David K. Bernard
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I John 2:15).
Abstain from all appearance of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22).
Guidelines. In the twenty-first century, we encounter many circumstances that first-century believers did not face. While no biblical statement specifically addresses these situations, we should identify basic principles of Scripture and learn to apply them to our day. As a body of believers and as individual Christians, we must learn to follow the leading of the Spirit in these cases.
As explained in chapter 8, we have Christian liberty in areas that the Word of God does not specifically cover, but we are to exercise that liberty in a responsible manner.(See Romans 14:1-23; I Corinthians 8:1-13; 10:23-33.)
First, we must follow the convictions God has given us. (See chapter 1 for the need of personal convictions.) At the same time, we should not do anything to cause someone else to misunderstand, stumble, or fall. We should not judge one another or belittle the convictions of others. From the discussion of eating food offered to idols, we discover that some things may be harmless in themselves but are nevertheless unwise because of their effect on someone else. Appearances and associations are important in this regard.
Some things are clearly right, other things are clearly wrong, and some things are questionable. In questionable cases, one guideline to consider is, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). This leads us to conclude that if something is doubtful, we should not participate in it.
We can also ask, “What would Jesus do in this case?” “What would we do if Jesus were physically accompanying us or visiting us?” Our objective is not to see how close we can get to the world and still be saved, or how many worldly things we can do and still not be considered a backslider. Rather, we want to do God’s will at all times and to be identified with God in the eyes of others. Where there is temptation and a possibility of sin, “it is better to be safe than sorry.” Moreover, as we draw closer to God in prayer and dedication, we will not want to do anything to grieve Him or to identify us with the world instead of with Him.
The Bible tells us, “Love not the world” (I John 2:15). Here, “world” means the world system, the value system of unregenerated humans; the attitudes, desires, loves, cares, and priorities of sinful flesh. Let us examine this concept in terms of worldly amusement, worldly atmosphere, and worldly appearance.
Amusement. There is nothing wrong with pleasure and enjoyment as such. We do not advocate the idea that something is wrong or suspect because it gives pleasure. God created our minds and bodies with the capacity to have pleasure, both alone and with each other. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10), which connotes an exuberant, zestful, enjoyable life.
On the other hand, humanity has often placed too much emphasis on pleasure to the exclusion of God. Anything that prevents us from doing God’s will is wrong. Anything that interferes with regular church attendance, prayer, and Bible reading is not the will of God.
Some pleasures are sinful. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25).
The Bible warns us that in the last days people will be so caught up in pleasure that they will ignore and neglect God. As in Noah’s day, people will be preoccupied with eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage, and therefore will not be prepared when the Lord comes (Matthew 24:37-39). These activities are good in themselves but not when done to the exclusion of God and not when perverted by the world. A key sign of the end times is that “men shall be lovers of their own selves” and “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:2, 4).
From these passages, we see that some pleasures are acceptable but can become wrong when taken to excess. We also see that some worldly pleasures are off limits to Christians.
Atmosphere. Sometimes the world corrupts wholesome and enjoyable activities by a worldly atmosphere. A spirit of lust, pleasure madness, or mob violence has permeated them to such a degree that Spirit-filled Christians are uncomfortable participating in them. Some parties, shows, concerts, spectator sports, and places of amusement are characterized by lewdness, drinking, drug use, violence, obscenity, or gambling. For instance, while there is nothing wrong with eating at a restaurant, Christians avoid some restaurants because they advertise immodestly dressed waitresses as a major part of their appeal.
Attending one such event may not result in the immediate commission of sin, but the atmosphere is not conducive to Christian living. When Christians let their conscience guide them, they feel out of place. If they continue to participate, eventually they will lose spiritual sensitivity. They will not be able to discern the holy from the unholy or right from wrong in these areas.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid a worldly atmosphere. What was once isolated to certain places of amusement has now permeated our entire society. Simply going to a public park, shopping mall, high school, or college campus may expose us to a degree of lewdness, immodesty, and profanity that we previously did not encounter. In cultures, times, and locales where we can identify a certain type of place or activity that harbors a worldly atmosphere distinctly worse than the community experience at large, then we should abstain from such a place or activity. But when the atmosphere is essentially the same as the typical places we need to frequent into order to live in this world, then a simple prohibition does not have the same effect or value.
In this situation, we must take greater care to follow principles of holiness, to make wise decisions based on individual circumstances, and to trust the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds. (See Romans 5:20.) God’s grace is sufficient for every circumstance. (See II Corinthians 12:9.) When we do our best to follow godly principles and make godly choices in areas under our control, then we can trust God to protect and preserve us from the evil influence of the world around us.
