The dictionary definition of “worldly” is “relating to, or devoted to, the temporal world.” Worldliness, then, is the condition of being concerned with worldly affairs, especially to the neglect of spiritual things. The Bible has a great deal to say about worldliness, none of it good.
Paul equates worldliness with spiritual immaturity in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, where he addresses the believers in the church of Corinth in regard to their worldly behavior. Though they were believers—he calls them “brothers”—they were spiritual babies who could not understand the deep things of God that Paul wished to share with them. They had never progressed past learning the basics of the faith and were seemingly content to remain there. This lack of maturity led to their behaving as though they were still part of the unsaved world. They quarreled among themselves as to which of them was greater because of which of the apostles they followed (1 Corinthians 1:11-13; 3:4), when in reality they followed none of them, following instead their own lusts and desire to elevate themselves above others. Paul exhorted them to grow up and mature in the faith so they would cease from worldly behavior.
The epistles depict worldliness as the exact opposite of godliness. The world’s wisdom is not wisdom at all (1 Corinthians 3:18-19). Rather, it is foolishness, especially the world’s wisdom on the subject of religion. We see that today in the endless discussions of “spirituality” by men whose spiritual wisdom is based on nothing more than worldly illusions. True wisdom that comes from God is juxtaposed against the foolish “wisdom” of the world throughout Scripture. The message of the cross is foolishness to those with worldly wisdom who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18) because true wisdom comes not from man’s philosophies, but from God’s Word. True godliness is always opposed by the world.
Furthermore, Paul refers to a “worldly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:10) which is the opposite of the godly sorrow that comes from true repentance. Godly sorrow is what we feel over our sin when we come to see it as God sees it and when our view of it is in accord with His. Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, does not stem from the knowledge of sin against a holy God, but rather from circumstances in which the worldly find themselves. Worldly sorrow stems from a love of self and may arise from the loss of friends or property, from disappointment, or from shame and disgrace. But once the circumstances right themselves, worldly sorrow disappears. Godly sorrow, however, is only alleviated by turning to Christ, who alone provides freedom from the sorrow, the penalty and the power of sin.
Finally, Scripture draws a clear distinction between friendship with God and friendship with the world. James 4:4 tells us that “friendship with the world is hatred toward God.” He goes on to say that “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” The apostle James uses the strong words “hatred” and “enemy” to drive home the point that we can be in the world or in the kingdom, but not both because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Those who choose worldliness choose to live in the enemy’s camp because all that is of the world is under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19). He is the ruler of this world, and when we choose the world, we enlist in his evil army and become enemies of God.
For the Christian, the choice is clear. To avoid worldliness, we must mature in the faith, growing up in all things in Christ so that we are no longer spiritual infants, tossed about by the lies of the world (Ephesians 4:14-15). We must come to know the difference between the wisdom of God and the foolishness of worldly wisdom, and that is only achieved by careful and diligent study of the Word, seeking God’s wisdom in prayer (James 1:5), and enjoying the fellowship of other mature believers who can encourage us to reject worldliness and embrace godliness.