toward an understanding of worldliness – part 4

Previous articles: On Godliness; On Worldliness Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In this series, we are coming to an understanding of godliness as a lifestyle demonstrating fear or reverence for God by actions of respect towards men. These ideas are behind our definition:

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.

In our last article, we were working on an understanding of worldly desires (as mentioned in Titus 2.12). Here is how we concluded last time:

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.

We are going to turn to 2 Jn 2.15-17 and to an examination of the ‘things in the world’ that the passage talks about. As we do, let’s start with a working definition of the ‘worldly lusts’ or ‘worldly desires’ we were talking about last time.

Worldly lusts are desires for worldly things without regard for God or God’s perspective.

If this definition is going to have any value for us, we will need to understand what those worldly things are. This is where 1 John comes in.

The first clause is a straight-up prohibition:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.

Two categories are prohibited here: love for the world itself and love for the things that are in the world. When interpreting this passage, many will say that ‘world’ here refers to the evil world system as opposed to God. This is a valid definition in some contexts, but I wonder if it is appropriate here. We are going to discover that the world John is describing is ‘passing away’. This is true of everything in this world, whether it is complicit in the evil world system or not. My house, for example, is part of this world. It is passing away (far more rapidly than I care for). Would this command cover my house? Should I ‘love’ my house? It is passing away. I am suggesting that ‘world’ here means something much broader than we traditionally think, but we will come back to this later.

The next clause is a third or fifth class condition. I would recommend reading Daniel Wallace here for a good grasp of the distinctions, but as I read it, I think that this condition is probably a fifth class or “present general condition”. That is, it is something that is a real possibility in the present time, a general principle that is possible now. And given the context, it is possible that a believer could fall under this category:

If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

The terror of this teaching is that it speaks of a horrible heart condition where the one who loves the world does not love the Father (I am taking “love of the Father” as subjective, not objective). The ‘not’ in the text is in the emphatic position in the clause, underscoring the non-existence of this quality. The Lord Jesus taught us something similar in Mt 6.4, saying ‘no man can serve two masters’ (cf. Lk 16.13) and James goes so far as to say ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God’ (Jas 4.4).

I should note that the apostle John often speaks in extremes. Does he mean that if a believer loves the world in any way at all, there is NO love for the Father in his heart at all? I want to escape by saying that it is possible to be a conflicted believer who loves the world in some ways, and in those ways has no love for the Father, while still loving him in some ways. If that is true, then I think our passage is saying that to the extent one’s heart is set on the world, to that extent love for the Father is non-existent in the heart. The love for the world has crowded the Father out of that portion of one’s heart.

Be that as it may, the warning is terrifying. And John doesn’t give us any weasel room, but speaks in the starkest possible terms. Love of the world is a spiritual failure.

The next verse narrows down the terms to a degree. Here John is going to define for us ‘the things that are in the world’, i.e., ‘all that is in the world’. He defines these things by three famous phrases:

‘the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life’.

What are these things?

The lust of the flesh

The word for ‘lust’ is epithumia, which gives us a connection with the worldly lusts or desires of Titus 2.12. In a recent discussion at our church, I defined this desire as a desire for the indulgence of the senses. Before we move on because we think “we’ve got it, we know what this one means”, I want to stop and think about this in light of another passage.

Gal 5.19-21 speaks about the ‘works’ of the flesh. When we think of the ‘lusts of the flesh’, we usually think of sexual immorality. Every Bible-believing Christian agrees that the works of the flesh are wrong. I don’t know any Bible believer who would endorse any of these ‘works’ as acceptable.

But John is commanding us not to love the world or the things that are in the world. He is commanding our affections. The lust of the flesh, according to my definition, is a desire for the indulgence of the senses. The senses can be stimulated by far more things than sexual immorality. I have gone to many sporting events where my senses have been stimulated. There is an incredible rush of sensory experience in a full 81,000 seat stadium when one’s home team takes the field, when it scores a touchdown, when it defeats a hated rival, or even when it pulverizes one of those ‘sacrificial lambs’ that fill a college football home schedule. I can testify that this is a sensory, if not a sensual experience.

Such experiences are often matters of taste, even of acquired taste. If you have made yourself a fan of another football team, your experience when my team pulverizes you will be far less gratifying than mine. And some sensory experiences that move others leave me cold. I get no sensory rush from a charismatic religious service, but many people do.

I believe that John is talking to us about something far more subtle and captivating than the works of the flesh. He is talking to us about what we love. As such, we need to love God, love heaven, love the things above, not the things beneath, and especially not the desires of the flesh, something different from the works of the flesh.

The person who loves these desires of the flesh is exhibiting an inordinate love of the world, i.e., worldliness.

Lust of the eyes

This is the desire for the possession of the appealing. The stuff that we come to value, either because it is valued by many like fine art and such, or because it is valued by us because it looks good to us. We see it, we want it, and once having it, can’t bear to part with it, even if it is in ruins and tatters.

The person who loves those things that appeal to the eye is exhibiting an inordinate love of the world, i.e., worldliness.

Pride of life

Initially, I thought of this as simply pride, a desire for the elevation of self. I think it is much more than that. In fact, pride itself is listed as a sin and is already under prohibition. It is a work of the flesh. So this ‘thing in the world’ is something more. It is something of an exultation in ‘life under the sun’, to borrow a term from Ecclesiastes.

There is a joy and pride that goes with life in this world – sometimes it is seen in nationalism, or in civic pride, or in the exultation in living this life in a beautiful city (like I do). This ‘joie de vivre’ can capture our hearts and become the center of our being and living. It is thus for many in our world.

The person who loves the exultation that comes from living the good life (however you define it) is exhibiting an inordinate love of the world, i.e., worldliness.


The damning characteristic of each of these ‘things in the world’ is that they don’t come from the Father, but from the world.

For all that is in the world … is not from the Father, but is from the world.

These things dominate the minds of men in the world, but they ought not to dominate the mind of a child of God. Recently our family were on a trip across the USA. We happened to stay in a certain town where the state soccer championships were being held. Our motel was overrun with normal young people. We talked to a few of them in the lobby, asking about their tournament and so on. These young people responded in ways completely typical of young people everywhere. And their thoughts and values were entirely on ‘this world’ things. They had no thought or hint of a thought about anything beyond this life.

Well, they were teenagers. I didn’t expect them to be thinking about Plato, much less Christian theology. But the fact is that many professing Christians are pre-occupied with things in the world, not realizing that their attention is diverted from the Father.

Finally, the last point about the ‘things in the world’ is that it is all temporary. It all is passing away, it has no future.

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.


The worldly desires of Titus 2.12, it seems to me, are the same as the illicit loves of 1 Jn 2.15. They are not loves or desires (lusts) for a prohibited thing in itself. They are loves/desires for things that really are just of the world, having their source in the world. But … having the world as their source, for us to pay attention to them is to pay attention to the world, to love the world and to desire the things of the world. And so our hearts and minds are diverted from living for and pleasing God.

This is worldliness.



  1. Brian Ernsberger says:

    Thanks Don, for these musings on worldliness. They have been a great study to go through.