We’ve come to the second-to-last chapter (and last sin-specific chapter) in Respectable Sins, and Bridges saves one of the best (and most convicting) for last. True to the purpose of the book, Bridges doesn’t discuss overt worldliness, but focuses on subtle aspects of worldliness. He points to 1 Corinthians 7:31 to define this subtle aspect as using the things of the world “as if not engrossed by them.” We are to use the legitimate things of the world carefully in case they become too important to us. Thus, Bridges defines worldliness as “being attached to, engrossed in, or preoccupied with the things of this temporal life.” These things may not be sinful in and of themselves, but sinful worldliness occurs when we put too high a value on them.
Bridges unhesitatingly compares Christians to our unbelieving neighbors – our lives do not look much different than theirs – we mow the lawn, we pay our taxes, we avoid scandals. This is why living among them makes worldliness look acceptable. Thus, another definition cuts right to my heart: “Worldliness means accepting the values, mores, and practices of the nice, but unbelieving society around us without discerning whether or not they are biblical.” Worldliness, then, is just going along with the culture around us as long as it is not obviously or explicitly sinful. What struck me is that discernment is not only necessary with doctrinal and theological issues, but a lack of it also contributes to worldliness.
Bridges focuses on three aspects of worldliness: money, immorality, and idolatry. I can’t go into all three here, so I’ll discuss the latter two (Ken or others: feel free to weigh in on the chapter at large, or on the money section as you see fit).
The primary form of subtle immorality is “vicarious immorality:” reading about other people’s immorality or knowingly watching movies in which sexually explicit sins will be shown. When was the last time you declined to watch a film you knew portrayed sinful acts? Further, indulging in vicarious immorality never satisfies. Proverbs 27:20 says that “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” Indulging in immorality just whets the appetite for more.
In today’s modern age, idolatry can refer to “anything that we place such a high value on that it tends to absorb our emotional and mental energy, or our time and resources.” Examples are career vocations, hobbies, sports, computer games, and even political and cultural issues. For example, Christians can make idols out of cultural issues like abortion, which I do not deny is a heinous sin. But Bridges calls us out when saying that the first priority of the church is to proclaim the gospel:
Unborn babies do need to be protected, and the biblical standard of marriage does need to be preserved. But above all, people need to be rescued from the power of Satan and brought into the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. If we lose sight of the church’s primary calling, then we are in danger of making an idol out of our cultural and political initiatives.
The final thought I’ll bring up is that to combat worldliness, it is not enough to just resolve to not be worldly anymore. But we need to commit ourselves, by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, to become more godly. In admonishing the early church, Paul never just says to stop sinning, but he uses a “put off/put on” model. Take Ephesians 5:17-18 for example:
Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
As we ask God to increase our knowledge, faith, and desire for him, he will answer us, and our affections for worldly things will decrease and pass away.