Being IN but not OF the World
aymon de albatrus
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1Jo 2:15)
"And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Rom 12:2)
In brief, by the word ‘world’ it is meant:
The physical realms: earth, stars, universe,
The animated groups: humans, animals,
The activities or peculiarities of such groups, i. e. their way of life.
In this Biblical situation the 3rd meaning is intended, specifically: "the way of life of unbelievers". This ‘world’ is full of wicked desires, lusts or pleasures, and pride, and it is utterly hated by our heavenly Father. Therefore the Father and the world cannot be loved together. The Apostle John in 1Jo 2:15 says, "Don't have a feeling of warm regard or affection toward the world (this world)". Why would he say anything like that unless the ‘world’ was attractive? The world possesses a beauty that, carnally, we find very difficult to resist.
The things of the world may be desired and possessed for the uses and purposes which God intended, and they are to be used by His grace, and to His glory; but believers must not seek or value them for those purposes to which sin abuses them. Yet these vanities are so alluring to the corruption in our hearts, that without constant watching and prayer, we cannot escape this ‘world’, or obtain victory over the god and prince of it.
This ‘world’ is the alluring heart of the ancient Babylonian system. This system has its basis in human nature. It feeds right into our desire for frequent change and variety of experience as the answer to fulfilment in life, promoting realization in material things, excitement and gratification of the flesh, and variety of experience. These major fruits are easily seen in the world around us as confusion of purpose. People do not know where they are going. They are bouncing in every different direction. There is competition, democracy, hitting heads with one another. There is disunity and diversity everywhere. There is disharmony, fighting with one's neighbour. There is separation from each other and eventually from God and ultimately the separation of death. The result is that the world is truly not a happy place to live in.
These are real dreadful traps that a true Christian must be well aware of and strong enough in Christ to be able to avoid them.
Nevertheless, Scripture tells us to be "in" the world, but not "of" the world. That means that we not only may, but also should, be willing to live amid secular (anti-Christian) influence without ourselves compromising our faith: "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." (Jam 1:8) But we are to be in the ‘world’ to show the ‘light’ and to apply the ‘salt’ (Mat 5:13,14) so that the world may know and be without excuses; for how shall they believe if no one goes and tells them? (Rom 10:14-15)
To walk the road of being "in" but not "of" the world is like walking a tight rope, not so easy, for it is a walk pummelled by thousands of distractions and the ‘flesh’ is weak, though the spirit is willing to walk straight without turning to the left, nor to the right. It takes Christian spiritual maturity to be unaffected by the appealing lures of the fleshly secular culture, but our presence is required at every levels of culture (without sinning) so that our lost society may be positively influenced for Christ, whilst we are not the least influenced by the world. [unfortunately, in these evil days, it is the other way around]
But to avoid non-Christian influence altogether, we would have to live as hermits (assuming that we could even find some place in the world beyond the reach of modern communications and government). In all modern experience there is a heavy component of anti-Biblical teaching and influence. But complete isolation is not a real option for biblical Christians. Even the Christian hermits of the ancient and medieval periods justified their existence as a life of prayer, and thus a life, which was, after all, in and for the world. However, then, how can we pray for a world we know nothing about? We must not seek to isolate ourselves from the world, but rather to be "salt" and "light" in our fallen culture, to carry out our Lord's Great Commission (Mar 16:15).
On this point, I remember an interesting event in a film I did see as a kid, many years ago, I think the name was "the great race", in it the hero was "the Great Leslie" a dude always dressed in impeccable white. Well during the film there was a scene in a Castle’s Patisserie where everyone was throwing cakes to each other. Then enters "the Great Leslie" in his pure pristine white outfit and for a long while he is able to duck every cake, till one hits him, and in few minutes he also gets totally covered in cakes, like everyone else. Now thinking about it I can see a moral story in it. No matter how good one is, there is always enough sin in one’s life for mud to stick, eventually. So if we mix with the world, as we are called to do, we must be aware that we are not immune to its mud throwing, and some will stick to our sins, since no one is without sin: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Rom 3:23) "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1Jo 1:8)
So! How can we be IN the world but not be soiled by it? The Key is not so much to be perfectly pure, for no one can be in this life, but to be deeply grafted in Christ and relying entirely on His righteousness, not ours, knowing fully well that without Him we can do nothing (Joh 15:5). We must be men of full faith, faith in Christ that He will accomplish trough us what He has purposed to achieve in His garden, Earth, with absolute certainty. For, admittedly, the delicate equilibrium, of being "in" but not "of" the world, is too difficult to be maintained unless one is truly grafted in Christ.
