When I was in high school, many of my fellow students looked to me as the perfect Christian. I was the Bible Club president for two years. Many of my lunch periods ended up as theological conversations and Bible question and answer time.
Aside from being legally blind and incredibly short, the other thing that separated me from everyone was my Christianity. I wasn’t persecuted by most but many were uneasy around me. Even though I wasn’t a judgmental person they felt like they had to be a certain way around me.
Now that I’ve been a pastor people tiptoe around me as soon as they find out. I try not to tell anyone when I meet them because I don’t want to overwhelm them. It’s not that I live a perfect life or that I’ve attained holiness yet. But people are afraid to be themselves around me sometimes.
The world senses the higher standard of Jesus upon our lives. All they have to do is label us as Christians and things change suddenly. They’re very careful around us because they care what we think. There seems to be a natural separation between Christians and unbelievers.
The Bible addresses the struggle we have as we live in this world. Even though it is not our home, we must find a way to live in it and work for Jesus. We are his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). But we’re also separate from the world.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Paul addresses this separation with a command found in the Old Testament. This is one of the main focuses of holiness. God calls us to come out from among the rest of the world and be separate from it.
But this raises questions for us. Should we isolate ourselves from the world? What does it mean to be separate? Do we segregate ourselves or look down on others who aren’t Christians? The list of questions can go on and on.
Paul introduces a couple of holiness principles in this passage. The first is not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). But this doesn’t mean we can’t have unbelieving friends. I hope that every Christian knows at least one unbeliever. And that’s not just to evangelize them.
A yoke refers to a wooden object placed on top of the necks of two oxen. When they worked in the fields, it insured that one would not work harder than the other so that they would work together.
When we are unequally yoked with unbelievers, we partner with them in some venture. We try to work together but with different values, worldviews, and goals, it becomes very hard to be productive. We are like two people headed in opposite directions.
One of the major differences Paul points out is that Christians’ bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in us from the moment we are saved into his kingdom. When we follow Christ, his Holy Spirit teaches us how to live for him.
Unbelievers do not have the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. They do not listen to or obey his instruction. Paul teaches elsewhere that the person without the Spirit working in them cannot even understand the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The Holy Spirit is by name “holy.” This holiness separates us from those around us. But it doesn’t mean that we need to isolate ourselves or segregate ourselves. We should never look down on anyone else. One of the hallmarks of a Christian is humility, with Jesus as our example (Philippians 2:1-11).
Separation is not something we do. It is natural to be separate from unbelievers because of the differences I have pointed out. Our relationship with God separates us from unbelievers who don’t have that relationship (2 Corinthians 6:18).
A holy God cannot dwell with an unholy people. Because the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts, we are by nature different from others. We don’t want to do the same things the world does. Coming out from among the world and being separate has the Old Testament background of Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel Ezekiel 20:34.
The Israelites were given God’s law through Moses so that they would be different from the countries around them. We who serve Christ and follow his teachings are separate from the world the moment we are obedient to him.
But if we want to have a relationship with God, we must be holy. It is the only way that God can be with us. So as we follow a separate set of standards, God’s high standards, we will stop doing the things our friends were used to seeing us do.
This passage also singles out anyone who wants to ride both sides of the fence. You cannot be a Christian and do what the world doesn’t the same time. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t serve two masters (Luke 16:13).
This is a gut-check for Christians. As much as we want to be accepted and friendly with the world, we cannot do what the world does. We don’t think, speak, or act like the world. We are on a separate path.
If we are living like the world, we don’t feel that natural separation, and we may not be living up to God’s standards. One of the things we can do is evaluate our lifestyle and make sure it pleases God rather than people (Galatians 1:10).
While we are not part of the world, we gain the fellowship of believers and God (1 John 1:7). We belong to God (Leviticus 20:26). We walk with him and our desire is only to please him. But how do we relate to the world?
Isolation from the world creates a barrier that cannot be reversed. People know you don’t want to be around them and they will take it personally. Jesus never taught us to abandon the world and make our own society.
He taught us to interact with the world with one major difference. Instead of accepting everything the world does and stands for, we become the influencers. We are the salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). We bring godly flavor to conversations and decisions. We shine a light of revelation in the darkness.
This is the challenge: to live separate from the world but influence it from the inside out. We are holy rebels for the Lord. We go behind enemy lines and rescue people living in darkness. We introduce them to Jesus, our Savior, Lord, and friend.
How do you deal with being separate from the world? Leave a comment and describe your thoughts about this holiness principle.