If I were to ask you, “In your opinion, what is the biggest principal problem facing the church, worldwide?” what would you say? Typically, answers such as apathy, lack of Bible knowledge, lack of Christ-like unity, etc. are recited when Christians are asked this question. Certainly all these answers fit the bill and need to be addressed when this topic is brought up. However, in my humble opinion, there is one issue facing the church that almost all other issues boil down to. It’s a problem that almost every single member of the church living in America has to face every single day. That problem is worldliness.
Any Christian who lives in America is susceptible to this terrible plague that has infiltrated the church of Christ. Worldliness is all around us. Unless you lock yourself in your house seven days a week, 365 days a year, you are going to come face to face with the atrocities this world has to offer. You can’t go to the mall, or out to eat, or even to the grocery store, without worldliness penetrating the Christian mindset you’ve placed yourself and your children under.
Just this past month I was flying home from Europe. Not looking forward to the seven-hour flight, I was glad to see that this particular airplane had the little personal TV screens on the back of the seats in front of you. The downside of this is you have viewing access to about five other people’s screens around you depending on where you’re sitting on the plane.
After I had selected my movie and settled back to enjoy it, I casually glanced over at the screen across the aisle from me. The man there had closed captioning on, and almost every time I looked over at this man’s screen, there was some kind of profanity being said. Even though I hadn’t chosen that movie, I was confronted with it on this man’s screen every time I looked in his direction.
My point is this: We have no control over what other people do. On the airplane I had control over my own movie screen and had the choice whether or not to watch an immoral profanity-filled movie, but I couldn’t control what other people did or what other people watched. Living in the world is comparable to this. We have control over our own households and our own families, but other than that we have absolutely no control. We have no power over what we see when we go through the checkout line at grocery stores. Or when we listen to the radio. Or when we watch sports events and have to sit through commercials.
You might ask, okay but what’s your point? Are we supposed to live locked up in our houses at all hours of the day, or wear blindfolds when we go to the store? Of course not! As always, we need to seek a biblical answer.
1. We can’t escape living in the world
We’ve all heard the phrase, “We need to be in the world but not of it.” While this saying might be cliché, it also is still applicable. Nobody is going to argue that we shouldn’t live in the world. God created this world for humans to live in. If you believe that Christians should live isolated away from the rest of the world, allow me to politely inform you that that idea is unscriptural. What do you think Jesus meant when he told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Or when he told them to let their light shine before men in Matthew 5:16? Can we as Christians, do either of those two things if we live completely isolated and secluded from the rest of the world? This is not what God intended at all, and yet some Christians spend their entire lives trying to ward off the world rather than engaging it for Christ. He knew that Christians were going to have to live in the world and that the world would hate them for their example (John 15:19). It’s because we must be in the world that we have to turn to Romans 12 to see how to adjust to living in it.
2. We can’t conform
Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” This is where the second half of the previously mentioned phrase comes in – not of the world. Paul here is warning the Romans to not conform to the world. If I’m conforming to something I am succumbing to or complying with either what’s around me or what’s being forced upon me whether that be laws, rules, etc. Sometimes it’s against my own will, and sometimes it isn’t. For instance, as a teenager living under my parents’ roof, I have to conform to whatever rules my parents establish, whether I like the rules or not. At other times, conforming to others can be voluntary, such as when one is subjected to peer pressure.
In a similar way, many Christians, especially young people, have taken this approach after being constantly bombarded with the things of this world. Instead of standing strong in their faith, they succumb to the habits, activities, etc. of their peers and before they know it, they’ve blended right in with the worldliness all around them to the point where an individual outside the church can’t even determine the difference between young people in the church and young people in the world. In John 17:16 we read, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” Over and over, Jesus makes the point that you can’t be a part of the world and be completely committed to God. There’s no in between, no having one foot in the world and having one foot in the church.
You might be looking at this with an overhanging feeling of gloom and depression. How can we live in the world without succumbing to the evils around us? This world grows increasingly immoral every single day. Is it even possible to live in this world and not conform? How can it be done?
3. We must be transformed
In Matthew 5:16, Christ tells his disciples to let their light shine before men that the world might see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven. Influence works both ways. As Christians living in the world, either the world can influence us, or we can influence the world. Unfortunately right now in many Christian homes the world is doing a better job of influencing Christians rather than vice versa. How can we change that?
In the last half of Romans 12:2, Paul encourages the Christians to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. The question then arises, how does one renew their mind? The simplest answer I can give you on how to renew your mind would be through personal prayer and Bible study. Of course there are numerous ways, but these are the most effective ways to draw closer to God. When I say Bible study, I don’t mean opening your Bible for five or ten minutes every night when you’re about to fall asleep. Studying your Bible is more than that. It’s opening up your Bible and deciphering how God wants you to live your life. It’s daily meditating on the words of God written by men almost 2,000 years ago, regardless of how busy and crazy life gets.
Furthermore, with all the immorality and unhealthy material we come face to face with every single day, whether it be through TV, music, magazines or whatever it may be, while it’s crucial that we rid our homes of these things, it’s even more crucial that we replace it with biblical and healthy material. Granted this is going to require more effort, especially from parents. It’s going to require them sitting down and having biblical discussions with their children more than once a week.
I can’t think of anything more worth our time and effort than trying to keep kids faithful by renewing their minds. The statistics show that we haven’t done a good job of that over the last 20+ years. The rate for young people leaving the church is off the charts and continuing to grow, telling us that the church of Christ in America is epidemically sick. The disease is a nasty mixture of apathy, worldliness, and several other things that have produced pews full of lukewarm Christians. It’s time for the fire to be lit again under us and for us to be truly transformed.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We are called to be different. Call it cliché but if we continue to let our Christian light grow brighter instead of letting it grow dim, the world will see us for what we truly are. Not lukewarm, apathetic people who live the lives of people in the world, but then go to church once or twice a week. Instead, they’ll see a transformed group of believers who are on fire for the Lord and who are earnestly desiring to share the message of God’s love with them. Only by renewing our mind can we rid ourselves of our worldliness and truly be transformed followers of Christ.
By Will Harrub