by Grant Swart
The things of this world, wars, famine, suffering, poverty, etc., impact Christians and non-Christians alike. By remembering that we, as Christians, are “not of this world,” remembering that these things are just for a little while, we can see them in a different light. We are still in this world but we are no longer of it (John 17:14).
Believers are no longer of the world—we are no longer ruled by sin, nor are we bound by the principles of the world. In addition, we are being changed into the image of Christ, causing our interest in the things of the world to become less and less as we mature in Christ. Believers in Jesus Christ are simply in the world—physically present—but not of it, not part of its values. As believers, we should be set apart from the world, we often hear this, even refer to this and remind each other of it, but do we know what that world entails? The meaning of being holy and living a holy, righteous life—to be set apart. This is also a daily activity and commitment, one which the saved Christian should derive much pleasure from.
We must also understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in spiritual darkness. We are to live in such a way that those outside the faith see our good deeds and our manner and know that there is something “different” about us. Even the heathen knows that “by their fruits you shall know them,” and as Christians, we should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit within us.
Being “in” the world also means we can enjoy the things of the world, such as the beautiful creation God has given us, but we are not to immerse ourselves in what the world values, nor are we to chase after worldly pleasures. Pleasure is no longer our calling in life, but simply a part of it which we should be grateful to partake in. In Romans 12, we read about how we should not be conformed to this world. The way we can avoid doing so, is by renewing our minds. How do we do that, how can we renew our minds? Do we simply make a conscious decision to adopt a new mindset about things or maybe a more self-righteous attitude which will be evidence to others of a renewed and holier “us”? How will we know that we are succeeding and how can we measure our progress?
We have only one tool at our disposal with which we can achieve this renewal, the Word of God. We must study the Scriptures in order to renew our minds. Scripture is God’s map which we must follow to guide us out of the web of pagan beliefs and to keep us from falling back into the maze of worldly conformity. In James 4 we read that friendship with the world is hostility toward God. Therefore, those who wish to be a friend toward the world, thereby make themselves to be an enemy of God.
It is easy enough for us remind one another of that message, but what does it really mean, and how can we practically apply this wisdom? We cannot ‘wish’ away the realities of this world, and more importantly, should we? As much as some believers might have a personal dislike for, or unfounded skepticism regarding certain goings-on in the day to day running of our lives, we cannot disregard the singular importance of the blessing of having been granted the chance of living in this world. If not from the sin of this world, from where else could we have been saved? As descendants of Adam, we could only have been set free from sin, once we had first been bound by a sinful life in this world. In both of these processes, I see two distinct and miraculous gifts.
Consider the following for a moment, before I approach the subject of what the “world” in John 1 and James 4, actually entails. If physical and mental pleasures in life are to be increasingly avoided in an effort to be less and less in the world, to the point that these pleasures are sufficiently eliminated, what is to be said about believers who naturally derive the greatest pleasure from their Godly calling?
In certain instances, the work of the individual believer could be exclusively in service of the church, in others it is simply what they do in earning their livelihood, caring for their families, for others or for other parts of Creation. Most often we derive the greatest pleasure from us doing what we do best, by applying our God given gifts and talents in accordance with our fulfilling our humble calling in this life and in Christ. Artists, game rangers, mountain climbers, storm chasers, travel journalists, pastors, dog sledders, racing drivers, farmers, editors, musicians, wine tasters, doctors, biologists, wildlife photographers, yacht captains, orchestra conductors, soldiers, teachers, scientists, fishermen, the list goes on and on, are often people who derive great pleasure from their occupations. Moreover, it is often others who benefit most from the work of these brothers and sisters.
How can we continue to contribute to a Christian society, be productive in our society, practice our hobbies, apply our unique physical and mental talents, attend school and other academic institutions, purchase houses and vehicles, save lives, take the lives of those who wage war against our people, bring up our children, witness to others, if we are to remove our interest in the world? Again, are we biblically instructed to do so? Some actually seem to think we are.
