“Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world.” Have you ever heard this saying? I’m sure it started as an attempt to summarize a biblical truth, but over time, it became kind of a Christian slogan. The problem with Christian slogans is that they are often repeated, but seldom understood.
This particular slogan is not necessarily misunderstood, but it is misstated. The statement “Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world” is worded in a way that seems to convey a standard or goal that Christians should strive to attain. But this does not represent a biblical view of Christians. Now, if we remove the words “to be,” then we have a statement that represents a biblical view of Christians. Read the following two statements and notice the different truths that are conveyed:
Do you notice the difference? Sentence one is stating a goal that Christians should strive for, while sentence two is stating a characteristic of Christians. Sentence two is the correct statement. Christians do not have to strive to attain something they received the moment they were saved. Being “not of this world” is not a goal for Christians, it is a characteristic of them.
True Christians are not of the world, and they do not have to fight to be different from the world. True Christians cannot help but be different from the world, because they have been regenerated (born again). They are new creations with a new nature. Their home is heaven, their father is God, his Spirit indwells them, and they look and behave a lot like their father.
Let’s look at what Scripture has to say on the matter.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
― 2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB
The moment a person is saved, they are in Christ. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Their old self (sinful nature) was put to death (Romans 6:6) and a new self (heavenly nature) was created within to replace it. The person who is in Christ is not simply a renovated version of their old self. They are truly a new creation with a new nature. The old sinful nature was a slave to sin and unable to love and obey God. The new heavenly nature is free to love and obey God.
At the moment of salvation, God not only creates a new heavenly nature within a person, he also places his Spirit within them, which causes a desire for obedience and causes actual acts of obedience.
Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
― Ezekiel 36:26–27 NASB
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
― Philippians 2:13 NASB
Now, some of you might be wondering why God’s word says he is the one producing in us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” It is because if God doesn’t produce within us the desire for obedience and the actual acts of obedience, we would never be able to obey him. God’s work in us is an act of grace. Let me explain:
As you can see, God not only saves us by his grace, it is also his grace that produces love and obedience in our lives.
So, to reiterate what I said at the beginning, true Christians are not of the world, and they do not have to fight to be different from the world. True Christians cannot help but be different from the world. They are new creations with a new nature, and God’s Spirit indwells them and causes them to love and obey him.
What does all this mean for you?
You may be a good person. You may live a good life, treat everyone right, go to church, go to a community group, read your Bible, pray every day, and do your best to obey the Ten Commandments. But none of that is evidence that you are a new creation. There are millions of people who will spend their lives doing those same things and, on judgment day, will hear Jesus say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
You may have had an emotional experience at church, prayed the sinner’s prayer, been baptized, and truly believe you are saved, but is there any real evidence that you are a new creation?
If you do not passionately pursue the God you once had no time for, if you do not treasure Jesus more than your family, if you do not seek his will above your own, if you do not hate the sins you once loved, if obeying God is a burden rather than a pleasure, and if you are not a completely different person than you were before, then what evidence is there that you are a new creation? What evidence is there that you have a new nature? What evidence is there that God’s Spirit is in you, causing you to love and obey him?
If you truly are a new creation, then you cannot help but be different.
If you are not different, then you are not a new creation. And your only hope is to cry out to God and keep crying out until he saves you from the eternal wrath you have spent your life earning.
As we enter into this last week of the Ekklesia series, we take a look at Luke 10:25–37, better known as the parable of the good Samaritan. In this passage, we see Jesus speak on what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He then goes on to tell the story of the good Samaritan who helps a man who was beaten and ashamed after a priest and a Levite both passed by and did nothing. Jesus then says that the one who proved to be a neighbor to this man was the one who showed him grace, the Samaritan. The Samaritan could just as easily have passed by just like everyone else, and no one would have thought any less of him. He didn’t keep going, though. He stopped to help. Why? Why would he associate himself with such shame and pain? Samaritans were known for keeping to strict Old Testament laws during this time, and associating yourself with this person would not have been something that a Samaritan would typically do. This one, however, helped the man up, aided his wounds, took him to an inn, and paid for his time there while he healed. The point of this passage is that we should do the same for the people that we encounter on a daily basis.
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
— C.S. Lewis
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
— John 15:19
It is clear that you and I, as believers, are not of this world. John 15:16 says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” He chose us and appointed us to bear the fruit of his gift to us. We are chosen by him, and we have been gifted an inheritance in him, just as Ephesians 1:11 says, that he chose us before we lived so that we may walk in the good works he has prepared for us. We, as believers, are not of this world because Christ dwells in us. We have been changed by God, and we have been called to live for him, against what the world and what the flesh tells us to do.