This balance is similar to that of walking perfectly in sound doctrine. Once a venerable old man of God told me: "aymon de albatrus, to walk the perfect truth of sound doctrine is like walking the sharp edge of a razor, it does not take much error to slip off it, into heresy". So real, true and pure doctrine wars against our ego and spiritual pride that the eventual fall (Pro 16:18) is for certain, unless we steadfastly keep hold of Christ (Gen 32:26), and even that is by the Grace of God "For in him we live, and move, and have our being".
Our modern democratic world is fun and sex mad: "you must enjoy yourself, have fun, shopping and go in holidays and spend all your money for it" this is the ethos of this age. The concept of entertainment, as in fun, is not found in the Bible at all. Once we read "entertain," in the sense of hospitality, but never the word entertainment in the sense of ‘fun’. The word fun is never used in the Bible. The word ‘games’ is never to be found. The word play is used a number of times: playing on musical instruments, playing the harlot, Israel sitting down to eat and drink and rising up to play (a reference to their naked dancing and worse), the boys and girls of Israel playing in the streets of Jerusalem after the return from captivity. The words vacation, retirement, and sports (or allusions to it) are not found in God's Word.
The Bible promotes working with our hands: "six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work." We have been placed on this earth to work, not to play and have fun. The words sober, sobriety, and being sober-minded are found often in It. Watch and be sober. Let us who are of the day be sober. Office bearers are to be vigilant and sober. Whereas words like: mourning, weeping, and tears are often used. Yes, Scripture does also speak of rejoicing but in the sense that the child of God is to rejoice always, in the Lord, NOT in amusements: "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice." (Phi 4:4)
Whenever the Bible speaks of the people playing the fun, it always ended up in gross sexual sins (as in these days) with dire consequences: "7 Neither be you idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand." (1Co 10:7-8) (Exo 32:6,7; Num 25:1-4,9)
Carnal desires gain strength by indulgence, therefore should be checked in their first rise and fled (2Ti 2:22). The Christian's security against sin is the distrust of himself. God has promised to keep us from falling, if we do not look to ourselves but to Him. (Jud 1:24) He will make a way to escape (1Co 10:13); He will deliver either from the trial itself, or at least the mischief of it. We have full encouragement to flee from sin, and to be faithful to God. We cannot fall by temptation, if we stick fast to Him. Whether the world smiles or frowns, it is an enemy; but believers shall be strengthened by Christ to overcome it, with all its terrors and enticements. The fear of the Lord, put into our hearts, will be the great means of safety (Pro 14:26).
We Christian are commanded to be in the ‘world’ to mingle with its people to witness Christ to them (Mar 16:15), for if we were not to mix we would need to leave the world (1Co 5:9,10). [Remembering that some believer (in obedience to Christ testifying His wonderful salvation) did mix with us when we were not believers]. Though we are "in" the world, we must not be "of" the world, nor be an integral part of it; that is we must not desire the things that are of the world, nor devoted to its interests and also we must be clearly seen as not belonging to that ‘world’ otherwise our witnessing is compromised (Jam 4:4). Jesus was 'in' the worlds but not 'of' the world an never compromised His witness, even though He was criticises unjustly (Luk 7:34). Remembering that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb 11:13). The world, which is full of wicked desires, lusts or pleasures, and pride, is utterly hated by our heavenly Father. Therefore the Father and the ‘world’ cannot be loved together. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
To fully assimilate the meaning of <"in" but not "of"> consider these examples:
If I go fishing to catch a fish to eat so that I may be physically strong to do the Lord’s work, it is not sin. But if I go fishing just for the fun of it, then it is sin,
If I go to work to earn money to sustain myself to do the Lord’s work I do well and do not sin; but if I go to work so to sustain myself to have my fun and then go back to work for more, then I sin,
If I go to see a football game (or any other entertainment) so that I may witness Christ to some unbeliever there, I do not sin; but if a go only for my personal fun and pleasure, then I do sin.
The purpose must always be to witness Christ to His Glory and NOT to amuse myself. (1Co 10:31)
The Key is that I may do that "pleasurable" thing (without sinning) not as an end in itself for myself, but as a mean to do God’s work; not as fun or entertainment for myself, in this latter case I would be sinning and I better not do it. “"All things are lawful unto me," but all things are not expedient. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1Co 6:12)