In sum, God does not expect Christians to remove themselves completely from the world. His plan is to preserve us in holiness while we are still in the world and to send us into the world as witnesses for Him. Thus Jesus said, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (John 17:15-18).
Appearance. In some situations, neither the amusement itself nor the atmosphere is excessively worldly, but participation may still appear worldly in the eyes of others. In these situations, we should take care not to damage our testimony or to cause a stumbling block for others. For example, if we appear to be gambling or drinking an alcoholic beverage, even when we are not, we may project a worldly appearance that is harmful to others. Similarly, if our boss at work asks us to buy cigarettes for her, will onlookers think we participate in or condone smoking?
No list of rules would be sufficient to cover all such situations. Rather, each person must be sensitive to the voice of conscience in this area, being motivated by genuine love for God and for others.
Gambling. Scripture does not speak directly on the subject, but gambling is a combination of worldly amusement, atmosphere, and appearance. It is closely allied with cheating, violence, organized crime, financial ruin, and suffering by innocent families. It can be addictive, as demonstrated by the existence of Gamblers Anonymous.
In essence, gambling is an appeal to greed an attempt to get something for nothing. It callously disregards that the winner’s gain comes from everyone else’s loss-often severe loss by individuals and families who cannot afford it.
The Bible teaches us not to come under the power of addictive habits. (See Romans 6:16; I Corinthians 6:12). it teaches to work for what we need, to trust God to supply our needs, to be good stewards of our finances, not to incur debts that we cannot or will not repay, above all to provide for our own families, to treat others as we wish to be treated, and to show compassion for the needy. (See Proverbs 3:9-10; 6:6-8; Matthew 5:42; 6:33; 7:12; Romans 13:8; II Thessalonians 3:10-12; I Timothy 5:8.) It warns us against greed, which it equates with idolatry (Luke 12:15; Colossians 3:5). It warns us that the love of money is the root, of all types of evil and admonishes us to be content with our possessions (I Timothy 6:6-10). If we have a desire to improve our lives, we should be willing to work for that goal.
To avoid violation of these scriptural teachings, we avoid gambling. To be consistent and to abstain from all appearance of evil, we avoid all forms of gambling, including betting and lotteries.
Dancing. The primary motivation behind most forms of social dancing in modern Western culture is sexuality, conscious or unconscious. Such dancing frequently arouses lusts between people who are not married to each other, often leading to temptation and sin. For instance, the close physical contact of ballroom dancing can sexually arouse the dancers. In contemporary forms of dancing, the bodily movements can cause sexual excitement. Moreover, modern dancing is often an expression of egotism and exhibitionism, and as such it is not in harmony with the Spirit of God.
Sports. In general, sports can be wholesome activities that promote physical health, fellowship, enjoyment, and character development. When played in a casual, friendly atmosphere, sports such as football, basketball, softball, and soccer are fine. When sports become highly organized in a secular environment, however, several problems can result. We typically see these problems in secular American high schools, colleges, and professional leagues.
* Competitive sports often demand excessive time and dedication that take precedence over the players’ relationship with God as well as their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Playing sports at this level can interfere with church attendance, prayer, and fellowship with God’s people. Often it, means close fellowship with sinners whose lifestyle and pursuit of pleasure are contrary to Christian principles. One high school student wanted to play football but asked what accommodations could be made when practices conflicted with important church functions. The coach responded, “If you are going to be on this team, then football must be more important than church.” Another example of the intense commitment to the detriment of the players is the frequent use of steroids and other substances that are harmful to the body.
* Participants may have to wear immodest or unisex clothing that is contrary to biblical teaching. (See chapter 6.) Suggestive clothing may be part of the appeal, as in the case of cheerleaders and some women’s sports such as beach volleyball.
* Sometimes sports are conducted in a worldly atmosphere that is detrimental to both spectator and player. In the larger games, there can be a spirit of mob violence in which people fight, throw objects, curse, bet, and get drunk. The rivalry can become so intense that it cultivates hatred, evil speech, and malice. Coaches, players, and fans become noted for poor sportsmanship, arrogance, vicious speech, and uncontrolled tempers.
* All too often, the result is to glorify violence. In some games, the goal is to injure opponents, and some sports derive much of their popularity from the high degree of violence or the high risk of bodily harm. Boxing exalts violence, as does professional wrestling. Fighting is part of the appeal of hockey, crashes are part of the thrill of racing, and bone-crushing tackles are an important factor in football. Consequently, some sports cause a large number of injuries and even permanent damage all in order to satisfy pleasure, much as in the days of the Roman gladiators. On an international level, soccer games are notorious for resulting in riots.
