As believers, we often talk about guarding our eyes with what we watch on TV or choosing “clean” entertainment. We look away from anything that would cause lust and perhaps anything to do with violence. But it is important for us to understand that this is not entirely what we should be on guard against when it comes to media. The real thing that we should guard against is worldliness—the spiritual position, beliefs, and influence that reject God and evangelize living for the self and obeying false laws.
Worldliness is not just lust or a desire to get rich; it is the all that the world believes in and values, and then attempts to teach us to believe. Many of us attempt to guard our eyes, but we do not guard our hearts and beliefs. We continue to be taught by the world about what is moral, what is meaningful, what is true, and we continue to pursue these very things.
What the World Is Preaching
It seems that the church today is increasingly unaware that the attitudes they develop towards life as a whole are often coming from the world, and not from God. They are quick to think that anything that appears “good” is “godly”, and are taken in by these pretences. Too often we think that we are at the top of morality, and do not realize that we actually share our moral bed with the world. Our idealisms, ambitions, and thoughts of what is good are far more worldly than we think, and we are often too slow to realize the true nature of them.
To give a few examples of these things:
There are plenty of movies out there giving us great themes of fighting for some great end, but do we catch the ways they suggest to us how to do this? Is it in line with God’s justice? Does it teach us to love God or is it cast in a godless world? Does it cause us to look to Christ as the Hero or is it filling up the desire for vainglory in us? Too often we miss these subtleties and allow ourselves to give way to our desires. Many of us run fast in these very ambitions and ideas of heroism, seeking to walk in them within Christianity, entirely unaware of how worldly and opposed to God they are.
Conspiracy, Contention, and Rebellion
How easily are these themes portrayed as being desirable? We want to be the rebel, the one who secretly knows all that’s going on. We crave being contentious, and desire to feel like we’re fighting for something. We’re quick to take up any fight and think it’s a holy one. We do not discern that not all “persecution” is godly!—but only if we truly suffer for Christ’s sake. The world today believes a great deal in these themes of conspiracy and rebellion, some secret knowledge, and all too often Christians love to live for the same conceit. Believer, let’s understand that these things are different in nature from a heart that is really fighting for the Gospel. We take up the world's sword rather than Christ's cross, and that's all the difference between whether our "warring" is according to the flesh or the Spirit (Luke 22:50, 2 Cor 10:3-4). We miss how these desires are worldly and actually come from the very forces we profess to resist! These desires lead us away from truly working for Christ and into working division. And rather than leading to true righteousness, these desires lead to the same place the world’s ideas are leading them. All this “insight”, all of the superior knowledge, all of the pride in not being a “sheep” is vanity and foolishness.
Being “Special”, “Gifted”, or “Advanced”
This attitude is seeking anything that will make us feel we are superior to others. Many of us want to be the lead character in the story, and will fight for anything that makes us feel that we are. This mentality pays no mind to the thousands of “extras” that are blown up in the background for our narratives; all we want to live for is the desire to feel that we’re on top, special, gifted, etc. The world craves this attitude, and very few acknowledge how evil it is. The natural person wants to believe they have something according to the flesh that makes them feel they are better than others. And to use this to take honor to themselves: I'm stronger, wiser, deeper, etc. And the Lord says none of that is true. There is nothing according to the flesh, but we are all equal with one another (2 Cor 5:16, Gal 3:28). The only distinction now is in if we obey God, or not. And this still isn't a superiority. But all these attempts to be special seem harmless to us, and we miss our own conceit, which is willing to reduce everyone else so that we can feel superior to them... This is what so much "self worth" today is based upon: setting up ourselves in pride—and this pride is not only based in classic superiority through “power” (i.e being rich or powerful), but also in superiority through intellect, moral standings or self righteousness, or being special due to talent, gifting, or experiences.
Being “Adventurous”, “Free”, or “Cultured”
This is another theme of living some “special” life—perhaps one of travel, or living off the grid. While the world is most certainly beautiful and vast, and there is much to be enjoyed in God’s creation, these people put their hope in having a life that is more special than others, because they’re “not living the 9-5”. They trust in this making of a unique life to be what satisfies them, and makes their life worthwhile. Again, this is still about superiority. It is also about putting trust in the things of this life. It might not be money and mansions, but it is still living for this life and not looking to Christ, His Kingdom, or righteousness.
