NAU  Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,

These verses follow a lengthy set of instructions, first to the older men (2.2), then the older women (2.3), the younger women (2.4-5), the young men (2.6), Titus himself (2.7-8), and bondslaves (2.9-10). Our verses (2.11-12) are the rationale for these instructions concerning character and conduct.

These various categories of people are to heed Paul’s instructions in 2.2-10 because the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation. It is the grace of God that instructs us:

  1. To deny ungodliness and worldly desires
  2. To live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age

This information gives us a synonym for worldly desires (ungodliness) and three antonyms (living sensibly, living righteously, and living godly). If we understand these terms, we will understand better what ‘worldly desires’ are. At first glance, I would say that they are desires that motivate ungodliness and are opposed to the sensible, righteous, and godly lifestyle advocated by the Lord and the apostles. These desires are characterized by their earthly-ness or earthiness.

While this doesn’t completely define worldliness, at least we are starting to head in the right direction. Worldliness would be, at its most basic, the dominating attitude of the person who turns this verse on its head, doesn’t deny ungodliness and worldly desires but instead denies the sensible, righteous, and godly life.

I want to examine each of these terms in more detail, but that will have to wait for part 3. It will also have to wait for a few weeks as I am traveling and won’t be doing much work on the topic for a week or two.



  1. Don,

    Thanks for this article as well as the 1st. I recommended the 1st to my ABF class and I will recommend this one as well.

    A question about this statement (which I agree with completely): “The activities that go on at nightclubs are almost entirely worldly in the negative sense”

    What makes it worldly?

    Let’s take a couple of other examples.

    National casual dining establishment: I go with my wife on a Friday night to buy a hamburger, fries and a coke. In that same room is a large bar area where beer and hard liquor drinks are being served. In my community of believers (my church) eating at this establishment would not frowned upon or considered worldly.

    Baseball or football game: I’ve been to both here in Minneapolis. Football … women dancing in attire about as lacking in modesty as a swimsuit. I’m in a row of patrons with 1/3 drinking beer. Around me foul language is being used to criticize the play or the refs / umpires. Church youth groups in my community go to events like these (well the baseball part … football is too expensive!).

    Is attending sporting events worldly? How about the amusement theme park? Do Tertullian’s warnings in On the Spectacles have value?

    • Hi Jim

      These are excellent application questions. Can we start answering by identifying “ends of a spectrum” like this:

      On the worldly/earthly/neutral side of the spectrum is the mundane activities of this life, paying bills, taking care of marital responsibilities, etc, as described in 1 Cor 7. These things can be distractions to ministry, but are not in themselves evil, but are worldly in the sense that they are things of this world.

      On the worldly/fleshly/evil side would be the nightclub scene you note above. Perhaps there are even more worldly things than that, but it should suffice to identify the evil side of the spectrum.

      Now, what about those things in between? I can remember a day when my dad would refuse to enter a licensed restaurant (i.e., one that sold alcohol). In those days, you often had a choice. Today, even many “family” restaurants are licensed, especially in our area.

      It has been a while since I’ve been to much pro sports venues. We live on this island, see, and it is hard to get to a place where I can visit one. I have enjoyed sports (at times I think too much) since I was about 13 years old… so forty years. I have attended some pro and college sports events. There are elements in these events, as you describe, that are problematic for Christians. The near naked cheer leaders would fall under the category of evil, plain and simple, rather than simply ‘worldly’. The same is true of the foul language, and in my opinion, the drinking.

      So as we start getting to Titus 2.12, Paul is going after a certain kind of desires that he calls ‘worldly’. This is what makes something worldly, if it stirs up these kinds of desires. The evil in the nightclub stirs up those desires for the people who attend. The evil in the cheer leaders, the desires behind the foul language, the lust for booze, these are what makes these things worldly.

      In my opinion, the two key passages on worldliness are Titus 2.12 and then 1 Jn 2.15-17. As we progress in our study, that is where we are going.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3