Sooner or later the hard truth settles in that this world is out to kill you. Brown rivers swell up in Houston and Bangladesh to wash away everything you own, even wash you away if you don’t watch your step. Even on a calm, pristine beach day, the ocean’s sub-currents are silently trying to grab hold of you, and pull you out to sea, under the surface of the water before you even know what happened.
Forget sharks. The gentle tug of submerged water is our true ocean enemy. Look away for a moment and water attempts to assassinate — one reason why no one objects to bestowing upon the red-clad guardians the exalted title of “Life Guards” at the neighborhood pool.
But dried off and standing on solid ground, we fare little better because the air silently carries around invisible particles to slip in to our lungs and cultivate a little patch of cancer that can kill us from the inside. Or the burning rays of the sun might do the same from the outside.
And then of course there are the much less subtle forms of dangers. About one hundred times a second, bolt-action lightning snipers with an ungratified desire to spite mighty trees and tall steeples, and who occasionally take aim at arrogant creatures who dare to walk about on two legs. Under us, at any moment of the day or night, the ground can rumble and split and we can fall into an earthquake crack in the earth. Whole houses can get sucked down into a sinkhole without warning, or the gigantic white swirl of a hurricane or the wobbly freight train of a tornado can chase us off in a high-speed escape.
The world seizes one ankle and we pull it away and escape. For now. The world — as full as it is of wonder, and it is full of incredible wonders — surrounds us on all sides with deadly dangers.
Death of Love
Likewise, “this evil age” is perpetually trying to kill our loves — not through blunt force, but through coercion by seduction. The world tempts us daily to leave greater loves for lesser lusts.
“The moment we care for anything deeply, the world — that is, all the other miscellaneous interests — becomes our enemy,” wrote G. K. Chesterton. “The moment you love anything the world becomes your foe” (Works 1:59–60).
To love something genuinely is to immediately face all the second loves that are making an attempt at killing your first love. It is the wink of the adulteress to the married man. It is the invitation from a clique to abandon a true friendship. It is the ignoring of the familiar gifts around you, in search of the next thing to charge on your credit card. Worldliness kills because it exchanges loves. The world becomes your foe.
To Love Is to Fight
This is why true love must fight. “In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting,” writes Chesterton. “In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights.” The same is true of all our loves. In fact, “To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust” (Works 15:255).
A man who has stopped fighting for his marriage will not fight against the lure of adulterous flirting, because he is driven by the passivity of lust, not the earnestness of love. Which means that true love must be fought for.
Theologically speaking, this is why to love the world is to lose the love of God. It’s a horrible trade, but we do it all the time.
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)
Misdirected love is the root cause of worldliness. Worldliness sucks the sap from our greatest love until it becomes a dried-up branch.
So we can love and treasure the day Christ will return. Or we can love the world. But we cannot go on trying to love the world and love the day of Christ’s return (2 Timothy 4:8–10). In the same way, we cannot love darkness and love the light (John 3:16–21). Love for the light will die once the heart falls in love with the darkness. And this is how the world proves to be our love-killer.
Heart of Worldliness
When we talk about worldliness, primarily we are not talking about the substitutes of adultery and materialism and money. We are not simply warning against television shows too graphic and media too lewd and skirts too short. All of those things are secondary matters. Curing the true heart of worldliness is not in the forbidding or what is forbidden; mending the true heart of worldliness must always begin with finding a core love worth fighting for — a love so precious that we will guard it with the proper holy jealousy it deserves.
The problem of worldliness only emerges with any real clarity in our lives once we have discovered our “first love,” a fundamental love, a central love for our Savior Jesus Christ (Revelation 2:4).
If talk of worldliness falls into hard times and does not surface much in our thoughts and conversations, it is not a sign that the dangers have disappeared. It is a sign that we have grown careless with the exclusivity of delight in Christ at the center of the Christian life. And once the jealous love is gone, the danger of worldliness grows more deadly and more invisible at the same time.