“Be in the world, but not of it.” It’s a phrase that Christians hear often. Not surprising, considering the words of Jesus in John 17:14-19:
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
We’re not of the world, yet we’re sent into it. But what does that really mean? How do we live and participate in our secular world without becoming too comfortably a part of it?
Let me back up and go through this in an organized way. Many Christians react to the increasing secularity and corruption of our society by retreating to their Christian bubbles. Only hanging out with fellow churchgoers, only reading Christian works, only watching Christian films. It’s an understandable reaction. When confronted with the increasing sinfulness of our culture, it’s tempting to retreat into a safe space surrounded by people who think and believe like we do. But that’s not what the Bible calls us to do.
Acts 13:47 — For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Mark 16:15 — He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”
Matthew 28:19-20 — Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Matthew 10:16 — “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
You get the point. We are called to live among and love the unsaved, to influence our culture however we can. Having Christian friends, reading Christian books, and watching Christian movies is all fine and good, but we can’t hide inside that comfy little shell. We have to get dirty and stick our hands in the muck of the world. It can be uncomfortable sometimes; we may even be hated for it. But we always have Jesus, who did that exact thing long before us. And we have the Holy Spirit to assist us now, showing us how to live and love well even when we face uncertainty or opposition.
But we have to walk a fine line between being involved in our culture and being of it. We can’t let our culture corrupt us. We are cautioned to remain “innocent as doves.” There are many Christians who have fallen into being of the world. How can we be representatives of Christ when our lives and actions are indistinguishable from the unsaved? In an effort to be “relevant,” many have compromised holiness and adherence to the clear mandates of Scripture. What does it look like to honor God in our choices (and with our voices)?
Different Christians will be called to be in the world in different ways. You won’t necessarily be called to become an A-list actor and witness to Brad Pitt or Emma Stone while virtuously refusing roles that require nudity or swearing. You might be called to spend time with your unsaved coworkers but turn down their invitations to the strip club after work. You might be called to go into a science field where belief in God is largely looked down upon. This doesn’t mean you go out and start preaching at everyone, but neither should you hide your faith. Spend time with non-Christians, bond with them, love them well and live among them, but don’t be afraid to be different from them.
How have you personally been called to touch the world?