It is helpful to see exactly from Scripture what the world consists of since our thinking often becomes muddled. I propose to show that self-righteous, supposedly “do-gooders” are worldly.
1Jn. 2.15-17 gives the qualities of worldliness:
Do not love the world or anything in it. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you.Here is what people who belong to this world do. They try to satisfy what their sinful natures want to do. They long for what their sinful eyes look at. They brag about what they have and what they do. All of this comes from the world. It doesn’t come from the Father.The world and its evil longings are passing away. But those who do what God wants them to do live forever. (NIRV)
Notice that all the “things” are internal: 1. sinful nature (flesh in some versions). 2. The “longing” of the eyes. 3. The “bragging about what they have and do” is pride, an internal state.
Too often the message from the pulpit is something like this: “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew; and don’t go around with those who do.” Sometimes it is also other lists or even “try harder.” These recommendations are powerless unless one recognizes that as Christians we become a new creation and that the same faith that saved us operates to sanctify (becoming progressively holy) us as well:
You received Christ Jesus as Lord. So keep on living in him. Have your roots in him. Build yourselves up in him. Grow strong in what you believe, just as you were taught. Be more thankful than ever before. Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ. (Col. 2.6-8 NIRV)
What does the “world” look like? Jn. 7.1-7 clearly defines those who are “the world”:
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He stayed away from Judea on purpose. He knew that the Jews there were waiting to kill him. The Jewish Feast of Booths was near. Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You should leave here and go to Judea. Then your disciples will see the kinds of things you do. No one who wants to be well known does things in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him. So Jesus told them, “The right time has not yet come for me. For you, any time is right. The people of the world can’t hate you. But they hate me. This is because I give witness that what they do is evil. (NIRV)
Here it shows that the Jewish religionists were murderers motivated to do so because Jesus had exposed their evil. Jesus labels them “the world.”
These were religious authorities of the one true faith: the Jews. However they missed the need for a rebirth (see Jn. 3.1-15 and especially v. 10 where Nicodemus was supposed to know this from the Torah). They needed heart circumcision not only flesh circumcision:
But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (Le. 26.40-42 ESV).
Also Ez. 44.7-9 alludes to everyone needing heart circumcision even though it speaks of foreigner here, it is clear that it was required of every worshipper to have a new heart:
In addition to all your other detestable practices, you brought foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh into my sanctuary, desecrating my temple while you offered me food, fat and blood, and you broke my covenant. Instead of carrying out your duty in regard to my holy things, you put others in charge of my sanctuary. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites. (NIV).