* Modern organized sports tend to glorify the athletes, to their own detriment as well as the detriment of society. Some of them flaunt greedy, ostentatious, and immoral lifestyles and become negative role models for youth.
* For many people, sports become an obsession, an addiction, an idol-even the equivalent of a religion. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who inspired recreation of the Olympic Games in 1896, stated, “For me, sport is a religion with church, dogma, ritual.”‘ This obsession is manifested in many ways. Fans will sacrifice prayer time, church attendance, and family relationships in order to watch sports programs. Many youth and men may not be able to name the books of the Bible or explain the fundamentals of the faith with Scripture references, but they can recite players, teams, scores, and statistics. In children’s leagues, some parents and coaches place great pressure on young children to practice and compete intensely. In too many cases, the result is to take most of the fun out of the sport and to cause physical and emotional damage to developing children.
The attitudes we have described are contrary to Christian values, and Christians feel uncomfortable in such an atmosphere. Experience has shown that, for the reasons we have discussed, a large number of Christians who participate seriously in secular, organized, competitive sports, especially at the higher levels, eventually compromise or abandon their beliefs.
In sum, sports can be wholesome, but they can also be polluted by a sinful world. If sports can be conducted in a wholesome atmosphere, then there is nothing wrong in doing so. By this we mean minimizing the problems stated above, so that crowds and tempers are under control, opponents maintain friendly relations, and everyone displays good sportsmanship. Let us avoid becoming too preoccupied with sports, so that we are not caught up in a worldly spirit.
In all pursuit of sports, games, and other amusements, we desire a Christian atmosphere or at least a family atmosphere in which sin is not blatant. We do not want to create a stumbling block for ourselves or others, and we do not want to bring a reproach upon our church or our Lord. Therefore, we avoid activities that have a sinful atmosphere or an appearance of evil. We should follow both the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our conscience and the advice of Spirit-filled, God-called pastors.
Witchcraft refers to attempts to forecast, influence, or control events or forces by supernatural means. It includes the use of charms, spells, rituals, and invocation of spirits. Of course, we pray to the one true God to ask for His influence and intervention in our lives according to His will, but we should not invoke any other spirits or seek to exercise our own will by supernatural means.
The Bible strongly condemns all forms of witchcraft. The law sentenced witches to death (Exodus 22:18).
Deuteronomy 18:9-12 lists nine forbidden activities that are abominations to God. While there is some overlap in meaning, this list covers all witchcraft or sorcery. It tells us that God hates (detests) the activities of the following people:
* Anyone who practices human sacrifice.
* Anyone who practices “divination” (mystical insight or fortunetelling).
* “Observer of times”: someone who is superstitious, observing lucky and unlucky days, signs, and practices. The NIV uses “sorcery,” referring to someone who seeks supernatural power by the assistance of spirits.
* “Enchanter.” The NKJV and NIV translate the Hebrew term as someone who “interprets omens” (prophetic signs). “Witch”: someone who seeks to exercise supernatural powers by magic or assistance of spirits.
* “Charmer”: someone who attempts to cast spells.
* “Consulter with familiar spirits”: medium, some-one who attempts to contact evil spirits (demons).
* “Wizard”: sorcerer. The NKJV and NIV translate the Hebrew word as “spiritist,” referring to someone who attempts to contact spirits.
* “Necromancer”: someone who attempts to consult the dead.
All abominable, sorcerers, and idolaters will have their part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8). Witchcraft is one of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).
Paul discerned that a certain girl who was a soothsayer was possessed by “a spirit of divination.” He took authority over the spirit and cast it out in the name of Jesus (Acts 16:16-18). He also organized a public burning in Ephesus in which occult books worth 50,000 pieces of silver were destroyed (Acts 19:18-20).
In modern times, many people have assumed that the practice of witchcraft would diminish, but the opposite is true. There has been a resurgence of all forms of witchcraft in America and around the world, and it is sometimes mixed with Christianity. We are experiencing an increase of interest in satanism, paganism, mysticism, fortunetelling, occult books, horoscopes, and astrological signs. These things are nothing less than a revival of witchcraft inspired by satanic forces.
The practice of astrology falls under the condemnation of witchcraft. Astrologers, stargazers, and monthly prognosticators cannot help us; they cannot even deliver themselves from ultimately burning with fire (Isaiah 47:12-15). We are not to be dismayed at the signs of heaven as the heathen are (Jeremiah 10:2). Thus, we should not use horoscopes and zodiac signs to seek advice or predict the future. Astrologers, magicians, and soothsayers failed to reveal God’s will to Nebuchadnezzar and to Belshazzar. It took a man of God to give them the true message of God (Daniel 2:27; 5:15).