Jesus was crucified in this world and by this world, to pay for the sins of those whom the Father chooses, who are also in this world. God determined to have His Son live, die and be resurrected while in this world. The church occupies and owes its continued existence to being in this world, albeit temporarily. Humankind would not occupy the familiar form, if it were not for them being in this world. Having been in this world, provided the reason for us being saved, not because of us trying to escape from it, but because we were fortunate enough to have been in it! We can only bring glory to the Creator God in the way we are expected to, due to the fact that we are in this world. In what way are we really called to come out of this world?
According to some, particularly those of a more synergistic persuasion, the aim of the Christian it would seem, is to become increasingly alienated from all things which can be regarded as pleasurable or personally fulfilling in this life. The only model which seems appropriate in this instance would be that of minimalist and ascetic monasticism. An inevitable spin-off of this approach, is that pagans and adherents to false religions would gain unopposed control of all aspects of such a “forsaken” world. If that is our goal, the only workable and successful system which was put in place by the Western world with Christian values as the foundation, must surely have been wrong all along. The Christian world has been responsible, by and large, for most of the developed society we occupy and recognize today.
Christians should according to that thinking, never have been implicated in any progress, because progress inevitably results in increased security, comfort, well-being and pleasure. Most of the blessings bestowed on the world through the advancements in science, medicine, education, the printing press, in fact most things brought about by the Christianized West, should not have been embraced, because involvement in those matters would be tantamount to being too far into the world, too fleshly. Poverty and suffering would be seen as the only mark of a Christian. Others of a more moderate persuasion would argue that certain prescriptive limits and boundaries, as determined by their own particular part of civil society, must be regarded as quantitative or qualitative of the pleasure which is permissible for a Christian.
This all sounds like an adaptation, an offshoot, an extension of the legalism which Jesus so despised. It is certainly not biblical and is certainly not the trait of one who has been set truly free. John Gill: “But now those who are made free by Christ the Son of God, they are not in part only, but are wholly free, and have a right to all the privileges of his house, to the supper of the Lord, and to every other immunity.”
It is imperative to our understanding of our biblical mandate, to identify which “world” it is that we are instructed not be a part of. We must define that “world”, as we are inextricably a part of the physical.
The basic, or default, belief system of the world is paganism. The verse John 1:10, uses the word kosmos three times. Careful reading of that verse indicates that there are also three different meanings connected to that word. If it weren’t so, the verse would not make a lot of sense. Therefore, a correct understanding of the context in which the word kosmos, or world, is used, is imperative to our understanding of what it means to be in the world.
As mentioned, the word kosmos, as used in John 1:10, has three meanings: (1) the created universe, (2) the arena of human affairs such as education, politics, business, humans interacting with one another, and (3) the fallen world which is in rebellion against God. The word is used in all three ways throughout the New Testament. To determine which one of the definitions we are looking at, must be determined by the context within the specific passage of Scripture.
Just as the word “love” takes on a different meaning when we use it to refer to a love of watching sport in comparison to what we mean when referring to the love we have for our family, so does the word “world” indicate different worlds. The single verse, John 1:10, uses the word three times: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (1) He was in the world: in the arena of human affairs, interacting with people, teaching them and walking with them. (2) He made the world: the created universe, all of creation. (3) The world did not know Him: the fallen sinful world that doesn’t recognize the Saviour.
A wrong understanding of what the specific meaning of the word “world” is, can have devastating consequences. For example, and as I have expanded on earlier, one train of thought is that the whole world and everything in it is truly evil. In a sense some of that is true, but by applying that understanding to education, for example, one would be required to remain illiterate. On would have to quit one’s job, as that would be considered as working for the evil empire. One would have to get rid of all one’s possessions and refuse all medical assistance.
The wrong understanding of what the different worlds are, would devastate mankind. Efforts to escape the world, by not wanting to be in the world in every sense, would be like jumping from the cooking pot into the fire. Furthermore, physically trying to escape from the world is impossible, because where would we go? We would simply be taking the world with us anyway, because it would not change the fact that we are fallen sinners and that fact would simply follow us no matter what we did, or where we went.