We may not be of this world, but that is not means for us to resent it or to judge it out of pride. This story in Luke lays it out clearly, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. What if our neighbor is addicted to drugs? What if our neighbor is a thief? What if our neighbor is a homosexual? What if our neighbor isn’t a believer? The answer in all of these conditions stays the exact same. No matter the circumstance, we are called to love everyone with the same love, grace and mercy that Christ showed us when he gifted us with eternal life. If all we do is sit in our little church, protected by our walls, we are failing and we are not living out this passage that Jesus laid out for us. We are called by God to go out and make disciples of all nations, of all pasts, of all backgrounds, of all sins, because Christ did the same for us when we were dead, when we were of this world, when we didn’t know him. He chased us down and paid the price out of love for us, giving us life. We have been given life eternal, and by sitting around and not sharing that with everyone that we encounter, we are failing to understand the Gospel that saved us in the first place.
We aren’t of the world, but nowhere does the Bible say that we should hate the world. We are not called to conform to or agree with the sins world, but we are called to love each and every person in it, because that is what Christ did for us.
We wrapped up our series on the church, called Ekklesia, with a story out of Luke 10:25–37, about the good Samaritan, a man who stopped to render aid to someone who had a different religion, nationality and culture than he did. A man that had been passed over by his is own countrymen and the people in his own religious group. This display of unconditional love literally saved this man’s life.
God intends for all believers to love and serve the people of this world, regardless of their background, history, religious or political convictions. He even wants this love and service to extend to those who are our global enemies. When the love of God encounters people, it has a way of turning things around from intellectual argument to a realization that we are all humans created in the image of God.
During this series, we talked about how the church is not a building, but instead it is the people. It is not adhering to some standards set by man, but instead the freedom to receive and give the love of God.
Let’s consider people and situations that he places in front of us today as opportunities to be the church. We will be people who encourage and bless others rather than those who continue to perpetuate the thought that church is irrelevant, and that people who go to church are hypocritical. There may even be a situation that he uses you to literally save a life.
Lord, today I commit to love and serve whomever you put in my path. I want to demonstrate kindness, grace, understanding, patience, peace, joy and goodness to everyone! Please make me an instrument of your love, so that people will no longer see me, but will see Jesus through me!
About once a month when I was young, my mom would drive us down to Palestine, Texas, where my family is from, and she would drag us to church. I would walk in, and there would always be adults telling me what to do, what I couldn’t do, to stop talking so loud, all these things. These people walked around the church as if there would be no “church” if it weren’t for them, like they created this thing. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I came into a personal relationship with Christ and got to experience what church was really about: broken people in a broken world, serving and working for other broken people, but worshipping the perfect, holy and loving God. I had always thought that the only ones who attended church were the people who made lots of money, attended town hall meetings, volunteered in the community, and would never be caught doing anything bad.
I realize now that I couldn’t have been more wrong. We are broken. We struggle. We are sometimes prideful. We are selfish. We are all these things, and we admit to them. I’ve never been one to enjoy admitting shortcomings or failures, but I can I tell you that there is so much freedom and relief when you admit to those things. The same goes with the church. We admit what we struggle with, we admit that we are sinful, and there is freedom in that. It feels weird saying this, but it is awesome to recognize and realize where you have fallen short, because it opens your eyes to the fact that God has not left you in that. He is with you, carrying you, providing for you, pursuing you and loving you. I love what the psalmist writes in chapter 28:
The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
— Psalm 28:7–8
You may ask yourself, “What does he mean by anointed? I’m not perfect, does that disqualify me?”. Here’s the beautiful answer to that: no. God never calls us to be perfect, he knows that’s impossible. It’s okay to be broken, it’s okay to be banged up, the church is still for you. Come and worship God, who is our provision and our protector.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
— Proverbs 3:5–6
Coming to terms with my fallenness wasn’t fun, but it was needful. That I might cross the line of faith from death to life began with the Holy Spirit repairing my broken navigational system so that I might recognize that the road I traveled was not only wrong, but fatal — a road leading to divine justice — something I deserved but did not want.
Even after receiving life, however, wrong turns still found me depressingly off course and wondering why. I discovered that the process of sanctification — like any navigational system — requires receiving regular updates to stay on track. The source of those spiritual updates is Scripture and the church.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD…” — Isaiah 1:18
This verse is an invitation to know God more fully, to recognize his plans and purposes in our redemption. Contemplating the value of Scripture, Jeremiah writes:
Your words were found, wand I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts.
— Jeremiah 15:16
No less joyful and needful is the encouraging direction we find through the church. Honestly, I find it disturbing to hear someone say attending church is unnecessary. I disagree. God did not design us to grow in seclusion. I need that weekly instruction that keeps my moral compass calibrated. The author of Hebrews tells us:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:24-25