At its essence, worldliness is a disposition of the heart—the belief that goodness comes from the immediate satisfaction of temporal desire. But because worldliness is a disposition of the heart, we can’t simply retreat into religious contexts to escape it. We also can’t rely on adopting certain positions or practices to avoid it— especially if we use them to avoid the more difficult task of examining our own heart motives. As long as we’ve picked the “right” education for our children, go to the “right” church, watch the “right” movies, and vote for the “right” candidate, we won’t have to face the deeper truth about how easily our hearts are led astray. We could be consumerist, pragmatic, and completely worldly but never know it because we see our choices as “right” and thus are convinced that we are as well.
We see this illustrated over and over again in Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of Israel. While their commitment to religious practices did not make them hypocrites, their religious practices also could not ensure that they were wise people. In fact, Luke records that while they devoted great care to ritual washing and even made sure to tithe from their herb gardens, they could not discern true justice or love for God (Lk. 11:38-42). When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, they couldn’t decide whether or not this was pleasing to God (Lk. 14:5) because they were blinded by their commitment to religious forms. When true wisdom presents itself, people who trust in religious practice will not be able to see it.
“Instead of withdrawing, Jesus calls His followers to advance. He sends them out.”
No, calling yourself a Christian, inheriting a certain religious pedigree, or having the right network cannot ensure that you are discerning. But perhaps even more frustrating, because religious labels can’t tell us whether something is truly good or not, swapping one label for another can’t ensure that you’ll know what is good either. You may define your life in opposition to everything I just listed—you may disdain the hypocrisy of religious contexts, feel complete freedom in your choices, or reject your Christian upbringing, and none of it has the power to make you any wiser.
So what can? What can we count on to make us discerning people? What can we count on to lead us to what will truly last?
Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His followers, knowing that after He left them, they would be overwhelmed, confused, frightened, and tempted to run. Rather than asking the Father to preserve them from the challenge, Jesus asks the Father to preserve them through it. “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one,” He begs. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:15-18).
Jesus’ logic is counterintuitive to everything we would think. If the world is dangerous, then the best thing to do is withdraw from it. If it’s unholy and not to be trusted, then we’d better remove ourselves as far away from it as possible. But instead of withdrawing, Jesus calls His followers to advance. He sends them out. Just as He sent them out into the world at Creation, to take dominion over it and be fruitful, He sends them out into the world to go in His authority and reproduce themselves in new image bearers.
But because the world is a dangerous place, they need protection. They need to develop a new set of skills. Instead of changing their circumstances, they need to be changed in them.
by Hannah Anderson
Winner of the 2018 TGC Book Award for Christian Living “And God saw that it was good…” Look out over the world today, it seems a far cry...
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