There seems to be a common misconception (I’m being kind) in the church, which insists that the church is over against the world; and by “world,” so the misconception goes, church-folk mean “sin, evil, lusts, ungodliness,” and the like. Implied also, here, is the condemnation of the people living “worldly;” that is, the people living according to this definition of “world.” If this notion is true, then how and why does the church suffer the same “sins, lusts, ungodliness,” and the like in its own people? According to the definition offered, the church is just as “worldly” as the “world” and, therefore, incurs its own punishment.
In Romans Paul declares that we should “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God” (12:1); that we should not “be conformed to the patterns of this world” but that we should “be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds” (12:2). The context of this passage (and the entire Letter to the Romans, in fact) speaks to the killing of the religious nature that is found in our flesh. Paul explains that the only acceptable means of pleasing God is by imitating the Form of the Crucifixion of Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20). Thereby, we do not conform to the religious nature of this world, but we are transformed by the Faith of Christ.
By “worldly,” then, we should understand that aside from the Faith of Christ there is only religion, and that it is religion that is “worldly.” This religion is as a result of the fallen nature of humanity. God made human beings to relate to Him through faith. But with the fall of humanity came the sin nature, and with the sin nature came the perversion of faith – religion (Romans 1). Faith was to be a spiritual, mystical thing that empowered us to walk again with God, but that faith has been counterfeited; it has become, in the unregenerate person, a religion of the flesh, enabled by the flesh, to serve the insecurities of the flesh. Religion is worldly and, therefore, not of Faith. Anything that is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:3).
So, the one who does not have the Faith of Christ is “worldly” in the sense that he or she is religious in their own right, by their very nature. Likewise, many so-called “Christians” are “worldly,” not because they don’t live by some ridiculous church culture, but because they, too, are simply religious having denied the Faith that rescued them (Galatians 3:3; 5:4).
Thus, the misconception is not in the fact that the “world” is filled with “sin, evil, lust, ungodliness,” and the like; but that such church-folk think that because they are in the church they are not “worldly.” The fact is that they who attempt to please God with the religion of their flesh (Gal. 5:24) are suffering under a common delusion, whether in the church or without. “Worldly” is not being without the church, but being without the Faith (Gal. 2:8-10).