toward an understanding of worldliness – part 3

If you would like to catch up, here are the previous posts in this series:

the meaning of godliness

toward an understanding of worldliness – part 1, part 2

To continue…

In reading my material over again, I find that my understanding has grown and I will need to correct something I said in part 2. I’ll do that in context below and let you know when I do it.

Our study of this topic brought us to Titus 2.11-12 one of the most useful passages in the NT for the purpose:

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,

The grace of God instructs us:

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

First, the opposites:

Living sensibly

The word used here comes from a Gk word group that means ‘of sound mind’. When Jesus cast the demons out of the maniac of Gadara, the man was found ‘clothed and in his right mind’. But the word doesn’t mean just ‘sane’ but ‘restraint, modesty, self-possessed’. It is reflected in the different attitudes of ancient Greek philosophy to the world and the Christian attitude to the world – the Greeks scorned the world; the Christians restrained themselves in it. They were sober.

A sober approach to the Christian life also opposes a charismatic [experience oriented], mystic, ascetic or libertine approach. Instead it is self-restrained.

Living righteously

The root idea of righteousness is conformity to a standard. To the Greek mind, one was righteous who conformed to human law and obligations. The Bible sets the standard much higher – the standard of righteousness is God’s perfection. Living righteously involves a consciousness of God’s standard and a desire and effort to conform to it.

Living godly

See my previous article on godliness!

Godliness 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.

Living godly, then, is adopting a pattern of life, acting and behaving with reverence for God uppermost in one’s mind. It is manifested in your actions towards other people. It is action that is consistent with spiritual thinking and contrary to the thinking of the world.

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It is important to keep this lifestyle in mind when we are thinking about worldliness. Our passage says that we are to deny ungodliness and worldly desires, instead replacing them with a certain kind of lifestyle, one characterized by a restrained, sober mind that looks to God’s righteous standards and behaves in a godly manner out of reverence (fear) of one’s Creator and Redeemer.

Next, the synonym:

Ungodliness

Ungodliness is the opposite of godliness. Even in secular use, it always refers to unacceptable conduct. The ancient Greek city-states did not allow private religious practices – deviations from the official state religions was considered cultic and ungodly. Of course deviation from the norms of the official religion were also examples of ungodliness.

As time went by, the city-states declined in power and a more pluralistic society developed. One could practice other religions or no religion (atheism – refusing to follow the city gods). With this development, one could be atheos but not necessarily ungodly. It is interesting that Peter and Paul don’t mind the Greeks considering them to be atheos, but they are concerned that believers not be seen as ungodly. (See 1 Pt 2.11-20, for example.)

Ungodliness, then, is bad behaviour without reverence for God, especially bad behaviour as acknowledged even by Gentiles.

At this point, I want to make my correction from my part 2 article. I said there that almost all the behaviour at a nightclub we would consider worldly. Actually, the category here should be ungodly. While ungodly behaviour is related to worldly desires, and perhaps there is some overlap in the categories, it is better for us to maintain the distinctions that our text does. Ungodliness, then, especially relates to our behaviour.

Finally, to the main term we are looking at:

Worldly desires

We are going to look at these desires in a little more detail when we consider the next key passage concerning worldliness, 1 Jn 2.15-17, but let’s note a few things here.

Worldly desires are something to be denied, along with ungodliness. Obviously desires are something different than behaviour. The apostle Paul is always after more than outward conformity (although he is after outward conformity). The conformity Paul wants is a conformity of the heart, hence the thing to be denied are worldly desires. I think we could argue that a lot of ungodly behaviour flows from worldly desires. So we are to deny the ungodliness and the worldly desires.

Instead we are to replace these things by living in a certain way – a way that involves a restraint towards the world (a sober mind), an eye to God’s standard (righteousness), and a heart that lives to reverence (fear) our God and King (godliness).

Worldly desires are lusts, passions, affections set on worldly things. Let’s recall our definition of ‘worldly’:

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.

If our hearts are set on the things of this world, to the crowding out of spiritual thinking that is always mindful of heaven and God’s viewpoint of things, we are worldly in our desires. Such a heart-set makes a Christian lifestyle impossible. Our actions flow out of our hearts.

Well that is enough for now. We’ll identify more key thoughts on ‘worldly things’ in our next installment.

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