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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
In the Bible, as in ordinary speech, ‘the world’ may refer to the physical world of God’s creation or to the people who inhabit that world (Psalms 90:2; Psalms 98:7; Psalms 98:9; Matthew 25:34; John 3:16; Romans 10:18). Because of sin, the world has become a place where Satan rules in people’s lives (John 12:31; Romans 5:12; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 John 5:19). Therefore, the Bible frequently speaks of the present world, or present age, as something that is evil and that is opposed to God (John 7:7; John 17:25; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). The world in this sense is the subject of the present article – the world of sinful human beings along with all the wrong attitudes that characterize them.
Living in the world
Chief among the characteristics of the ordinary (unbelieving) people of the world are covetousness and pride. Their lives are governed according to what they want to get or want to do, without any regard for God (1 John 2:16). This is worldliness, and it is an evil that the Bible warns Christians against. The lives of Christians are to be governed by an attitude that trusts in God, not in personal possessions or ambitions. To be constantly worried about such things is the attitude of unbelievers, not of Christians (Matthew 6:31-32).
The temptation to worldliness may not lie in the more obviously sinful things of life. It may lie in those everyday things that are not sinful in themselves at all, such as food, work, possessions and concern for the future. These things can become wrong when people have wrong attitudes towards them (cf. Romans 1:25).
If Christians cannot see the relation that these things have to the life of faith in God, their attitude to them can readily become worldly. Ambition can very easily become selfish ambition, wisdom become worldly wisdom, and thoughts for the future become faithless anxiety (Matthew 6:33-34; 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:7-8; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Corinthians 3:19; James 3:13-17; James 4:13-17).
Worldly people are those whose values in life are determined by what they understand of the world they see around them. Godly people are those whose values are determined by what they understand of God (2 Corinthians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 John 2:17). This does not mean that the godly must rid themselves of all possessions, power and status. But it does mean that they will not pursue those things at all costs, and will even sacrifice them when they conflict with their commitment to Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:29; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:7-8).
Overcoming the world
Some Christians build a set of laws for themselves to live by, hoping that the laws will prevent them from doing what they believe to be worldly. But the very act of making laws to live by is worldly. Such people refuse to trust in the indwelling Spirit to direct their enjoyment of the freedom God has given them. Instead they trust in the methods of those who still ‘belong to the world’, who still live ‘in the flesh’ (Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:9-11; Galatians 5:1; Colossians 2:20-23; see ). The Christians’ liberty does not mean they are free to commit sin (Romans 6:1-2; Romans 6:12; Galatians 5:13; 1 John 3:4-6), but neither do human laws enable them to overcome sin (Colossians 2:23; see ).
Christians cannot overcome the temptations of the world by using the methods of the world. They can overcome them only by trusting in the power of Christ, who has conquered Satan, the prince of the world (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11; John 16:33; 1 John 5:4-5; see ). One day this same Christ will return, to free the world completely from Satan’s power (Revelation 19:16; Revelation 20:2-3; Revelation 20:10).
Meanwhile Christians have to live in an evil world, while not joining in the sins of the world. They may find that, as a result, the people of the world will hate them (John 15:18; John 17:14-17). But they must remain faithful to Christ and keep themselves from being corrupted by the world’s evil. Only in this way can they properly carry out their function of delivering people from the corruption of sin (Matthew 5:13-16; John 17:18; James 1:27).
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'World'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bbd/w/world.html. 2004.