Shunning Worldliness: The Other Side of Christian Sanctification.
In two previous articles, we have begun to get a biblical answer to the question, “how should we live in light of the gospel?” In the first article, we took a broad sweep through Romans 1-11 to understand the “mercies of God,” which is the foundation of Paul’s thoughts. There we learned that the mercies of God in the gospel is the very foundation of Christian sanctification. Those who Paul calls to live the gospel-shaped life are those who are in Christ, forgiven, justified, righteous, and adopted. The gospel-shaped life is, therefore, a call to believers who understand and partake of the gospel of Christ, assured of their identity and calling in Christ.
In the second article, we saw the dynamics of Christian sanctification – a call to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Inherent in that call is a constant yielding of our bodies to Christ, surrendering every part of ourselves to him to use and order, as he wants. To live like this is to worship God. The worship of God is not limited to what takes place when God’s covenant people gather, but all of life is to be worship. In every area and aspect of life, we are to yield ourselves to the will and purpose of God.
The pattern of this world: Hindrances to a life of worship
However, Paul acknowledges that living this kind of life comes with certain oppositions. As a result, a gospel-shaped life is not only positive but also negative. Positively, we are to yield ourselves to God as living sacrifices, living all of life as worship. However, negatively, we are to stand against the opposition to such a gospel-shaped life – the pattern of this world.
NB: I use “positive” here to mean something we are to do and “negative” to mean something we are not to doPositively, we are to yield ourselves to God as living sacrifices, living all of life as worship. However, negatively, we are to stand against the opposition to such a gospel-shaped life – the pattern of this world. Click To Tweet
The New Testament identifies three oppositions to the Christian life. In Galatians 5:17, he tells us that the flesh (sinful nature) is in opposition to the Spirit. The Spirit baptizes and indwells every believer at conversion (1 Corinthians 12:3; Romans 8:9, 10). The Spirit leads us in the path of godliness, bearing fruits that no law can stand against us (Galatians 5:22-23). The Spirit conforms us to Christ and helps us in our pursuit of Christlikeness. However, the flesh is in constant antipathy against the Spirit. The Christian life on this side of eternity is, therefore, a continuous battle between the flesh and the Spirit, in which Paul admonishes us to “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Verse 16)
The second opposition is the devil. In 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul was afraid that the tempter (an obvious reference to the devil) would have tempted the Thessalonians to veer off the path that Paul has shown them so that his efforts would have been useless. In Luke 22:31, Jesus, in speaking to Peter, acknowledges that Satan has asked to sift him as wheat but that he has prayed for him so that his faith will not fail. The enemy is after our faith, doing all he can to tempt us away from the path of truth and abiding trust in Christ.
However, the third opposition- the world is the one Paul focuses on in Romans 12:2.
The apostle John is the one who used the word most in his writings (the gospel and the epistles). The term is used in John 1:9 to refer to the universe. In the next verse, John told us that Jesus was in the world, and he made the world, but the world did not receive him (verse 10). Nevertheless, he is the one who came to take away the sins of the world (verse 29). While the world is used here to refer to the universe, it also began to take up some moral dimensions –the world is sinful, and it rejected Christ, the one who God out of love sent to save it (John 3:16). This world hates Jesus because he testifies of its evil (John 7:7), and those who oppose him (Christ) show that they are of the world (8:23). Jesus is the light of the world, the one who came from God into the universe to bring light to the darkness (John 12:46). However, the devil is the prince of this world (John 12:31). The world is set in antithesis to the disciples of Jesus (John 14:17), so they should expect the world to hate them (15:18) because they are not of the world (vs. 19). However, Christ has a special care for them that he does not have for the world (17:9) since he has brought them out of the world (17:6). Christ’s prayer is that while we remain in the world, we will be kept from the evil one (17:15). The world then becomes the place of assignment for his believers where we are to help people see that Christ truly came from the father (17:23)
