Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Other Worldliness

  Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Every day we are reminded that there is a realm of evil, of disobedience, and of rebellion that is all around us.  Satan’s agenda is to place this worldly spirit within us!  Scripture is replete with descriptions and warnings of this anti-God sphere for it has deceived and destroyed the masses.  W. E. Vine says that “world” (kosmos) refers to “the ‘present condition of human affairs,’ in alienation from and opposition to God.”[i] 

Paul describes this sordid realm in graphic terms, by saying that the pagans “walk” (or live) “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).  He then says, “But you did not learn Christ in this way” (v. 20).  Christ’s way and the world’s way are utterly opposed to each other.

The apostle refers to the Ephesians’ former life in this vivid way: “You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is not working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-3). 

In another place, Paul describes the attitudes and lifestyle that is the outcome of this spirit that opposes God: “We also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3).  We need not dwell any longer on the wicked realm that characterizes those who are in sin and away from our Holy God.

When one comes to Christ, God rescues him from this world of darkness and places him into an entirely different realm of purity, holiness, godliness, and light.  Paul wrote that Christ Jesus “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:4).  God as “rescued us form the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved son” (Colossians 1:13). 

Peter likewise describes this great “rescue” from Satan and the powers of darkness, by saying that “you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4).  We have “escaped the defilements of the world” and must not walk in them ever again (2:20).

This characteristic of “otherworldliness” is sometimes ridiculed by unbelievers and even by some deluded professing Christians.  They warn us that we must beware that we are not so “heavenly minded that we are no earthly good”!  They contend that we must be part of the world so we can understand the world’s ways and identify with their sins.  Some go so far as to use the same dirty “street language” and dress in the same worldly, carnal way as the people of the world.  No, God pleads with us “to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27, NASB, ESV). 

James warns us, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (4:4).  We do need to have contact with the people of the world in order to reach them with the transforming gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:9-11), but we must not be contaminated by their ungodly, worldly ways.

Paul admonishes us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  Conformity to the world is the enemy of the spiritual life and identifies us with the enemy’s sphere.  In one of the most detailed passages that warn against worldly influence, John the apostle says:

 Do not love the world nor 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 lust of the flesh and the lust of the flesh and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

When we candidly look at ourselves, do we find traces of the world in our own life?  We must take John’s warnings seriously.  We cannot love God and the world at the same time!  Let us be otherworldly in our mind, our heart, and out spirit.


[i] Expository Dictionary.



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