Idolization of Art and Music
Music and art can be very beautiful things, but many people are putting their identities and meaning into such things. They also do not realize that where music and art lead them is very important to define. Something like music can get a hold of your emotions and lead you to believe something that isn’t true. It mixes the pleasure of it with a lie, and by this, we take in many things that are worldly.
Painting Christianity as Evil
Whether on the screen or in our ears, religion is often cast as either an ignorant thing or an abusive thing. There is often no differentiation between walking with Christ or any other religion, nor that of faithful believers and those who walk in naivety or oppression in Christ’s name. “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Pet 2:2) There is almost always a subtle backhand to Christianity in media, however subtle, yet many people miss it, blindly accepting it, and missing how this is the agenda of the devil at work: to make God appear as evil so that people are deceived away from Him. They do not see the great separation between those things which are false and those that are true, but continue to lump them together. There seems to be multitudes that are deceived into casting away the very things of Life, and the God who made them, by thinking they’re morally or intellectually superior. This worldliness has seeped into the church. Those who do not abandon Christ are often still those who oppose the real things of Christ in the name of fighting some “evil”. To be clear, there are real sins going on in the church today, the issue here is that people attack the whole of Christianity, the Church, and God’s Word, in the name of attacking these evils. This is similar to the woman who sweeps her house to find the missing coin (Luke 15:8-9), but instead of sweeping her house, she begins to tear down its walls and support beams (Prov 14:1). The needs are real, the sins are real, and yet these people can lose all else that is true and valuable in the name of fighting for a singular thing.
… And many more.
What to Do About It
Within all of these ideas, there is always a real need. We need to live lives that matter, to have character and purpose in the midst of adversity, and so on. The point is not to take a person’s blanket away in the cold—we shouldn’t mock or criticize the need—rather, it is to see the hard truth that the belief such people cling to as the solution is not the real remedy to these needs, and the hard truth is also that their needs are mixed with very real sin. It is not wrong to need identity, purpose, uniqueness, and so on. Yet these are not all we are seeking after when we desire the things of the world. The desires of the world are always from sinful motivations as well. And these motivations are opposed to God and our neighbor. Even if we have very real needs, there are desires that are mixed in with them. Our motivations are not simply innocent or pure. We still have sinful desires for pride, selfishness, and all sins, and we are seeking an avenue for these very things, delighting in what feeds them. And media certainly can be feeding these sinful desires in us.
In everything, we have to do the diligent work of separating things out. We can watch a video about someone who loves hiking, for example, and think that there is nothing sinful or worldly in this, but we must look closer. To enjoy walking is not sinful, of course, but we must look at how the pleasure of walking gets tied with some message about what to live for and value. If we continue to cling to these desires, ambitions, and beliefs, delighting in them ourselves, then we will not see them for the worldliness that they are.
Some questions we should ask ourselves when we are drawn to things in media are as follows:
What is the world trying to tell us to value?
What is it telling us about God?
What is it saying that is good and right?
Does this agree with God’s Word?
What are we impressed by?
Are we taking beliefs and values from the world or God?
Is this video or movie portraying submission to God? If not, then what is it portraying instead?
Are we impressed with ourselves in something here?
Do we think we’re superior for any reason? Do we want to be superior?
Are we delighting in the ambitions of the world, or the ambitions of Christ? Do we want to live for these plans or for the Kingdom of Christ?
Will we fight these sinful desires in our hearts, or continue to indulge them?
Are we intentionally doing anything to notice the worldliness around us, or are we allowing it to simply come into our minds and hearts unchecked?
Of course, all of these questions will only work if we are honest. And they’ll only work if we are daily in the Word and in prayer, having the reality of Christ to contend against such things in the world, things that to the natural eye see as benign or good.
The hard issue for many of us is that many people think they’re having integrity before God. When you ask them to examine themselves, they say, “Yep, I’m living for Christ.” But they continue to ignore the desire for argument, conceit, wrath, hatred, moral superiority, vain heroism, to be wise in their own eyes, and so on. The problem here is always thinking that sin is one-dimensional, that it has a certain way of existing, rather than seeing the true nature of it. We are deceived because we don’t root out the actual issue in our hearts, but appease our guilt by the elimination of certain types of it. A great many in the church today think they’re opposing worldliness, when they’re only opposing certain types of it, and those attempts themselves are muddied with their own ignorance and pride. They think certain “types” of sin are worldliness, rather than the whole of the sinful desires within us.
