How powerful are ideas? They are everywhere. People from every walk of life have ideas every day. Billboards, commercial advertisements, podcasts all broadcast ideas. You can travel from coast to coast in the U.S. Attending conferences about the power of ideas, dealing with a range of subjects from business to education to politics to the environment. History itself testifies to the power of ideas. They can be good, bad, or they can be very dangerous.
Romans 12:1-2 urges Christ-followers, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1–2). What does this have to do with the power of ideas? Verse two reminds us that the world, presents ideas to us, seeking to mold us into its image. The “world” refers to the present world system that is opposed to God and under the authority of Satan. John wrote, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The Lord wants us to resist and reject those unbiblical values and practices. Why? James says, “Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy” (Jas. 4:4). So, tolerating, absorbing, and implementing these worldly values and practices into our lives is displeasing to God.
How do we to determine what are worldly values and practices? What constitutes worldly? Scripture reveals to us what is truth and what is error. “The entirety of Your word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever” (Ps. 119:160). Therefore, we learn what is godly and what is worldly from the Bible. James wrote, “But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t brag and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where envy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every kind of evil. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace” (Jas. 3:14–18). James 3 contrasts what is worldly and what is godly. Let’s look at one more passage. Paul wrote, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Philippians 4 provides characteristics of things Christians should value, prioritize, and fill our lives with.
So, how do we use these passages in our lives to ensure we are faithful to God’s will, being godly rather than worldly? First, we must know that God’s Word says these things. Christians must read God’s Word. We don’t like mandatory things though, do we? Some would propose this is because they are non-conformists or even strong leaders. Truly it is because we are sinners and our sin nature fights against divine obligations. Even more, our sin nature craves the world’s wisdom and practices. So, as we read God’s Word we aware introduced to truth, righteousness, and goodness. Our hearts and minds, exposed to divine revelation, become aware of what is beneficial and are warned to turn from those things that are harmful. “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). This is not meant merely to be a slogan. It is truth for living!
How valuable is God’s Word? Jeremiah said, “Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I am called by Your name, Yahweh God of Hosts” (Jer. 15:16). The psalmist write, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (119:103). Again here, “The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the command of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are reliable and altogether righteous. They are more desirable than gold— than an abundance of pure gold; and sweeter than honey, which comes from the honeycomb. In addition, Your servant is warned by them; there is great reward in keeping them” (Ps. 19:8–11).
So, am I inferring that the Bible is the only reliable authority? Yes! The Bible is the source of knowing what is godly and what is worldly. But, what about Christian books and music? What about teaching and advice from Christians? They are valuable and good inasmuch as they agree with the Word of God. Can Christian books, music, teaching, and advice contradict the Scriptures? Yes, they can and often do. Every professing Christian is a sinner, including you and me, and has the capacity to say and do things which directly oppose God’s truth. So, how do we know what is true and godly? We must be people who read, think on, memorize, love, and apply God’s Word in our daily lives. We must compare all truth claims, advice, teaching, etc… to the truth of Scripture.
Read Christian books.12 Listen to Christian music. Listen to Christian teaching and advice. But, evaluate all things in light of the Bible. Accept and benefit from those things that uphold the Scriptures and agree with them. Reject those that don’t. You may be thinking, “Hmmm… this sounds really close minded to me. I like that book because it inspires me and makes me feel good. The song has a really catchy tune and makes me smile. The advice I was given is what I feel would be best for me and make me happy.” Does this mean we will read different books; listen to different music; choose a different path than the advice given because rejecting the advice keeps us on the road of obedience? Yes, it does, that is if we want to be godly rather than worldly. As Christians, we need our minds renewed, so that we may, “Discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2b). The Bible is the measure of what is good, pleasing, and perfect.
Life is short. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Ps. 144:4). What will define our lives, Christians? Will it be worldliness or godliness? It is a daily battle, for which we are insufficient. Yet, Christ is sufficient. John Owen wrote, “On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy” (The Glory of Christ). How do we see the glory of Christ, during this time while we are still in the flesh and He is at the right hand of the Father in heaven? We see Christ’s glory in His Word, as it reveals Him (2 Cor. 4:4, 6; cf. Heb. 1:3).
Let us immerse ourselves in the Bible, so that it will change how we think, speak, and live. By our familiarity with it, we will become keenly aware of counterfeits. By our knowledge of it, we will know the truth and wisdom of God.
In part two we will look at the subtle effects of worldly ideas on followers of Christ.
1Especially the good ones! It is obvious that each of us will be drawn to different authors and types of Christian literature. But, the good ones are the ones that extol the glory of the God of the Bible and are in full agreement with the plain interpretation of His Word. This also holds true for music, teaching, and advice.
2John Piper said the following about Christian literature, “I don’t think we ought to be reading new books all the time. I think we should read old books. And then the question is whether time and history has proven them. There are some books that have been around forever, and they are, generation after generation, witnessed to as being very shaping to people’s lives. So I think we should constantly be exposing ourselves to those classics and not always reading the latest thing… So I recommend reading 1) things that relate to the passions of your life, 2) recommendations from people that are responsible and that you respect, and 3) time-proven, classic, deep works on various issues.”