In This World but Not of It
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Prepping for my radio interview with Os Guinness on his new book, Impossible People, I read something that stopped me in my tracks:
The truth is that the world, as Christians have known it for many centuries, has gone—and gone for good. Gone so decisively, any simple return or reclamation is out of the question…. Christian culture warring has been in vain.1
Though I did not expect to read those words, as I let them sink in I realized that this same conviction had been growing deep inside me for some time now. I didn’t want to admit it. I did not want to concede that we wouldn’t be able to turn the clock back to the days when the Christian view of the world was the foundation for our understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful. I did not want to acknowledge the world I grew up in was “gone for good.” But I think Os is right.
…The days are over when any Christian can quietly coexist with the culture without being able to “give an answer for the hope that is in them.”2 Believers who have been on the sidelines in the past will not be able to hide. They will be forced by the opposition to actively choose sides.
For myself, I am doing two things, and I encourage you to do the same.
First, I have been adjusting my expectations. Of course, the Lord can do whatever He wants, but I no longer look to the next election cycle or even a fresh movement of the Spirit to blow across our land to rescue us from being aliens in our own country. The fact is, we have always been foreigners in this world. Though relatively easy times for us as Christians in the West have made us forget that, our brothers and sisters in other regions have always known otherwise. Maybe God is “giving our culture over”3 for a season to remind us what realm we truly belong to.
Second, I am fortifying my resolve to be true to Christ, by God’s grace, no matter what hostilities or obstacles confront me, no matter what cost I am asked to pay. I want to be prepared so that, having done everything, my family and I can “stand firm”4 regardless of the opposition. Things may get easier or they may get much more difficult. Only God knows. The old, easier days may be “gone for good,” as Guinness put it, but that should not matter to Christ followers.
What matters most can be summed up in words carefully painted on two little stones—one for each pocket—that were given to Os as a young lad by his missionary parents when they sent him from Nanjing to boarding school in Shanghai. The stones simply said, “Found Faithful,” and “Please Him.”—Greg Koukl5
“How can believers be in the world, but not of the world?”
When we read of the “world” in the New Testament, we are reading the Greek word cosmos. Cosmos most often refers to the inhabited earth and the people who live on the earth, which functions apart from God. Satan is the ruler of this “cosmos.”6 By the simple definition that the word world refers to a world system ruled by Satan, we can more readily appreciate Christ’s claims that 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.7 As believers, we should be set apart from the world. This is the meaning of being holy and living a holy, righteous life—to be set apart. We are not to engage in the sinful activities the world promotes, nor are we to retain the insipid, corrupt mind that the world creates. Rather, we are to conform ourselves, and our minds, to that of Jesus Christ.8 This is a daily activity and commitment.
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. Christians who make every effort to live, think, and act like those who do not know Christ do Him a great disservice. 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, as it once was, but rather the worship of God.—From gotquestions.org9
If I gained the world
If I gained the world but lost the Savior,
Were my life worth living for a day?
Would my yearning heart find rest and comfort
In the things that soon must pass away?
If I gained the world, but lost the Savior,
Would my gain be worth the lifelong strife?
Are all earthly treasures worth comparing
For a moment with a Christ-filled life?
This song speaks of gaining the world and losing a Savior. It’s quite true to the Word of God, for the scripture says, “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul?”10 Of course the answer is, such an exchange would be a complete loss, for it would be an eternal loss of every priceless possession.
But how can you judge the value of the mortal soul? God valued it so highly that He gave His own Son to redeem it. Those redeemed by His own Son value it, for its great capacity for joy and fellowship with God—the sweetest experience in all the world, and the price paid for it by Jesus Christ, and then the everlasting quality of the soul.
On the other hand, God’s Word says, “The world passes away, and the fullness thereof,”11 so it isn’t any great loss to lose what you can’t keep anyhow. Besides, no one ever owned a large share of this world. In comparison to the whole world, the richest man has owned only a tiny parcel, and the greatest conqueror only conquered a very small portion. The world can creep into your heart and crowd Christ out with little useless things, little things that are so unnecessary, and putting the emphasis in the wrong place and taking time for things that are of the world, giving attention to material things more than to fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and the reading of His Word.
But the world never satisfies. If nothing has satisfied you, if you still have that emptiness, that aching void in your soul, listen to this verse: “Jesus Christ is a satisfying portion.” Millions have testified that this is so, that He has satisfied every desire of their heart. When they knew nothing but the world’s work and the world’s wages, and didn’t find any satisfaction, Christ came into their life and there dawned upon their darkened soul a light so wonderful. As God’s Word puts it, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”12
Had I wealth and love in fullest measure,
And a name revered both far and near,
Yet no hope beyond, no harbor waiting
For my storm-tossed vessel I could steer,
If I gained the world but lost the Savior,
Who endured the cross and died for me,
Could then all the world afford a refuge
Whither in my anguish I would flee?13
He knows just what you are, yet He humbles Himself, and stoops down to your level and pleads with you to come. He says, “Come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live.”14 His Word says, “This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”15—Virginia Brandt Berg
Published on Anchor September 2017. Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.
Music by Michael Dooley.
1 Os Guinness, Impossible People (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2016), 45.
2 1 Peter 3:15.
3 Romans 1:24, 26, 28.
4 Ephesians 6:13.
6 John 12:31, 16:11; 1 John 5:19.
7 John 17:14–15.
8 Romans 12:1–2.
10 Matthew 16:26.
11 1 John 2:17.
12 2 Corinthians 4:6.
13 “If I Gained the World, But Lost the Savior,” Anna Olander, 1904.
14 Isaiah 55:3.
15 John 17:3.
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