We do not see sin at its nature, and how it can spring into a hundred different appearances. These appearances are not the point, but the sin itself. When we only attack certain appearances of it, rather than the whole nature itself, when we hate one or a few appearances, and not the sin itself, then this is deep prejudice and injustice, not righteousness. This is just furthering the worldliness in our own hearts, rather than ridding the heart of it. The church today is torn apart by people trying to claim one appearance of sin and worldliness is worse than another.
These are some of the things we need to watch for within entertainment, and within our own hearts. That we are truly fighting to love what Christ loves, and hate what He hates, and that our hearts flow rightly within these things. We need to be honest with ourselves, and go to the Lord with what we find.
Keep Your Heart
The Lord teaches us that we are to build upon Him alone, and that any other place we try to build is on the sand (Matt 7:24-27). When we accept these attitudes and beliefs of the world, we are opposed to Christ and in friendship with the world (James 4:4). All of these ideologies will destroy us at worst, and destroy our life’s work at best (1 Cor 3:10-15). When we embrace them, we encourage and “preach” to others false hopes and turn their eyes away from Christ.
The concern here is being aware of who Christ actually is, and what He’s done for us. Through Christ we are meant to overcome the world (1 John 5:5). Believing in Christ is meant to be a work in us that changes the very reality by which we live. We are meant to have all of our thinking, beliefs, and values transformed to match Christ’s, and to live out lives that are entirely changed because our beliefs are changed. And this is the great work that must be done in us if we are to overcome the world. So when we allow worldliness to remain within us, we are bringing contempt upon Christ. In some ways, we are denying the faith, because we are refusing to follow Christ to the full measure, and to have true change worked in our hearts and minds.
In Jesus, we are also meant to see the truth of the world (Eph 2:1-3). All that the world values is fleeting, foolish, and empty. And this is true of all forms of worldliness, not just some. This is very important for us to talk about today because we’re becoming deceived by worldliness precisely because the “appetite” of the world is changing, or because our appetite for worldliness is merely different from another person’s—but the same root beliefs and values are there. We need to remember that worldliness is not just wanting to get rich or some nudity on TV, it is what the world values and believes is good. We must fight to be faithful to understand the true spirit of this world and Spirit of Christ (Rom 12:2), and follow Him in Spirit and in Truth, in all areas of our lives.
Only once we have this change truly worked within our hearts, will we be the lights we are called to be (Matt 5:13-14). How can we possibly be lights to this fallen world, if we are filled with the same worldliness and sin as it is?
The cost of our negligence in guarding against the influence of the world is the great weakness found in the church, a people who are unspiritual, unholy, imperfect (Matt 5:48), unwise, proud, naive, full of self, and see nothing urgent about being in this state. People who want to teach and have yet to be taught. People who want to think they are wise more than they want to become wise. People who want to appear holy in men’s eyes, and care little to be truly holy. And people who do not truly hate sin and love holiness as they should. How could we possibly lead the world rightly to Christ when we’re filled with the same blindness as they are (Matt 7:5)? There is great cost to our worldliness.
The people of the world do not see the end of such worldly pursuits. Do we?
God’s direction to all of us still stands:
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” (Rom 12:16)
“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” (1 Cor 3:18)
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)
We may not see these things fully for what they are, but praise God, we have a perfect Savior in Christ, and He is fully able to deliver us from such sins. Through Him, there is another way: we can turn to Him, looking to Him to show us our sins, show us the true nature of them, and lead us in true holiness.
We must fight to believe Christ over the world, and fight for the singular life that “seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Let’s strive to be vigilant to discern the messages the world wants us to embrace. What is your entertainment telling you is good and to be believed? What is it telling you about God? What is it telling you about mankind? What is it telling you is valuable? What is it telling you is the meaning of life? The way to find happiness? That is worldliness. Oh believer, “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23)
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
1 John 2:15-17
The Worldliness in Media
How to Guard Your Heart, Not Just Your Eyes
I. What the World Is Preaching
II. What to Do About It
III. Keep Your Heart