It’s not at all uncommon to hear about bit of Christian handwringing about the world. How will our kids manage to live as we send them to school? How will they cope with all the worldliness and pagan ideology on display? How will they (or we) function with the slew of filth that runs rampant on our televisions, in cinemas and – worst of all – across the internet on our computers, tablets and phones? We are bombarded with terrible things continually, whatever will we do?
One response to this, of course, is to just chill out a bit. Our children, at some point, have to learn to live in the world so perhaps it will do them good to figure out how to navigate it now when they are given the leeway of being children who – in the eyes of those who wish to view it as such – would at least consider them to know no better. Might it be that they will learn what others learn, but with the ability to figure it out with the help of parents who love them and want to help them navigate these things scripturally. Might it be that these things are more helpfully figured out now with these things now, where the worst of it on display is amongst their peers who display such things in the childish way children might ever do, rather than letting our kids face it for the first time at, say, university where such things are full grown, unrelentingly on display and without the safety and comfort of any family there to help? You may feel differently, and that’s absolutely fine if you do, but there is a good case to be made for this approach.
Similarly, we could talk about much that is good in the world. Usually, at this point, the bogey-term ‘worldliness’ will rear its head. As I understand it, worldliness is about devotion to the things of the world rather than the things of Christ. Essentially, side-lining Jesus for the sake of some temporal thing(s) that you ultimately value more than him. The Bible does have a lot to say about that sort of attitude, both understandably and rightly so.
But many Christians will use the term to mean something closer to enjoying anything that isn’t effectively Bible studies, sermons and singing hymns. Watching TV, going to the cinema or theatre is worldly. Drinking is worldly. Money is worldly. Holidays are worldly. Clothes are worldly. You name it, if you enjoy it and it ain’t called Jesus, you’re into a whole lot of worldliness. It is the cause of much handwringing and it is, for the most part, a load of crap.
Don’t get me wrong, anything can become an idol to us. And when something temporal has become an idol to us, we have bought into a spirit of worldliness. Loving the world more than Jesus. It is a real and genuine problem. What is not a problem is enjoying stuff in the world that God has made. God has ultimately made a world for us to enjoy. Much talk of edification seems to forget that just enjoying stuff is pretty edifying so long as we thank God for it. I’m not saying there isn’t any unedifying stuff out there that we might want to think twice about, but I do think much talk of edification forgets that we can be edified even by watching what the world applauds, minimally (if for no other reason), than we might just enjoy the story or we might find it useful and beneficial to look at how the world thinks about things, understand it and give more glory to God for sending Jesus so we can have something so much more. All that is to say, I think edification is much broader and wider, with a lot more good to be found and enjoyed, than many care to recognise.
Let me say, I don’t want to knock those who feel such because I am sure they are genuinely seeking to honour the Lord in not handling, tasting or touching. If they feel that is how they best honour the Lord, all power to their elbow. I’m just saying, I reckon you can look, taste and touch and not be worldly, specifically because that is the point Paul makes in Colossians 2:20-23. He seems to encourage us to not be ascetic, to not deprive ourselves of good things in the world, but to avoid falling into sin (which he goes into specifics in chapter 3). It seems to me edification is much broader than many wish to imply and worldliness is about a matter of heart and a love of Christ above all more than it is about avoiding this, that or the other primarily.
That is one way we might look at the handwringing. Chill out a bit. It’s alright. Jesus is actually okay with you enjoying good stuff. He’s actually okay with you engaging with stuff that some people in the world enjoy too. It’s not necessarily bad of itself. There is nothing wrong with enjoying God’s good gifts. There is nothing wrong with enjoying all manner of things so long as it does not lead you to sin, causes your love for Christ to diminish or causes you to love it more than Jesus altogether. These things have to be worked out personally and not imposed on others who may not be led into the same temptations and problems as we are. But there is much to enjoy in the world and it is worth remembering God has given it to us to enjoy.
The other point worth making though is that we seem to believe the Holy Spirit lacks power. How will our children stand for Christ at school? The same way I stood for Christ at school. Incidentally, the same way the Lord preserved his people when they were surrounded by pagan Roman culture and the church was barely even recognisable as a thing. We don’t stand in the power of our own will and fortitude, but in the power of the Holy Spirit who preserves those who belong to God. That is how our children will be saved, through a work of the Spirit. It is equally how they will be preserved whether home schooled, Christian schooled or state schooled. People require the Spirit to work whatever school they’re in and whatever culture they are surrounded by.
Similarly, we can wonder how an a couple of hours at church on a Sunday and once midweek can possibly stand against the hours spent in work, at school, watching TV, in the community, surrounded by godless thinking. But why would you presume that those things are equal? What is it about the Holy Spirit and the nature of Almighty God that makes you think even a few minutes with his people each week is less valuable, less powerful, less formative than the hours spent in the world? Does it not bear remembering that God created the world and he tells us unequivocally he expects us to remain within. What makes us think he won’t manage to preserve us in the very place he has called us to be? If he can build his church under the Roman Empire, doesn’t an overtly Judeo-Christian culture and heritage – that even when it is being dismantled never quite gets away from looking quite Protestant and Reformed regardless – pose much less trouble for him? Do we really think so little of the Holy Spirit?
I do sometimes wonder whether we make out things are much worse than they really are. Again, don’t mishear me, clearly not everything is good. It is obvious enough that not everything society would proclaim is good is any such thing. But whenever the latest cause of Christian moral outrage rears its head, it bears asking how widespread such thinking really is. Equally, it bears asking how much such things are really being “pushed” and whether they are simply views adopted by some. Sometimes things simply are not as widespread as we think and common grace holds back more than we realise.
Clearly there is much good in the world. Clearly there is much to be enjoyed. It is not worldliness to enjoy things in the world. If it causes us to give thanks to God and to love Jesus more, and it is not causing us to sin, have at it. Often the views and matters that concern and worry us most have not gotten everywhere and are not as widespread as some would insist or the internet would imply. But even if these things are true, in the end, isn’t the Holy Spirit more active, more powerful and more able to keep and preserve Christ’s sheep than anything might be able to drag us away? Might we not have more faith in the Spirit and the work of God than we do in the power of the world? It seems to me if Romans 8 is telling us anything, it is surely that.