In essence, while the “world” can be a neutral moral reference to this universe, it often has a moral reference. The world is that system in opposition to Jesus and his covenant people, who reject Christ, hates him, hates his people, and is in antithesis to the children of God. In summary, the world is a system opposed to Christ. No wonder John charges us to “love not the world,” since the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life that is in the world is not of the father.In essence, while the world can be a neutral moral reference to this universe, it often has a moral reference. The world is that system in opposition to Jesus and his covenant people, who reject Christ, hates him, hates his people, and is in… Click To Tweet
A very helpful verse in this discussion is 1 John 4:5. Talking about the antichrists who are already in the world, John remarks, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” The world has a viewpoint/perspective/thought pattern/way of thinking/philosophy that is opposed to Christ. We must, therefore, overcome the world by faith (1 John 5:4) since it lies in the power of the evil one. Everyone who is not part of God’s covenant people is of the world, and the devil, the enemy of Christ, blinds their hearts so that they think, act, live in opposition to Christ. This is not surprising since unbelievers are taken captive by the devil at his will (2 Timothy 2:26). No wonder James insists that we cannot be friends of the world and the friends of God at the same time (James 4:4). The world is in rebellion against God, opposed to him, and therefore its viewpoints/philosophies/thought patterns are different from God’s.The world is in rebellion against God, opposed to him, and therefore its viewpoints/philosophies/thought patterns are different from God's. Click To Tweet
Do not be conformed
Paul tells us that if we are to obey the command in verse 1, we are to stop conforming to the pattern of this world.
We are all by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:4). Like every other person, we were following the ways of this world (Verse 2). Before Christ saved us, we were worldly, conformed to the pattern of this world, ruled by the sinful nature and captive to the evil one. But now that we have experienced the mercies of God (Romans 12;1), we are no longer to conform to the pattern of this world. We have been “washed, sanctified, and justified” (1 Corinthians 6:11), and we can no longer live as we did. Now as believers, we must suffer because we no longer live as the pagans do – for evil human desires rather than for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-3)
In essence, the world lives in opposition to the will of God, the exact thing believers are called to live by (Romans 12:1). The world lives according to its evil desires; the exact thing believers are called not to live by (Galatians 5:16). The world is a system built upon the will and the pleasures of man. God takes us out of that system, and he calls us not to conform our lives to its pattern anymore.In essence, the world lives in opposition to the will of God, the exact thing believers are called to live by (Romans 12:1). The world lives according to its evil desires; the exact thing believers are called not to live by (Galatians 5:16). Click To Tweet The world is a system built upon the will and the pleasures of man. God takes us out of that system, and he calls us not to conform our lives to its pattern anymore. Click To Tweet
The pattern of this world includes anything and everything that flows out of a system designed upon the will and the pleasure of man. The pattern of this world will be evident in philosophies/ideologies built around the will and pleasure of man in opposition to God’s will and pleasure. It will also include (by necessary consequence), ways of living, behavior patterns, attitudes that glorify the will and pleasure of man in opposition to the will and pleasure of God. It will also include agendas, programs, hopes, designs that made to exalt the will and pleasure of man in opposition to God.
Paul tells us that to truly live all of life as worship, yielding ourselves to the will of God in every area includes a negative aspect – rejecting the worldly pattern that puts the will and pleasure of man above God’s. To yield to the will of God is to not yield to the will and pleasure of man (which is what defines this world that stands in opposition to God).Paul tells us that to truly live all of life as worship, yielding ourselves to the will of God in every area includes a negative aspect – rejecting the worldly pattern that puts the will and pleasure of man above God's. Click To Tweet
What then is the gospel-shaped life? It is a life that does not conform to the pattern of this world in any area or aspect of life because every area and aspect of life has been offered to the Lord in worship. It is a life where none of our thoughts, attitudes, actions, agendas, visions, opinions, philosophies are defined by the world and its sinful pattern but by God and his holy will. Therefore, this does not mean that we look at the world and oppose everything that people out of the covenant think, say, or do. Rather it means we train ourselves to know the will of God and then stand against any worldly pattern in opposition to that will. But I am getting ahead of myself.
How do we know the will of God so we can identify the pattern of this world and stand our guard against them in every area of life? Watch out for the next article.