One of those phrases which are said far too often and almost flippantly, are believers, Christians, are “to be in the world but not of the world.” Usually it is a teacher or someone who is attempting to make a point through the use of this phrase, but no real, concrete explanation is ever given which would give meaning to the aphorism.
The listener is somewhat perplexed and unsure how to alter their behavior, so they can then avoid being “of the world.” I’m sure, in many instances, the frustration builds, and no attempt is made to alter their life. Thoughts of finding some kind of camouflage may even immediately be considered to avoid being detected . . . .by anyone!
While this saying usually sounds so much wiser than the wisdom actually imparted, the Apostle Paul, in the letter to the Romans, wrote to them saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2 ESV).
The saying, “being in but not of the world,” is not in the Bible, but the principle is. The Apostle Paul, after spending eleven chapters informing the church in Rome of God’s plan, of how God chose people to be His in spite of the fact every single person had rejected Him and had chosen to worship the inferiority of creation rather than Him; He made a decision to choose some of us anyway.
Paul then demonstrated how on our own, no one would be able to come to Him through His Son. He then gave the example of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah—and how God will stillsave a remnant who will accept His Messiah Jesus. Then Paul concludes by telling the Roman Christians they should, as an act of worship, “present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” which is their natural, spiritual worship response as a saved, redeemed people.
Okay, so far so good. Yet just as the saying of “we’re in the world but not of the world” sounds really cool in concept, how exactly does this occur? Paul doesn’t hesitate, but quickly adds the way, the mechanics which will allow this to occur: through “the renewal of our minds.”
When computers first started to become the ubiquitous necessity they are now, there was an aphorism that was immediately recognizable and understood: “Garbage in, garbage out!” If you enter bad data, you will never—and have no hope of ever—get good data from the computer.
Paul understood this was true of people as well. We are created beings and the One who created us knows how we are made and what is needed for us to function well. While Paul is writing to Christians, this principle is true of all of humanity. If you eat junk food, if you consume violent or risqué media, do not be shocked when the cigarettes you smoke make you wheeze, the donuts keep you from seeing your toes and the media you allow in your mind affects your ability to think clearly and function normally.
One other note: the Greek word translated as conformed gives us the ability to understand this conformity with the world that literally “fashions us together with” the world so we cannot be separated from it. This is the same idea in camouflage. Regardless of who you are, you have made the choice to “blend in” so well, you cannot and will not be distinguishable from your surroundings.
So, let’s return to our confusing little homily: “in the world yet not of the world.” As believers in Jesus Christ, as those who Paul says have been “recreated” by the Spirit, we are literally “no longer of this world.” Just as a diver must wear an air tank, a mask and flippers to propel him through the water and to keep him alive, believers must breath faith, consume God’s Word, and we must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians are to be different. “Different” does not mean weird! Different means we exist through our faith, we are sustained by God’s Word and we find our energy, our power through the Holy Spirit. As we use our faith, consume God’s Word and live by the Spirit’s power, we will find our conformity will be to Jesus Christ. Paul even said this clearly that every believer is “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
We are “in” not “of.” The only way we can exist “in” is for us to “look like” Jesus Christ—literally, for people to “see Jesus,” when they see us.
Now that’s some great camouflage!
Almost everyone has experienced this at one time or another!
You know that “inside voice” and “outside voice” most of us struggle with at times (ok, sure, I struggle with this, but I’m applying this broadly—work with me!)? I remember a meeting I was in a few years ago and there was a spirited discussion on a topic I am reasonably passionate about. One of the other “participants” made a statement which I considered logically weak and immature (I was among my peers; I wasn’t berating a six-year-old!), I said in a sotto voce “Someone needs to put on their big boy pants.”
Because of the academic nature of this setting, the individual complained to the professor about my “uncalled for” comment.
The professor told him the same thing!
This is also the current state of the American Evangelical reaction to the 2016 Election season. For far too long—well, at least since the 1980 Election—American Evangelicals have rested in the fact they can choose to impact the American electoral process by merely exercising their collective wills. We (I am an evangelical Christian) have come to assume it is our right and privilege to have a candidate, and even a political party, which will minimally parrot our values back to us on demand.
Unfortunately, we have allowed ourselves to develop a sense of appreciation and even entitlement to being lied to in the process. We have become so infatuated with who we are and what we think “should be,” we are shocked, demeaned, offended, dismayed, taken aback, demoralized (do I really need to continue here?) that the two front running candidates are acting like people who do not represent who we are and our values!
No need to fear my fellow American Evangelical! Trust me, they do not represent our values!
As believers in Jesus Christ, we need to remember the Bible teaches quite clearly things will become much worse before Jesus Christ returns to this earth. We do not, and never have, lived in a Christian nation. God, through His grace and mercy, has rewarded in the past the faithfulness of His people in the United States by granting them a peaceful and friendly society in which to exercise their beliefs. Yet because God loves us and will never enable us to either harm ourselves or others, He is withdrawing this protection so that the Church in America will grow stronger and even “grow up.”
