What does it mean to be in the world but not of it? I know it means different things to different Christian people, and that it has become the “Get Out of Jail Free Card” for all those who love the world and use this verse of Scripture to justify all of their dirty little deeds.
It has become difficult for Christians to think Biblically concerning issues like this. Their minds are stuck in the world and therefore they see things through the lens of their former life and give meaning to spiritual things that should not be. Their vision is distorted because their pastors and teachers have skewed vision also, and so goes the tale of our generational blindness.
Let’s consider a couple of things. First of all, our humanity has a fatal flaw because of our inherited sin nature; we are all sinners, and we all live in the world. Therefore, we must give up any idea that we can completely get rid of sin in our fleshly nature by any amount of virtue. We must also give up the idea that we can improve the world or make mankind better. Secondly, we have been given a mission. As concerned Christians, we must never say, “We can’t do anything about it,” we must try and stop the suicidal bent of society. When we talk or act like we are helpless we are playing into the hands of the enemy, Satan. It would appear that the Christian, the Biblically thinking Christian, is caught between two opposing thoughts. We cannot make the world less sinful, yet, we cannot just leave it where it is, we cannot and will not accept the world as it is. If we say, “I can’t accept this line of reasoning,” then we reject the very position in which God has placed us. The tension between these two positions is not without a purpose. The involvement in this tension was the exact situation of Jesus and His incarnation. From the beginning of creation, there has been this tension between sin and grace, between two kingdoms, and between two natures. We are in the world, just as Christ was in the world, with all of the stress and tension of a spiritual tug-of-war. Our life is a life of contradicting demands, very painful, very uncomfortable, yet it is the only situation which will bear the fruit required by our Father. The field is the world and the work of the Christian is in this field, with all the poison, all the viciousness, all the falseness and lying, and all the TENSION between the two worlds. We are in the world yet we are not of this world and must keep the things of this world at arm’s length.
What are we to do? Many have chosen to retreat into the world and hide, to ease the conflict and to wait for further orders. The answer is obvious if we keep our eyes on our Commander in Chief. First, we must accept that the tension and conflict are normal for the Christ follower and in the midst of tension is where we live and where our work is done. Secondly, we must accept – in humility and repentance – that our life in this world is scandalous and shameful, how can it be otherwise? We are both sinners and saints. If we know our true position in the world and its situation then we can also see correctly the big problem the world faces. Every day we need to see with a renewed vision where we stand in relation to those in the world and live honestly with that knowledge that we are weak having been placed in the world without having recourse to its ways and means. On the other hand, we Christians need to realize that to achieve our mission our weapons are mighty for the simple reason that we are weak and harmless and that God Himself is our Savior.
It is characteristic of the world and Satan to tempt Christians to use the resources that are available to them and to discard their show of meekness and humility. Of himself, the natural man is unable to see the spiritual reality of his own struggle or the real strength of the true Christian. The man of the world only sees those things which float to the surface of life: social, political, and economic problems and his ways and means of worldly morals, machinery, and the technology of his present set of circumstances.
What part should the Christian play in the problems of the world? Firstly, it is not the Christian’s job to try and define each and every problem and communicate that to the unbeliever. Christians should not mess around with futile attempts at moral dialogue, politics, or technology which have never solved any long term problems yet. The Christian’s job is to discover the real spiritual difficulties which all of these things contain. As far as the solution is concerned it is not on the level of the rational mind at all. The solution can only occur in terms of life through the acceptance of forgiveness through Jesus Christ offered in humility and peace.
So, what have I said? Christians are not of this world although they are in this world. We are Kingdom citizens, clothed in flesh, thrust into the world, confronted with conflict and tension, weak, humiliated, forgiven, holding out an olive branch of peace to wolves, in a world of evil, governed by EVIL. It is receiving and in living out the Gospel of Peace in this environment that all political, economic, and any other questions are solved. It is the acceptance of this tension which we hold within our bodies that alone allows us to discover and realize what the true social situation really is, it is a warfare.
To embrace this tension as normal will, if we allow it, help us to respond to the conflict with the heart of Christ. The tension we experience is not an illusion, it is a real warfare, and we must acknowledge and use the weapons at our disposal, peace, forgiveness, humility, love, and sacrifice.
We must be in the world . . . but we must not represent this world.