Since God hates all these practices, and since they are associated with evil spirits, Christians must not participate in anything associated with witchcraft. It is against the will of God to believe in astrology, to consult a horoscope, or to visit a fortuneteller or palm reader. Christians should not use tarot cards, Ouija boards, zodiac signs or the like, even in fun. They open up the mind to the devil and allow him to operate more freely.
For the same reason, Christians should not participate in a seance, even in jest. If seance is “successful,” it involves contact with an evil spirit.
Those who participate in an Oriental martial art should be careful, since these sports are often associated with mysticism, Eastern philosophy, and spirit, worship. They must make sure not to participate in anything associated with paganism or witchcraft.
Yoga and transcendental meditation can be dangerous spiritually. They are based on Hinduism and Buddhism and can open the mind to the world of evil spirits. Many of the words used in such disciplines are actually prayers to pagan gods, and demons receive this worship.
Christians should be cautious about opening the mind to the spirit world. Evil spirits are waiting to influence us and take advantage of us. Many people open themselves to this influence through mind-altering experiences such as using drugs, listening to certain types of worldly music, and meditating in mystical ways. When we pray or speak in tongues, we should always do so by the name and blood of Jesus, focus our minds on God, and maintain some awareness and self-control. The Spirit of God may overwhelm us at times, but He will never violate our human will. The spirit of prophecy is and should be under the control of the prophet (I Corinthians 14:32). Moreover, when we pray in Jesus’ name, having faith in His blood, we have assurance the devil cannot intervene in response to that prayer.
Superstition is a related evil that has no place in the mind of a Christian. There are no lucky or unlucky days, numbers, or rituals. A Christian has no reason to regard omens or wear lucky charms. God is in control of our lives, He protects His own, and He works all things together for our good. (See Ephesians 1:11; Psalm 91:9-12; Romans 8:28.) Satan could not touch Job’s possessions or his health until God lifted the hedge around Job. Even then, Satan did not have the power to take Job’s life (Job 1:9-12). Curses, charms, unlucky portents, or deaths of people in certain places have no power over God, His church, or His children.
Satan’s power. Satan is not omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent, but he does have power. Some witches, magicians, and fortunetellers can perform wonders by his power. The magicians of Egypt did miracles, but Moses was able to overpower them. There came a point where they were rendered powerless in the face of God’s power (Exodus 7:10-12, 22; 8:7, 18-19). Jesus predicted that false prophets would come with great signs and wonders (Matthew 24:24). The “man of sin,” or Antichrist, will display power, signs, and lying wonders after the working of Satan (II Thessalonians 2:9). The false prophet of the beast (Antichrist) will call fire from heaven and will cause an image of the beast to speak (Revelation 13:11-15). Demonic spirits will work miracles (Revelation 16:13-14).
These things should not surprise us. Under the law, the test of false prophets was not whether they could perform miracles but whether they worshiped the one true God. If they had a dream, sign, or wonder but turned the people away from God, then they were to be executed (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
In short, it may be possible for some people to do supernatural works by the power of the devil. God’s power is greater, however, and Satan can have no power over a Spirit-filled child of God who is living according to His will (John 10:29; James 4:7; I John 4:4). Demons cannot be cast out by holy water, signs, crosses, incantations, or rituals, but only by the name of Jesus called in faith (Mark 16:17; Acts 19:13-17).
Many fortunetellers, magicians, mediums, and the like are mere tricksters and imposters, with no supernatural power. They can still fit into the devil’s scheme by hoodwinking the credulous, diverting worship from God, and opening people’s minds to the occult and demonic.
The word magic can refer to witchcraft and sorcery, but it can also refer to innocent tricks based on sleight of hand, optical illusions, mathematical facts, or secret communication between participants. We oppose the former but not the latter. There is nothing wrong with parlor games and stage tricks unless the performers seek a connection with satanic power or seriously present themselves as miracle workers.
Let us avoid all forms of witchcraft, sorcery, and superstition. Since “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (I Samuel 15:23), let us also make sure we do not harbor a rebellious spirit.
Summary. The point of this chapter is not to develop a list of do’s and don’ts but to scrutinize every area of our lives. We should guard against worldliness in whatever guise it may appear. We are well equipped to overcome this spirit and to avoid all appearance of evil. The Bible, the indwelling Holy Spirit, godly pastors and teachers, and a tender conscience will work together to guide us in the paths of righteousness if we will yield our lives to their influence, teaching, and leadership.
The above article “Worldly Pleasures” is written by David K. Bernard. This article was excerpted from chapter fifteen in Bernard’s book In Search Of Holiness.
The material is copyrighted and should not be repainted under any other name or author. However, this material may freely be used for personal study or purposes.