What Is the “World System”? And Why Should Christians Be Wary of It?


Earth from Apollo 17I’ve been reading the New Testament out loud with my son this summer. We are working  through each book in as large a chunk as we can so that we retain the original intentions of the writers.

One of the things I’ve noticed more deeply as we’ve moved rapidly from epistle to epistle is that most every writer warns believers about the world system. We all know that warning exists, but a quick move from one book to another really drives home that these writers were deeply concerned about that world system and how it negatively impacts the Christian life.

Here is a classic example of such a warning, but in a slightly different translation (J.B. Phillips’s New Testament in Modern English, the one we are reading) than some are used to:

Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die.
— 1 John 2:15-17 (NTME)

We tend to make the world system in that verse into little more than some bad things that we shouldn’t do, usually associated with the “flesh” and any sin that directly proceeds from our physical bodies. Today, abortion, sex outside marriage, and homosexuality would immediately be lumped into that world system as things we Christians should avoid—and rightfully so.

But that’s too simplistic an understanding of the world system. The NT writers ask for us to be wary of much deeper issues.

My question for readers:

What parts of our daily existence do we NOT question

as to their place in the present world system?

Is it possible that Christians make peace with parts of that world system because those parts make us comfortable? How much of daily living in the United States circa 2013 embraces the world system without our acknowledgment—or our ire?

Given how often the NT writers address this issue (a brief overview of which can be found through Xenos Christian Fellowship), are we paying less attention to it than we should? And if so, what do we do about correcting that lack?

Your thoughts and insights are greatly appreciated.

11 thoughts on “What Is the “World System”? And Why Should Christians Be Wary of It?

  1. akaGaGa

    There are two accepted systems that I believe are very damaging to Christians. The first is government-run schools.

    Multiple problems arise in school systems that would be moot if the government didn’t run them. Prayer, sex education, creation, etc., would not be issues if Christians took responsibility for the education of their children, rather than foist them off on the state babysitter. Christian schools or homeschooling are two viable options that support, rather than ignore, the many verses exhorting us to teach our children. (Deu 6:7, 11:19, 31:13; Prov 22:6 Psa 78:5-6) Yes, rejecting that “free” babysitter will cost. We might not be able to have the newest cell phone or car, or the nicest mcmansion in the best neighborhood, but somehow those things seem less important when you realize the cost of them is our children.

    The second, and equally popular, system is “the church.” By that, I refer to denominations and buildings and hierarchies and doctrines that negate the need for Christians to follow Jesus through the Holy Spirit. If we stopped following our pastor and ceased going to a designated building once or twice a week to fulfill our spiritual requirements, we might be forced to listen for the Lord’s advice and make some spiritual decisions on our own. Whether we get it right each time or not, it would surely help us grow up.

    In 2008, I had been mulling over the issues facing our nation, praying and seeking the Lord for many months. The response I got was awakening early one morning in July with the words, “They wanted a king.” Whether our personal king is the president or the pastor, since that time I have come to believe that 1 Samuel, Chapter 8, defines the problems we face. Putting God back on the throne is the only solution.

  2. boethius

    Music. Television. Movies. Books. Yoga and general person-centered/human-centered New Age stuff, and of course deep spiritual strongholds like porn and/or money and/or “stuff” addictions. The list could go on and on. We’re to capture every thought in obedience to Christ yet I’m consistently surprised at what we as Christians allow to enter our minds, where we allow our thoughts to go, what we convince ourselves is acceptable. The kind of media and content Christian parents let themselves and their children watch, read and listen to — and I’m not holier than thou on this as I’ve done my share of reflection and reset on what material past and present I allow my children and for that matter myself consume. Why would you want to watch a horror movie, for example? Entire Christian books have been written defending our supposed right to read the Harry Potter books yet as fantastic as the series may be there is a huge amount of darkness in Rowling’s books and I’ve watched Rowling herself happily and openly proclaim herself to be an Atheist. I am not sure I care how brilliant and amazing her writing is I just don’t believe I want to allow her to influence my children. Is there plenty of excellent, fine literature that I would like my children to read some day that is not necessarily written by a Christian author – of course – but I also want them to be fully grounded so they can recognize darkness and veer away from it. I see so many Christians often simply lack discernment about the darkness that they allow into their lives and the lives of their children, be it through television, movies, books, the Internet, whatever.

    I think we primarily need to question it when evil and darkness becomes mundane. What we allow our eyes to see, our minds to consume, our thoughts to dwell on. And in a way that’s a small part of it. If we’re living as sacrifices unto the Lord, immersed in His word, immersed in a meaningful prayer life these shifts in our thinking, our behavior, our tendencies and our willingness to compromise and perhaps yield to temptation become far more difficult. We’re supposed to hide the Word, that two-edged sword, in our hearts aren’t we? It seems like we often fail to do that and that’s where the programming and intentions of the enemy so routinely comes in.

