“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:
- Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world.
- Christians are in the world, but not of the world.
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:
- God created people with a heavenly nature that was free to love and obey him, and he commanded them to do so.
- People sinned against God, and now all people are born with a sinful nature that is enslaved to sin and unable to love and obey God.
- By God’s grace, he causes sinful people to be born again (1 Peter 1:3), he puts to death their sinful nature, gives them a new heavenly nature, and places his Spirit within them.
- Christians have a new heavenly nature that is housed in an old fleshly body full of sinful desires. There is a constant war between the heavenly nature and the sinful flesh (Romans 7:15–25).
- God’s original command to love and obey him still stands. Even though the Christian now has a new heavenly nature that is free to love and obey God, the sinful flesh prevents the Christian from successfully loving and obeying him.
- By God’s grace, his Spirit produces within the Christian the desire for obedience and the actual acts of obedience, allowing the Christian to overcome the flesh and successfully love and obey God.
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.