Do you relate to God as if he exists to further your selfish ambitions or are you convinced that you exist to glorify him? Are you trying to live without God? Iain Murray describes this way of thinking:

"Worldliness is departing from God. It is a man-centred way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man's fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be "a fool for Christ's sake". Worldliness is the mind-set of the unregenerate. It adopts idols and is at war with God."8

Do you covet the esteem and crave the approval of those around you? Do you go to great lengths to avoid looking foolish or being rejected for your Christian faith? Do you consider present and material results more important than eternal reward? Have you departed from God and adopted idols instead? Are you at war with God?

These are tough questions, I know; but they are necessary if you're to discover whether you have been infected with the disease of worldliness.

The Root Issue

Mention worldliness, and you're sure to encounter opposing views among Christians. The conflict often reveals a wrong focus on externals.

Some people try to define worldliness as living outside a specific set of rules or conservative standards. If you listen to music with a certain beat, dress in fashionable clothes, watch movies with a certain rating, or indulge in certain luxuries of modern society, surely you must be worldly.

Others, irritated and repulsed by rules that seem arbitrary, react to definitions of worldliness, assuming it's impossible to define. Or they think legalism will inevitably be the result, so we shouldn't even try.

Ready for a surprise? Both views are wrong. For by focusing exclusively on externals or dismissing the importance of externals, we've missed the point. John—inspired by the Holy Spirit—takes the debate to a whole other level.

He takes it inside.

For that's where worldliness is. It exists in our hearts. Worldliness does not consist in outward behavior, though our actions can certainly be an evidence of worldliness within. But the real location of worldliness is internal. It resides in our hearts.

We see this by looking closely at the verse that follows: "For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world" (1 John 2:16 NIV).

Notice that in enlarging upon what is "in the world," John doesn't say, "this particular mode of dress, this way of speaking, this music, these possessions." No, the essence of worldliness is in the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does. "The ‘worldly' characteristics of which this verse speaks," writes commentator David Jackman, "are in fact reactions going on inside us, as we contemplate the environment outside."9

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, John is wisely drawing our attention inside. The root issue is within. Before applying this discernment to the world around us, we must start with ourselves, for the root issue is internal, not environmental. We must learn to discern worldliness where it lurks—inside our hearts.

When Cravings Compete

With the phrase "cravings of sinful man," John is targeting our hearts. Although Christians have new hearts, remaining sin in our lives produces cravings that compete with God's supremacy in our hearts.

David Powlison, paraphrasing John Calvin, wrote, "The evil in our desires often lies not in what we want, but in the fact that we want it too much."10 It's difficult to improve upon this insight. The "cravings of sinful man" are legitimate desires that have become false gods we worship. It's wanting too much the things of this fallen world.