We’ve all heard or seen the phrase “not of this world” or a similar statement that we are “in the world, but not of the world.” These catchy phrases look great on t-shirts and bumper stickers, but what do they really mean, practically speaking, in the life of a believer?
In other words, how exactly are we to live out this truth, which is taken from John 17:14, when Jesus prayed (concerning His disciples), “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
To answer this question, let me first begin by telling you a personal story.
Years ago, when Juanita and I were still newlyweds, she had a job working for a family-run packaging company. As a Christian, she struggled with the environment of that job because the owners were very carnal and brought witchcraft into the workplace.
Juanita wanted to leave so badly that over a period of several months she responded to fifty job postings, but never once received so much as an acknowledgement of her applications. Eventually, we both came to the conclusion that though we couldn’t understand why, God clearly wanted her to stay at that job.
Through that experience, here's what we learned...
1. Don’t Run Away
In the next part of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples, in verse 15, He says, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”
This is an interesting statement because Jesus isn’t praying for their removal from the world, He’s praying for their protection while in the world. Why did He not pray for their removal? Because He doesn’t want us removed from the world…at least not yet!
Jesus calls us “salt” and “light.” Salt and light profoundly affect the environment they are in. Salt enhances the flavor of food (food does not enhance the flavor of salt) and light repels the darkness (darkness does not repel the light). Both of these speak of our influence in this lost world.
It’s hard to ignore the presence of salt and light, and it should be even more difficult to ignore the presence of the people of God. In other words, our presence should be noticeable and it should be positively felt by the world around us.
There’s a reason we are here, but we also need to be prepared.
2. Maintain Holiness
In verses 16-17, Jesus continues to pray, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
The word “sanctify” in Greek is the word hagiazo and it means “to make holy, to set apart unto God and apart from the world.” It’s taken from the root word hagios which means “holy.”
Going into the world doesn’t mean that we walk in naively with our guard down. The spirit of the world is adversarial to the Spirit of God (that’s why Jesus prayed for their protection from the evil one in verse 15), so we need to be careful.
When soldiers go onto the battlefield, they go prepared. As Christians, we go into the world having been set apart (sanctified) and representing God’s holiness.
Notice what sanctifies us and makes us holy in verse 16—God’s Word.
God’s Word, the Bible, cleanses us, sanctifies us, and keeps us from sin. When we live according to God’s Word, we are prepared to take His message of love out into the world, without being tainted by the world.
3. Accept the Mission
Jesus then makes His reason for praying for their protection and sanctification by the Word clear in verse 18—“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
As Christians, we are called to influence the world around us, while not being influenced by the world ourselves. This is how we exist in the world while remaining set apart from it. Jesus called us out of the world, yet He also said:
We’re called to be set apart (separate) from the world, but not absent from it because as Jesus said, “I also have sent them into the world.” Separate and absent are two entirely different things.
The church’s separation from the world is not meant to keep us hidden; it’s meant to keep us holy.
Which brings us to the conclusion of Juanita’s story!
A few weeks after Juanita gave up her job search, she invited one of her coworkers to come to church with us the following Sunday. That morning, both her coworker and her husband became believers. The next Sunday, they brought their daughters who also accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The following week the aunts and uncles came forward.
This continued for weeks after, as an incredible harvest took place in the lives of that family, and Juanita was privileged to be a part of it.
Not long after, we noticed a job posting for a local Christian camp. Without any striving or stress, Juanita applied for that one job—and she was hired! It all happened in God’s perfect timing.
You see, we are called to be set apart from the world, but we are also called to influence it by shining the light and love of Jesus Christ. We have a mission to fulfill (making disciples), but we can’t accomplish the mission unless we accept Christ’s command to be “sent” into the world, while at the same time remaining holy (set apart).
This fallen world can be a dark and ugly place, and as children of God we often feel uncomfortable and awkward in it. That’s because we don’t belong here—our citizenship is in heaven!
Yet, for such a time as this, we are here and we have a purpose to fulfill for our Lord’s glory. We are called to be separate, not absent, so let’s go out and impact this world for Jesus Christ!
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