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!
Is there Acceptable Collateral Damage?
The term “collateral damage” was unknown prior to about 1970. The terms specific meaning is tied directly to war and the idea of “elements not directly associated with an intended target being damaged or destroyed as a result of a specific action.” From the first Gulf War until the most recent action in Afghanistan, our military has taken great pains to develop “smart” bombs which are able to pinpoint their targets with a minimum of collateral damage.
A large amount of material, expense and effort is expended to identify what is an appropriate target and what is not. Of course the enemy, knowing America and her allies desire to not harm those deemed to be non-combatants, will often set-in-place their operations in the midst of schools, hospitals and mosques in order to insulate them from attack. Of course, far too often the press overlooks this callous disregard to life and put all the more pressure on those who desire to eradicate the threat.
Perhaps one of the sharpest aspects of the double-edged sword of war is militaries—unless of course they are being utilized by a dictatorship—often find themselves fighting against an antagonistic camera and press as often as an enemy action. Such is the nature of war in our modern milieu.
Christianity is also involved in warfare. Of course, the Bible makes it abundantly clear our warfare is not waged against “flesh and blood” combatants, but rather in the spiritual realm; one unseen and filled not merely with spirits, but with ideas and philosophies. What manifests itself in the physical realm—whether in the form of atrocity, sin, death and immorality—is but a result of what is and has already occurred in the spiritual realm.
One of the scourges of our society is “abortion-on-demand” which has been available since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. I am unashamedly pro-life; the Bible teaches we are made in God’s image and life begins not merely with conception (which is our only means of observation as humans) but life is something ordained by God who is the Creator of all that lives. As a Christian and a pastor, God expects me to not merely believe this, but also to proclaim this through my life and teaching.
People are a complex mechanism. By God’s design no two of us are alike. We do have commonalities which are measurable across the masses of society (a reason for the existence of the disciplines of psychology, sociology and even history) and these provide us with incredible insight into human nature. If my desire is to communicate the message of Scripture—what Christians refer to as the ‘good news” (Gospel) of God’s love for us and His desires for us—I cannot then ignore the reality of human nature.
One of the most difficult things we are faced with as believers in Jesus Christ is our call to “hate the sin” (action, attitude, idea, and philosophy) but also “love the sinner.” I have heard those outside of Christianity scoff and ridicule this concept; they believe it is impossible to separate the individual from what the individual does (there is a whole economy built on the existence of this concept—this also ensures people will always be “defined” and “enslaved” by their sin and issues as well). Again, I defer to what Jesus taught: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Those who proclaim and claim the name of Jesus Christ are capable of getting “caught up in the emotion of the moment” just like anyone else. The difference between those who have a relationship with Christ and those who do not is this: those who have a relationship with God the Father through the work of Christ have both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to constantly judge and check their own actions. One of the hardest to remember is that we are to “love the sinner.”
It is far too easy to simply allow hate to season our speech and actions. Standing outside of abortion clinics with signs proclaiming “Abortion is Murder” and the like makes as much sense as standing outside of funeral homes with signs stating “Sin Kills!” Abortion is murder—I agree completely! Yet is it actually loving to paint with such a broad brush that we alienate those who are captives of their own circumstances and decisions? Oh, and let’s not overlook the incredible sense of love fostered by those holding those signs.
Our churches need to communicate they are more of a place of refuge for the hurting and injured rather than a staging point for those with a desire to be “culture warriors.” We are no more in a war with culture than a fish is at war with water! We can battle ideas and philosophies, we can tend to the wounded and we should confront those who actively engage in what the Bible describes as sin. Yet as we do all of these things, we cannot fail to communicate the love by which we are motivated!
Jesus Christ came into this world as a baby. The Lord of Creation, the One who by His very hand created all there is and by His very existence holds all of reality together, came into a world as one of us. He struggled as He grew; He worked in order to provide for food and clothing for Himself and His family. He formed relationships with those around Him and the Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature” with God and people.
His ministry was marked with compassion, healing, confrontation of sin and wrong and ultimately, He proved His love through His action: He died so those who believe in Him might live forever with Him. The reason His words were accepted is because His love was clearly demonstrated; even the crusty Centurion who stood at the foot of His cross when He died stated “surely He was the Son of God.”
If Christians desire people to take us seriously, we are going to have to seriously love them!