The proverbial pendulum swings. It can be difficult to live in the balances (maybe we should call them tensions) of life. When we attempt to avoid one mistake we tend to overcompensate and make a different mistake.
Christians have struggled with this tension in each generation as we have pursued faithfulness as the disciples of Jesus. Do we love the world or not? Do we speak truth into a situation or act compassionately without judgement? Do we participate in certain activities of the culture or stay home and pray? Do we pray or act? Is it either, neither, or both?
Perhaps the greatest tension Christians face is in relation to the world. Are we to be in and of it, or separated and different from it?
The starting place for addressing this dilemma is defining what we mean by the world. The “world” must mean more than one thing if the Bible is to make sense to us. God loved the world, so he sent his Son to live in it. When Jesus prayed for his disciples and commanded them to preach the gospel, he acknowledged they would have to go into the world and stay in it. He even said the church is the light of the world. Clearly there is a kind of world that we should not seek to avoid, but to live in with our full energy. This is the world of people who are made in the image of God, who relate and need to be related to, and who need to be reconciled to God through Jesus. We are a part of this world, so we live in it with purpose.
Now for the other side of the pendulum. Jesus also taught that he is not of this world and neither are his disciples. Christians are told to not love the world or the things of the world. The world in which we are to appear as lights is dark and corrupt. So, we can also say there is a kind of world that is what we call “worldly.” This kind of world is not about people who are to be loved, but a way of thinking, a set of values, and a kind of living that is in rebellion against God. This world is opposed to the glory of God and the rule of his Son Jesus. There is a “worldly world” within the world. Sin abounds in the good creation of God.
In Revelation 18:4, we hear the call, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins.” This is God calling the church out of the world. How is this call to be understood?
Christ has called people in the world out of the world. He saves us from the worldliness of sin and rebellion against God, and the judgement to come for that rebellion.
Christ is calling his people to live in the world but not be worldly. Discipleship, in many ways, is a life of separation. The separation is not physical, but spiritual. The followers of Jesus live in this world as if we are of another one. We are the people of the kingdom of Christ, living by another truth and a new set of values, priorities, and commitments.
Christ will call his people out of the world and into a new heaven and new earth. The end will be judgement for the world in rebellion against God and the slain Lamb. It will be justification of all who trust and follow the Lamb while in the world.
Salvation of sinners, discipleship on earth, and the future life with God includes separation. May the Lord give us discernment to live faithfully in the tension this produces in us as we live on earth.
This weekend, read Revelation 15-19 as you prepare for worship on Sunday.