    • boethius,

      Much of what you mention wasn’t even available to the world of AD 70. Does that make a difference?

      What if there are other issues at stake? Is it possible that the way we work today is a manifestation of the world system? If so, how do we counter that?

      What would the world system look like if it was covered with a thin veneer of Christianity? Do we see anything like that today?

      I keep wondering if the NT authors are asking us to go even deeper into culture, society, mindsets, traditions, and so on to find evidence of world systems. I wonder if media is too easy a target.


  3. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    We are worldly if our thinking, our goals, our desires are dictated by the lusts of ungodly people around us. Unfortunately, these people can be ‘christians’ and attend church regularly.

    When our lusts for the things of the world, (what is important to the worldly mind), Gaining preeminence, wealth, position, the newest toys and status simbols, etc. have overcome us. These are what we strive for, what we live for and so on.

    We overcome the world through the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Through our wittness and our testimony. The fruit of this being the good and godly decisions we make in our live based on Scripture. Be content? We are then content. Be honest with others? We are then honest with others. And so on.

    The spirit of the world with say ‘you really don’t need to be that honest’. If we accept this into our lives, we will certainly continue down that road until eventually we cross a line, perhaps never to return to the ways of God.

    • Linda,

      If I am forced to participate in the world system, at what point am I free of it? Is it possible the lifestyle I have right now of a simple, traditional American citizen is 100% driven by the world system and not by Jesus? What does a life in America 2013 look like that is utterly free of the world system?

      Fact is, I’m not sure I have any context for understanding what such a life would look like. Do you?

      • Linda

        Hi Dan,
        We are in the world the Bible says, yet we are not of the world. This means that we function in this world as we must, but we do not do what the world does. For example, I’m thinking of corporate white collar crime. We would not participate in this crime while working. We would be the honest employee, executive, etc. What does that mean? There is likely a price to pay for being honest in our current world. Being honest makes other people look bad. You may be called a ‘goody two shoes’, or a ‘holier than thou’ Bible thumper. You may find yourself being persecuted at work, either subtly or openly. Your co-workers may try to have you fired because you are not a ‘team player’. Etc.

        The world system is a system we believers choose or not some of the ways of the world, but follow the teachings of the Bible, there will likely be consequences. We might be accused of being a fundamental religious radical.

        The world system is around us all the time. We simply choose as believers to run our lives by God’s word instead of the behaviours and thinking that are popular in our culture.
        We don’t have to broadcast our beliefs in the workplace but eventually your co-workers will find out. They will not be happy about your religious convictions and stance.

        So, I guess this life would look like a believer who refuses to participate in some activities, some questionable behavior at work, etc. What if your boss asks you to do something and you know that it’s somewhat illegal? Do you do it? If not, will your boss be angry? Will he look for someone who will do what he asks? Does this mean you will pay a price for being honest? Probably, but not always.

        The world wants believers to do what they do, and they think it is strange the Bible says when you do not.

  4. Diane R

    Excellent post Dan. It’s a coincidence that I read a post today by Christian apologist Berit Kjos about how the liberal globalists are trying to get us all to agree to their ideas through the Hegelian dialectic (lightly forcing a consensus). I left a church that actually was doing this so I know that other evangelistic churches are probably doing it too. This consists of small groups where you give your opinion on some church matter, except your opinion better not be too, too far from the opinion already mapped put by the leaders. They used this method extensively in communist countries. And our press is doing it by brainswashing us into accepting political correctness instead of simply reporting the news like they did when we grew up. Christians, on the other hand, need to follow God’s ideas, not the world’s. And that is the point where Christians will be persecuted.

  5. Heartspeak

    The educational system, the political system, the financial system are all part of the systems of the this world. It’s ‘hard’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘weird?’ to not be a part of these systems. Home school our kids? Hmmmm? Do we take out loans? for a car? for our Home? Are these things wrong for believers? Probably not, but we certainly must be careful about how we use, participate and depend on these systems.

  6. JAM

    The worldly person is self-directed or autonomous, which comes from two Greek words (autos = self + nomos = law) meaning to be self-governed; seeking to live independently from God, establishing personal rules and laws.

    Satan’s wordly system is a buffet that offers something for everyone who rejects God, whether he is moral or immoral, religious or irreligious, educated or simple, rich or poor. Satan is careful to make sure there’s even something for the Christian in his world-system.

    Martin Luther wrote, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But the things I have placed in God’s hands I still possess.”

    Our Lord divided the issues of what you can do with your life into two things, and only two things.
    MATT 12:30 “Whoever isn’t with me is against me, and whoever doesn’t gather with me scatters.”

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