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 God fair? Should we be?
Most cultures are familiar with the statue of Lady Justice holding the scales by which a judgment is determined. In the Latin, she was referred to as lustitia, the Hellenists called her Themis. While there are depictions of her not wearing a blindfold, many depictions show her wearing a blindfold in order to emphasize her impartiality.
Generally people claim to want “fairness,” yet what they truly desire is “justice.” Fairness is a concept unknown to the ancients and really didn’t begin to come into our modern vernacular until fairly recently in human history.
I really know of no one who wants everything to be “fair”—an imbalanced impartiality which fails to take into account the specifics of each and every event. Fairness, as a concept, is dependent of the subjective nature of the one rendering the decision. There is no consistent measure against which something is measured; regardless of the competency of a person, the circumstances in which an event occurred or the degree of an act, every decision must be equal and every instance and person treated alike.
Yet we are not all alike. We do not discipline a child who throws a toy in the same way we would judge an adult who throws a bomb. Regarding the child, we weigh whether this is a repetitive action, his age, how he was provoked and of course whether any real harm was done. In the case of an adult, we hold them to a much higher degree of condemnation and their judgment is based on whether life and material was lost.
We also consider a person’s educational level, their capabilities and their intellect. Did they truly understand what they were doing? Are they able to comprehend the value of life and the consequences of its loss?
I am also unaware of anyone who desires to only qualify for a “fair” wage. If someone has taken the time to do well in school, achieve the ability to attend a university and incurred the debt of both time and money to do so, they will want to be paid for what they know.
There is an old story about a Nuclear Power Plant that was experiencing a potentially dire problem and they had to call in an “expert” to remedy the situation. On presenting his bill to the plant owner for $1 million dollars, the plant owner asked, “Why am I paying this amount of money?” The expert calmly replied, “The switch I turned on only cost one dollar; the remainder of the bill is payment for me knowing which switch to turn.”
As a pastor, I have met many people who believe God is most certainly not fair. We as a people have no issues with a “good” God who acts like the proverbial “Fairy God Mother” who gently touches our heads with her wand bequeathing gifts of joy on us.
Our problems come from the realization there exists an all-powerful God, who is good (and we understand this from His Word) yet evil and suffering still exist. We have no problems receiving good things, but we are decidedly unhappy receiving what we deem as evil……….and unfair.
Our problem is we simply do not understand either what we want or what we need. In many of the problems we encounter, we don’t really want fairness; what we need is justice.
God is not fair. Your neighbor who won the lottery may not have really “won” anything; in fact, statistically, the vast majority of lottery winners are bankrupt in less than five years! Your neighbor may have, in reality, been given exactly what he wanted to have; unfortunately, many of the things we “want” God gives to us knowing we will reap judgment by our own desire and hand!
No one wants fairness, because I know of no one who wants to be treated like everyone else. When we experience difficulty as believers in Jesus Christ, we do not want God to be fair (especially since everyone deserves to go to an eternal Hell), but we want God to be just—to exercise His judgment righteously according to His person and Word!
Should we then seek to be fair? As a parent, do you treat all of your children the same? The Proverb says, “Train up a child in the way he should go” (ESV). The writer had in mind every child must be taught according to how he was made. I learn especially well through reading and seeing; yet others learn better by doing and others still by hearing.
Being “fair” is too easy. It requires very little thought or effort when rendering a decision. Yet to make a “just” judgment, this means we must understand the person, the problem and what we are using as the rule which guides our judgment. Both the judge and the lawyer must know the law; for a believer in Jesus Christ—if you desire success before the Lord—we must know His Word!
Besides, if God were not “just” in His judgment, we would have never been able to experience His grace!
Writing a blog is a labor of love; though going through and dealing with the spam is more often just like labor!
It is humbling when I read the comments many have taken the time to make on this site. The vast majority are exceptionally encouraging, the ones not in the “vast majority” fall under the headings of either “spam” or they are just annoying . . . .
First, let me get the “business” part of this post out of the way!
I am writing using WordPress as my blogging platform. I have received nothing less than excellent support and help from the WordPress staff. They have sent me not just the answers to my immediate questions, but they have also included helpful hints on site management and dealing with the dreaded scourge called “spam!” I have yet to figure out a way to minimize the amount of spam which accumulates in my spam filter. Unfortunately, there are far too many legitimate and good comments which may often get thrown out with the spam.
I pay a very nominal fee for a custom URL (“jimgrieme.com”). If my web traffic continues to increase, I may invest in their “Premium” services which add to the cost, but the value is worth the expense. There are other blogging platforms available, yet since I am very pleased with the service and flexibility I receive from WordPress, I am not motivated to look for another service.
Second, to those of you who take the time to read my posts: I have been getting a significant number of Polish readers and allow me to say (using Google translate here; I’m good but not that good!)
Jestem bardzo wdzięczny za tych z Państwa w Polska, którzy czytają mojego bloga. Moim pragnieniem jest, aby jasno komunikować swoje pomysły i fakt, czytasz to pozwala mi wiedzieć, to jest realizowane! Pokornie dziękuję za czytanie! Jestem Pastor i modlę się Pan nadal będzie chronić Ciebie i Twój kraj w tych czasach niepokojów politycznych na kontynencie. Bożego błogosławieństwa na was!
To my Italian readers:
Grazie per aver letto il mio blog! Ho amato il suo paese da quando ero bambino e il mio desiderio è quello di presentare le idee chiare, Dio onorare in un modo che farà la gente a pensare con la mente e il loro cuore. Sono molto grato per il vostro tempo e attenzione! Molte grazie! Benedizioni di Dio!
And of course there have been a few Russian visitors as well!
Добрый день! Пусть наш Господь продолжать покрывать вас Своей благодатью! Спасибо вам большое за прочитав мои мысли я написал здесь! Я возжелал посетить вашу землю с моих дней в колледже – Я изучал Россию, ее земля и ее народ и лелеяли все это! Время, которое вы потратили читаете этот блог отрадно и унизительно. Спасибо вам большое! Джеймс melvinovich.
In my world, I must struggle to find time to write. Many times I will begin with an idea, write as many as two or three pages then end up deleting all I have written! Yet even when I follow this process, I may end up enunciating an idea which will eventually become the main idea of what I finally write. The very act of putting “words on paper” often allows me to solidify my “final” idea!
Now remember, I am a pastor (No, no, I really am a pastor! I realize very well I do not “act” like most pastors act and I’m good with that!) When someone says to me, “You’re not like most pastors!” I interpret this as a compliment! My desire is not to be either crude or rude or even to act like some “unholy teenager with an attitude problem!” My desire is to be real! I struggle with the same things every other person struggles with: money, politics, thoughts and ideas. I sin, I do not break into a Christian hymn when I hit my finger with a hammer and I get frustrated at the number of proverbial “morons” I encounter while driving!
So what’s the difference? Years ago I encountered a person who has demonstrated He truly loves me. He knows all of my weaknesses and my issues. He has given me the ability to be better than who I am. He has forgiven me, changed me, and if there is anything good in me at all, it is because of the person Jesus Christ!
My desire is to write in a manner which is real and fully human. I would like those who take the time to read to actually enjoy yourself and understand the ideas I am communicating. It is my prayer the Lord will use who I am and what I’ve written in such a way as to draw people to Him.
Grace to all of you!