Monday, June 7, 2010

Remember Worldliness?

The credit for the idea behind this post comes from my Sunday school teacher, Dr. Beale. His grasp of the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament has been inspiring.

Close to the very end of the Bible we read these words: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Rev 18:4-5). The Bible practically ends on a theme that runs throughout Scripture.

We first encounter this command of God to His covenant people when God in Genesis 12: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee (Gen 12:1). Looking back at the end of Genesis 11, we see that Abram was in Haran at this time. [And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. Gen 11:31] However Stephen tells us, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy land, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee (Acts 7:2-3). This means that when God tells Abram to come out of Haran this was the second time Abram had been so commanded: first in Ur, then in Haran.

You may have noticed that the English wording of Genesis is “Get out.” The Hebrew word used in this passage and in the others we will cite means “get out,” or “come out.” English uses two distinct words for the ideas of ‘come’ and “go.” In many other languages, Hebrew included, one word does the job.

We encounter this command to “come out” again in Genesis 19. In verses 14 through 16 we read, “And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law. And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city.” Here we see conveying the command to his future sons-in-law, which they ignored to their own destruction. Later we see the angels forcefully make Lot obey the command because of God’s mercy on him.

In Exodus 6:6-9, the command is implicit. Moses relates to Israel God’s plan to cause them to ‘come out” of the Egyptian bondage they desperately wanted to escape, yet the passage concludes by stating that the children of Israel refuse to hearken unto Moses.

Again this theme surfaces in Isaiah. The Lord declares through the prophet, “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD” (Isaiah 52:11).

Once more we read, “My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the LORD” (Jer. 51:45).

Lest we think that this is merely some Old Testament motif whereby God commands His people to leave physical locations that He intends to judge, Paul clearly applies this to God’s covenant people in the New Testament when he writes, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Cor 6:14-17).

The New Testament therefore illuminates the true intent of the Old Testament warnings. They are warnings against spiritual adultery, i.e., worldliness. One thinks of Jesus’ words to the Disciples in John 15:19. Also 1 Corinthians 5:9, 10 comes to mind. We are in this world, but we are to NOT BE OF IT in any sense of those words.

I now return to the title of this post: What Ever Happened To Worldliness. When I was a child, I heard countless warnings against worldliness. Such warnings were almost exclusively directed as certain behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, cussing, etc. I hear no such warnings today. It may be argued that drinking an occasional glass of wine does not make one worldly, but surely worldliness has not become an obsolete category. Perhaps we have so assimilated the world’s mindset and values that the distinction between sacred and secular has been blurred beyond recognition. The world’s values so permeate the Evangelical Christianity of our day that we can’t even define worldliness anymore. Here is the definition of worldliness my Sunday school teacher gave, which is actually a quote from David Wells: Worldliness is what any society does to make sin appear normal and righteousness seem strange.

That’s something to think about, isn’t it? Sin seems so normal to us anymore that we don’t even flinch when our theologians and pastors sweep aside God’s commands with a sleight of hand that would make a magician jealous. Every day I hear discussions about whether the Bible really forbids homosexuality or fornication. Every day I hear profanity pour forth from the mouths of professing Christians. This is not pietism on my part, friends; it is a call to “Come out” from the world lest we be polluted and defiled by her sins.

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