Another tragic consequence of that kind of escapist thinking, is that those who have important God-given talents, (as I also mentioned earlier), whether they be musical talents, mathematical talents or abilities to perform medical surgery, would not be permitted to use those talents as they would be regarded as acting in the flesh. It is imperative that we distinguish between the fallen world and the world of human affairs. They are not the same. A correct understanding is that Christians are to remain in the world of human affairs. We should not try to escape from the world in the sense of which we are not made to do. Biblically, we are to remain in the world, fully participating in the arena of human affairs.
Christians should have jobs, Christians should get an education. Christians should interact and have a positive influence on government. Christians cannot witness to others from outside the world. Christians should do their best at all things. Not being of the world means that Christians should not participate in the fallen world and its rebellion against God. We have to make specific distinctions as Jesus does in His prayer in John 17, where He sends His disciples INTO THE WORLD and He prays that they would be protected from the bad thinking which is out there.
Let us take a look at another biblical example. We see Daniel as a top government official in a pagan country. Daniel lived in Babylon, which was seen as an evil society. At a certain point, Daniel was put in charge of most of that Babylonian society. He became a highly trained expert in the ways of the Babylonian government and society, yet when it came to issues of his faith, he stood firm and would not compromise. In this way, Daniel became a role model for future Christians in the world. Daniel was willing to be a full participant in a kingdom that he didn’t believe in.
In the world we are surrounded by frauds, liars, thieves, adulterers and unbelievers. They pose no threat to the Christian in a physical sense. It is the way these people think and their belief system which the Christian could affect the Christian. It is not likely, but it remains a possibility. David Wells: “The ‘world’ is a godless curia demanding that its teaching be obeyed, rewarding those who acquiesce, exacting sanctions on those who do not and generally making belief and trust in Christ difficult.”
The world in its fallen state will reward us if we think like they do. The world will reward us if we seem to be self-righteous and self-centered in the same way that they are. The world will embrace our tolerance of all kinds of false beliefs and false religions, none more so than paganism. This is part of the reason for the emerging church, more recently becoming known as the merging church, being so incredibly successful. The dangerous beliefs portrayed by that false system and its proponents such as Rob Bell and Brian McLaren, fit so comfortably with the plan and expectations of the fallen world.
Pagan temptation is everywhere, it has always been since the days of Genesis and will continue until the end of the church age. We live in a poly-theistic, multi-religious society with tarot card readers, necromancers, astrologers, the Islamic believers, Hinduism, Satanism, those who worship mother earth, the list is endless. The thinking of the world has always been the same – influenced by Satan’s lies. That is what we should avoid by coming out of the way the world thinks. Let us continue in the world in the way Christians should think, not by shunning all of the blessed world that was given for the use of the believer, and not by regarding the created world as a miserable hell of a place, infested with only sin and pain. We should not disregard the grace of being granted the opportunity to live and experience life to the full in this world.
All things considered, we are unable to become not of this world, if not by the Sovereign Grace of God.
For eternity, I am compelled by a new nature to regard the Hand of the Lord, in every wondrous moment which He has granted me to experience while living in this world, and to hear, see, smell, feel and taste the rain which falls fairly on all, despite the unbelief of some. Undeservedly on my part, irrespective of my own inability and sometimes unwillingness and by His Sovereign will, He has made me to be no longer of this world, but with a joyous certainty, in the world. Despite my severe shortcomings and battle-scarred, tired and imperfect body, He has enabled me to experience every pleasure of being in this world in every possible way, because He has made me to do so according to His will, and no longer only according to my weak judgment.
I am ultimately grateful and humbled for awaking in this world on every gifted morning, whether it be crystal or smog-filled, globally warmed and carbon taxed by pagans but perfectly under His control, knowing that I am partaking in His glorious creation, and that I will walk through the remainder of my life in this world and beyond into an even greater eternity, holding onto the hand of the Good Shepherd.
“Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ.” – John Wesley
I remain deeply appreciative for the teaching and wisdom of Bob De Waay, from whom I borrowed some thoughts in writing this article. Copyright © For the Love of His Truth 2008 – 2013 All Rights Reserved. No part of this page or its images may be reproduced without Grant and Elmarie Swart’s express consent. See our contact us page for email details.