Division is one of the top issues in America right now. The political climate can be almost unbearable. If a person doesn’t agree with you, they don’t just want to stop talking about it. Instead, they press their views even harder.
People have redefined the word “tolerance.” What used to mean that we can live together in peace with different views now means that we must accept, and even promote, views we disagree with.
Our society has become much more violent than it used to be. People who disagree with others have no problem becoming activists for their cause. I have no problem with being serious about a cause. But when you put other people’s lives in danger and destroy buildings and cities, this is not what should be happening.
The Bible calls Christians to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:11, 15-16). God calls his people to come out from among them (2 Corinthians 6:17). But what does this mean? Does God expect Christians to have no interaction with “the world?”
Separating from What?
John uses “the world” in three different ways throughout his writings. When he talks about Christian separating from the world, he is referring to the evil world system. This refers to everything in the world that opposes God and his people.
It doesn’t take long for a violent world to turn against Christians. Jesus said that they hated him, and will hate us for following him (Matthew 24:9; John 17:14). We are called to come out from among the wicked to serve God in righteousness. But when we do that, it will upset some people.
Based on our understanding of what we need to separate from, Christians have developed several approaches to separation from the world. There are extremes and there is a balance. There are certain things we cannot compromise.
We must separate from sin in our world. We must not support the wicked systems of this world. It’s one thing to point out the problems, the wickedness and sin, in our world. But it’s another thing to obey this command from the Lord.
We cannot just sit back and recognize the evil in the world. By its very nature, light overcomes and conquers the darkness. The moment you light a match or turn on the flashlight in the dark room, it takes over the darkness.
We are children of light (Ephesians 5:8). We must not be partners with wickedness and wicked people (Ephesians 5:7). It’s never okay with God when we give in to the darkness or compromise with temptation and sin.
But is there a way to handle people in this world that honors God and still keeps us separate from the evil world system? Our approach does not have to be harsh or abrasive. We can follow this command without putting people off.
Some Christians take God’s command to come out from among the world literally. Several Christian groups throughout the ages have separated from the world and made their own culture, refusing to interact with the things of this world.
These are not people who refuse to talk to unbelievers. But there aren’t many unbelievers among them. They operate in the world, but they do not mix with the people of the world at all.
They set up their own system. They physically isolated from the world, creating pockets throughout the world away from society and other people. They follow the laws of the land, but they don’t get involved in anything that happens in the world.
They avoid political and economic situations. These are not cults. But they are deeply isolated groups of Christians throughout the world that avoid contact with the world. But have they gone too far? After all, Jesus calls Christians to preach the gospel, baptize those who believe, and teach them (Matthew 28:19).
So while this model literally follows the command to come out from among the people and be separate from them, it doesn’t completely accomplish Jesus’ Great Commission. There is little interaction, if any, between Christians who isolate themselves and the world Jesus calls us to evangelize and disciple.
I have talked about the different approaches to how we interact with the world as Christians. Once again, the Bible speaks in terms of the world system, meaning large groups. I don’t believe it applies to individuals or smaller groups of people.
We must interact with the world to evangelize and disciple people. We must live among the people of the world. But not being of the world means that our DNA and who we are, who we follow, and how we live our lives is completely different from the way people who don’t know Jesus live.
We are separate from the world in that we do not live the way the world does. But we do not completely isolate ourselves and allow the world to continue in darkness. Instead, we interact with the world on smaller levels.
God’s kingdom conquers the world one person at a time. Each individual that sees the light of the gospel accepts Jesus and his role as Lord over their lives. This happens individually, and yet the Lord can change the world through just one or two people.
This is how God works. This is how we can live in the world and not be of it. We work in the world, but our home is in heaven. This is not our final destination. There are some things in each culture that do not go against God or his Word.
We only oppose the things in our world that do not line up with the Bible or that go against God. More and more there are less options for Christians to agree with the world system or integrate into society.
Each Christian must evaluate the culture around them and decide how much of this society and culture they can accept, and what they must oppose. And even when we oppose the world, we don’t have to be activists. We don’t have to shove it in other people’s faces.
For the most part, we can live for the Lord in this world, especially in America, without violent opposition. Her attitude and humility can go a long way. We must not act like we are know it all’s or holier than thou.
We can humbly live among other people, talking about following God in his kingdom. We demonstrate a lifestyle of holiness to those around us. We obey the laws of the land that agree with God’s commandments.
We don’t become the sore thumb of society. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, not activists who agitate those around us. As much as we can live in peace with others, we must attempt to do so. We don’t have to do what the world does.
Facing Rejection and Persecution
Being the odd duck will not always be met with passive resistance. Some people wonder why we don’t live like them. When we explain how we live for Jesus, some people may admire it. Others may be passive about these issues.
But Jesus told us there would be persecution and tribulation in this world. He described divisive relationships because we follow him instead of the principles of this world. He told us people would oppose us.
The Bible tells us we will overcome them by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11). We must be prepared for the other side of the tracks.
We are privileged in America to be barely persecuted, if at all. First Amendment rights afford us great freedoms in our country. But it may not always be this way. We may face the same persecution many Christians experience around the world.
Jesus told us these times were coming. He told us we are blessed to be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). I believe God gives us the strength to face persecution for his name’s sake. It will never be about us, but always about him.
God receives the glory in any kind of persecution we face. Even if it is a tongue lashing instead of a violent reaction to our faith and our witness in Christ, it is still a form of persecution. But we must not think we have faced the worst.
Be prepared for rejection in America. It is the softest form of persecution. But make sure when you are persecuted and rejected it is because of Christ and not because of you. Sometimes our personality, attitude, or approach that makes people not like us. So we must cause suffering only if it is for Christ’s name and not our own.
Ask Jesus for the grace to face rejection and persecution. Don’t let it stop you from witnessing about him. Don’t let it change the way you live for him. He will be there for you in the moment.
Living separate from the world doesn’t have to be our activist war cry. We come out from among the corruption and wickedness in our world. We don’t live like the world does. But that doesn’t mean we have to disown every unsaved friend we have.
Let the people in the world make our separation from them a problem. Don’t be the one to push it. A simple statement of your values in conversation when necessary should suffice. If someone asks you to come to the bar with them, and that’s not one of your values, just tell them you don’t drink.
When they probe for more information, explain your biblical worldview. I would rather be rejected by the people in this world than Jesus when I stand before him. The church should always be a place of acceptance. Leave a comment and tell me how you describe being separate from the world.