When I was in the fifth grade, my mom sent me into Movie Gallery (remember those?) with her membership card to rent a movie. Avoiding her detection, I came out with a crime drama called Boyz n the Hood starring Ice Cube and set in South Central Los Angeles. The only L.A. this white boy knew at the time was Lower Alabama, but I was fascinated by the lives depicted on the screen—lives that seemed so foreign from my own. Here was a completely different world than mine—one full of violence, injustice, and conflicting loyalties. My life seemed so boring in comparison. The world of warring Crips and Bloods seemed so interesting—so exciting.
I now understand my immature delusion. People living amid gang violence and poverty would hardly call their lives exciting. Avenging the murder of your friend by gunning down a rival gang in the street shouldn’t be on anyone’s bucket list. But there in my fifth grade living room, for the first time in my memory, I encountered Hollywood’s power to glamorize and excite. That would certainly not be the last time. In fact, since that time, I’ve come to discover a culture-wide conspiracy seeking the glamorization of unrighteousness as a goal. Everywhere we look, in art, music, ads, movies, and shows, the agenda is the same: Make godliness seem strange and boring. Make unrighteousness seem normal and exciting.
The New Testament warns many times against “worldliness.” James writes, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God” (James 4:4)? Demas fell away from Christ because he “loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). John warns the church, “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 eyes and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father, but from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
In all these instances, these inspired writers are not warning about loving the world as created by God. After all, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to save it (John 3:16). They are warning instead against loving the world-in-rebellion to God. Greg Beale offers the best definition of “worldliness” that I’ve encountered: “Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange. When we imbibe the Zeitgist (the spirit of the age) of worldliness, then we feel strange trying to think Christianly and act according to the Bible’s mandates.”
We become “worldly” people when we embrace the message our culture is peddling—when we buy the lie that sin is exciting and rewarding and that the Bible’s vision is dull and out of touch. I realize at this point that some people may still need convincing. Our culture is so good at its job that many readers will not believe it’s a lie at all. Few question, for example, the mainstream orthodoxy of sexual “liberation” that promises personal fulfillment upon satisfaction of sexual urges. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t deep down believe that more money and more material possessions leads to more fulfillment and greater happiness. These are the unquestioned assumptions of life in modern America. More of everything—more sex, more money, more power.
Last week, I came across the following tweet from Gavin Ortlund, a pastor and author I respect a great deal: “In fiction, evil tends to be interesting, and good tends to be prosaic. But in reality, evil is boring and predictable; good is exciting and wonderfully diverse. Part of being salt and light in our culture is to help people feel this—to celebrate the beauty of virtue.” Ortlund’s observation reminded me of a similar point I read years ago from Russell Moore: “We need to stop acting as though the culture’s sexuality is too racy, too daring, too exciting. We need to tell them the truth—your sex is just too boring.”
There’s a reason the porn addict enslaves himself to an increasing tyranny of ever-expanding perversity. He’s looking for something in porn that porn will never deliver. All sin makes promises it can never deliver. Name the rich person who says “I have enough” or the drug addict who is satisfied with the last high. Let’s admit the truth: Unrighteousness is boring and predictable. It can’t deliver because those desires that we feel deep inside our souls point to something else. C. S. Lewis saw this: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
You know what’s exciting and interesting? People who reject selfish ambition and devote themselves to serving others. Husbands and wives who remain devoted exclusively to each other for decades and grow old together loyally in love with one another. Church members who are zealous to worship the Triune God and to grow in holiness. Righteousness is interesting. Sin is too boring.