The first century Church during the days of the Apostles never under any delusion that their government loved them, represented their beliefs and values and always sought to insure their freedom to worship. Christians in the early church were hunted like proverbial wild dogs and persecution was rampant and indeed expected.
Yet the Church grew. It flourished in the face of hatred and intolerance. If American believers would force themselves off their religious couch, this almost herculean mental effort would allow them to see God is doing a similar work of His greatness in China, North Korea and many of the predominantly Muslim nations today. Not because God has provided “a peaceful environment,” but because believers in other parts of our world today actually must live their faith and know what they believe.
In 2016, American believers must come to the realization they have made a political party their idol. No political party can ever take the place of the Spirit of God or the sovereign power only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ!
It’s time American Christianity puts on their “big boy” pants……!
I am conservative in my politics, my morals, my finances and my theology.
As of November 6, 2012 Barrack Hussein Obama was re-elected to his second term of office as President of the United States.
In reference to my opening sentence, President Obama is my president.
He is my president because I know this is the path God has chosen to allow for this country. Did God do this because Mitt Romney is a member of a cult? Was President Obama re-elected as a means to punish American believers for their lack of trust and commitment to Him? Does the Lord know President Obama is uniquely qualified to avert an upcoming disaster only God can see? Or is it God has prevented us from becoming a nation of bicycle-riding, white-shirt wearing missionaries from Salt Lake?
I mean, really? Seriously.
Evangelicals have perhaps over-invested themselves in the political process. We feel we must mould all of society into our likeness and everyone must believe our beliefs. We far, far too often forget this is not a Christian country; it never was. Oh, there was a time when a Judeo-Christian world-view was not only accepted but practiced, but one should never equate the acceptance of the Judeo-Christian world-view as equal to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Of course this brings up the question, “What is best for the country? I mean, shouldn’t we be about the process, as Christians, of expanding the kingdom of God (I am speaking to believers here), for seeking to pass God-honouring laws and to ‘fight the good fight’?”
Yes . . . . and no.
I am convinced (not by polls but through the study of God’s Word) we are as professing believers to seek and promote God’s laws and to expand His kingdom; yet we are never called by God to legislate change for the cause of Christ through the ballot box!
This doesn’t mean we do not support those who we find in agreement with biblical principles. As many times will occur, we are often called to decide the lesser of two proverbial evils. My thought about this has always been rather straight-forward: who better to determine which evil is indeed “less” than those who know what is indeed righteous and moral?
We should view our calling as believers in Christ as being about the task of performing political triage. I do not believe Christ is best served through single-issue voters who base their support of candidates on a single issue whatever they may be. This is not a call for either compromise or a call to become political chameleons; it is a call for us to live lives of holiness while making the best decisions possible for a pagan, pluralistic dying world and for it to be the best place possible for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to accomplish its task of changing people!
Christians far too often are afflicted with the hubris of ignorance; we fail to remember the basic tenets taught by Scripture. The Pharisees sought to fulfil every aspect of the Law personally and attempted to convince others they must do the same—all to no avail! Just like the Pharisees of Christ’s day, believers today are too invested in arguments regarding life, policies of sound economics and legislation promoting our moral values. The Law only punished unacceptable behaviour and highlighted the reality no one could follow it perfectly—and we have forgotten the importance of living a life changed by Jesus Christ!
We, as believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, must realize who we are and where we live. First, we are sinners saved by the grace of God. As such, we are commanded to convince others of the truth we believe by living lives changed and empowered by God’s Spirit!
I have pastored some incredibly hateful and bitter people who proudly proclaim they are pro-life. While doing this they make everyone around them to desire their life will quickly end and in the process they further polarize the world around them. If we desire to see our world change, to see laws passed which honor God and His Word, then we should heed Peter’s warning in his New Testament letter: judgment begins in God’s house! God’s blessings are not contingent on everybody being obedient to Him; God states, “If my people, who are called by My name!,” If God’s people would obey, then He would bless and heal the land! The whole country does not have to obey God’s laws, just God’s people do.
Second, Christians in the United States need to get over themselves!” We live in a pagan, pluralistic culture and we, as those who carry the name of Christ, are minimally culpable if not outright responsible for the condition of our nation! All believers are expected to be a “sweet smell” of Christ according to the Apostle Paul. Unfortunately, too many who profess the name of Christ just stink.
Far too many Christians act like their whole salvation—this country’s, its economy and security—is dependent on who we elect! Have we so quickly forgotten the One on whom we believe? If there are those who are convinced God has given us “the government we deserve” in order to bring about punishment, have we chosen to ignore God’s call for us to “turn from our sin” and therefore receive His blessing?
If we desire our country to change, believers must be changed by God. If we desire security, we must draw closer to God in obedience. If we want real change in our government and our leaders, then we better pray passionately for them!
Then if we are indeed faithful in the little, God may choose to bless us with the “much” we desire.