To be IN but not OF the world is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.
Have you ever worried about the way the influence the world may be having on your family? Or you? Does thinking about this make you want to run away to an island somewhere or an isolated mountaintop? The news is bad all the time it seems. We have people all over the world fighting with each other, folks cutting off the heads of people, and Christians being compared to terrorists…geez, it is getting bad. But the answer isn’t running away. Jesus wouldn’t want us to do that.
In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus prays in John 17
But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:13-19 NASB (emphasis mine)
So how does that affect us today? Are we to be in the world but free from the evil one? And if so, how does THAT work.
When we look at the world around us with all the chaos that is happening, the easy thing to do is isolate ones self from it. You know, run away to an island or mountaintop. I’ve thought about it. But I always come back to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. I am to be IN the world, but not OF the world. That is a tough thing to do.
There is a mindset that looks at the world and the Christian and chooses to isolate. These professing believers are what I call Protestant monks – they think their isolation preserves them for God.
For this group of believers, isolating themselves from the influences of the world includes isolation from the world. They have effectively removed themselves from the world. This affects every facet of life and every stage of life. They may refer to the public school system as Babylon and those who have their children attend as misguided and selfish.
These folks also typically prefer to own a business and play around with the IRS. They may not like to pay taxes since taxes support Babylon and Christians shouldn’t do that. They genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing. They withdraw from every area of life, sit in their holy huddle, and summarily judge anyone who believes differently than themselves.
“We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should
be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission
in this world – to glorify God by preaching the
Gospel – in word and deed.”
The sad fact is that their isolation only rejects what God has for them and preserves their reputation as being holier-than-thou types who look down their collective nose at anyone not as holy as they are. This should never be.
Distinct from the World – In not Of
To be IN but not OF is an important concept we must understand and practice. It isn’t always easy to do but it isn’t complicated. It is just difficult to put into practice.
This approach is a bit trickier than the isolation approach. To be in but not of the world recognizes seemingly contradictory positions: we are distinct from the world yet we are in it. Think of it as being distinct from the world but not isolated from it. Christians should be different – perhaps even stand out – in a crowd. But the important thing here is that we should be in the crowd. Lets take a look at Jesus.
With whom did He dine? Sinners and tax collectors.
To whom did He grant forgiveness? Prostitutes, thrives and murderers.
With whom did He die? Convicted felons.
Clearly Jesus was in but not of the world. He definitely was a distinct individual. And it is this approach I think He was praying in John 17.
To be distinct but in the world means we don’t adopt the ways of the world. We should never be confused with a non-believer. But the reason we should be distinct is as important as being distinct.
Our distinctiveness should never be based solely on our words – though we should definitely speak boldly about Christ. No, our distinctiveness must also include our actions. The manner in which we live must reinforce what we say we believe.
We should not be in love with the world or its priorities. But we should be so in love with our Savior that we embrace our mission in this world – to glorify God by preaching the Gospel in word and deed. Are we doing that well? Are we doing that at all?
Current events (in America at least) seems to indicate that we have becomes a bit too cozy with the world. We no longer forcefully speak out about morality in our leaders. Its even worse than that – we openly embrace and defend someone who is about as immoral (perhaps amoral) as possible. But this person says the right things…he blows our dog whistle and we run to him, fawning over him.
He does so much that is right is the new mantra. So many Christians overlook behavior that is definitely not Christlike, behavior that would require a raining down of condemnations if the person was anyone but our guy. This is sad and disappointing. Perhaps these Christians should reexamine their relationship to the world.
To live in, but not of, the world is difficult – thats the point of Jesus’ prayer. Regardless of the difficulty, may we all reevaluate how we are doing in this area and improve where necessary.