Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
While not directly used in the Bible, the phrase “to be in the world, but not of the world” speaks to the choice we are called to make every day. It’s the choice to put God first, or to put the world first, and dependent on the circumstances, we all have struggled in making that decision. Even in our most careful and thoughtful moments, we still exist in this sinful world, and to be in it, and not of it, takes practice, mixed with courage, and divine strength. So let’s consider for a moment, what this phrase means to us personally, and the impact it should have on us spiritually.
Looking Inside Our Own Lives
We often view “the world” as a secular movement that exists outside of our own lives. The risk we face with such thinking, is that once we make the choice to choose God, we don’t put into practice the rigor needed to protect our own spiritual wellbeing. The concept of “the world” isn’t just a macro-understanding of society; it applies at an individual level too, because we all have our own “mini-worlds” in which we exist and collide with others.
These microcosms are comprised of our communities, churches, jobs, friends, and much more. The thoughts, characters, and beliefs that reside within us and around us also influence these worlds. And while we cannot control everything that happens within our lives, who we let and what we let in still matters. We can invite people and ideologies into our lives that plant seeds of growth and encouragement, or chaos and destruction. No matter how strong we are, if we submerge ourselves in toxicity, we eventually become toxic. Proverbs 22:24-25 says:
Make no friendship with an angry man, And with a furious man do not go, Lest you learn his ways And set a snare for your soul.
From the books we read, to the conversations we have, we are all learning – whether consciously or subconsciously. Who we let in contributes to what we let it, and we are not immune from picking up bad habits or thought processes. To think otherwise is presumptuous and goes against the teachings and warnings found in the Bible. Romans 12:2 admonishes us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Operating from a Place of Fear
If we were being totally honest with ourselves, we’d admit that conformity is desirable on some level, because it guarantees community even if those relationships aren’t authentic. Conformity doesn’t require that we have the courage to stand alone when standing in a crowd. The choice to visibly walk in a direction that goes against societal norms can feel overwhelming. For many of us, we’d rather avoid confrontation or talk ourselves into concession to put an end to any discomfort.
Nevertheless, we run the risk of chipping away at our own moral standards and wellbeing when we operate from a place of fear. Other people’s opinions of us cannot be our driving force. Jesus said in John 15:18-19:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
I believe that Jesus said this in part because He knew the struggle we would have with conformity. And it’s not about conforming 100% of the time. All of us have issues in which we are willing to take a stand. But what about the ones where we choose to remain silent? Those are the ones that crack away at the foundation of who we are. They lessen our relationship with Christ, as they being to weaken our faith. We have to follow the example of Christ, knowing that while the cross was a place of salvation, it was also a reflection of the hatred of Christ’s ideology. When our beliefs and morals do not align with the majority, it will elicit a response, but I’m thankful that God has given us the strength needed to withstand the snares of temptation.
Centuries ago, while Jesus was still on Earth, He prayed for His disciples regarding this challenge, and He also prayed for us. In John 17:15-17, regarding His disciples, Jesus said:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
A few verses later, in John 17:20-22, He also said:
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one
Jesus prayed for our strength and our spiritual wellbeing so that we would be able to be a light in this world, while not being consumed with the darkness of this world.
So what is required of me today?
How can I be in this world, but not of this world? How can I live out the prayer that Jesus said on my behalf? To do this, there are three key points that I would ask you to consider:
- Our connection with God has to be our first priority. This doesn’t just mean time spent studying the Bible or in prayer. It also means considering how our decisions line up with God’s will for us. It’s easy to get caught up in the distractions of this world if we aren’t carefully keeping God in our direct line of sight.
- Understand that we should more closely monitor our individual worlds. It takes courage to live a life led by Christ, but it’s also incredibly fulfilling. Through divine wisdom and discernment, we will be able to find peace, by creating and cultivating a life rooted in Christ’s righteousness.
- Accept that everyone won’t be happy with the decisions you make. Too often, we get caught in the web of people pleasing, and make decisions that are hurtful towards ourselves, others, and our relationship with Christ. We are accountable to God first, and if we feel fear in the decision-making process, lay that hurt on the alter of God. He will help you remove that fear, and in turn, operate from a place of strength.
We are all in this world, but we do not have to be of this world. Christ is not of this world, and we are His children. He is asking that we walk in His light, and He will lead us to heights unimagined, and experiences filled with holiness and righteousness. We don’t have to fear this world, but we should carefully consider what we let into our own worlds – as they will always influence. When in doubt, pray for wisdom. When in prayer, ask for discernment. Let God move in your life, no matter how uncomfortable, knowing that in the end, His love for us is sure, and will do for us, what no one else can. May God bless you and continue to keep you as you travel along this journey.