There is a great deal of confusion regarding what Jesus said in John 17 about Christians being in the world but not of the world. Let’s unpack this important truth and find some practical application to living out these two little words with one big difference.
First, what is meant by “the world”? Jesus is not referring to the created order, which God said is very good (Genesis 1:31); nor is He referring to the universal community of humanity. What Jesus is talking about is the godless, sinful systems of this world that are ruled by Satan (see 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2, 6:12). This is exactly what the apostle Paul is referring to in the following verse.
Do not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
Jesus and Paul are both telling us not to be conformed to the sinful patterns of this current world system, because we are no longer ruled by sin and Satan (Romans 6:14). In brief, we are to avoid worldliness. We are not instructed to retreat from contact with the people, places, and things in this world (see 1 Corinthians 5:9), which God is in the process of redeeming. We are not to seek the quiet solitude of the monastic life simply to avoid our surrounding culture, as many over the centuries have done. We are, however, instructed to resist the sinful direction this world seeks to lure us into (see James 4:4), a purely horizontal direction devoid of God and the revealed truth of His sacred Scriptures. “If anyone loves the world,” John warned, “the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).
Sin has corrupted everything! Everything God made good has been twisted, marred, and corrupted by sin. That is why God hates sin so intensely . . . so much so that He sent His Son, Jesus, to atone for it on the cross. Because God hates sin, we too must hate sin, which is why we are to understand the difference between being in the world but not of the world.
- We are not to think like the world
- We are not to act like the world
- We are not to talk like the world
- We are not to desire like the world
God has placed us in this world to be both salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus emphasized this truth throughout His ministry. The analogy of light suggests an unmistakable presence. When the light goes on, the darkness disappears. When we let our “light” shine before others, the world is impacted by both the “good news” we preach and the “good works” we practice.
“Salt” needs to be understood in its historical context. In the first century, salt was used primarily to preserve food, rather than to enhance its flavor. God wants to use His people to preserve the world from its evil influences by flavoring it with the truth and power of the Gospel. God wants the distinct difference between His unchanging truth and the world’s fleeting philosophies to be preserved.
Where there is war we are to bring peace. Where there is sorrow we are to bring comfort. Where there is hatred we are to bring love. Where there is unforgiveness we are to bring reconciliation. Where there is error, we are to speak truth. We do this by preaching the Gospel with both our lips and our lives.
As my friend and pastor Tullian Tchividjian likes to say, we are to actively engage the culture around us by being countercultural. We make a difference in this world by being different from this world. We live against the world by living for this world, refusing to become consumed by worldly pleasures. Not being of this world means we are consumed by Christ alone. Because Jesus is making all things new, He is for this world. And because we are Christ’s brothers (Romans 8:29), must we be for this world.
So how are you doing at shining light into the dark places? Are you enhancing the flavor of eternal life in this fallen, broken, and hurting world? Remember, only God’s story provides the answers to the questions that matter most in life. Only God’s story explains the beginning (creation), the problem (fall), and the solution (redemption through the blood of the Lamb). Only God’s story weaves together the past, present, and promised future for all those who are in this world but not of this world . . . and we must proclaim that story to all the world!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!