My entire life I’ve heard two phrases “stitched together” from John 17, “Christians are in the world, but not of the world.” John 17 records the great prayer of Jesus the night before He went to the cross. In it He prayed for His disciples, the ones who were gathered around Him, as well as the disciples who would follow throughout the generations.
In the world, but not of the world . . . at first it sounds compelling, like a slogan for a branding campaign. But to be honest, sometimes it feels like an empty cliché. When I find myself in the trenches of my business and personal life, I need more than an inspirational line. I need to understand who I am and what I am supposed to be doing in the world as a follower of Christ.
Jesus prayed “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:14-21, NLT)
If we don’t belong to this world, then where do we belong? Paul said that Christians are citizens of heaven awaiting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). And Jesus made our purpose in the world clear– He has sent us out into the world so the world will come to believe He was the sent-one from God!
Sometimes we are repulsed by all the compromise and evil we observe. Some of us are tempted to construct a bubble around ourselves to keep the world out by living in isolation. Others of us try to get along, and by assimilating or immersing ourselves into the culture we can lose some of our distinctives. Over time, we may unconsciously shed them one by one, until we are barely recognizable as disciples of Christ. So, we live with this tension between the two extremes of isolation or immersion. Here are three truths we can embrace:
1. Accept that you will sometimes feel out of place. The Bible sometimes refers to Christ’s followers as “aliens, sojourners, exiles and strangers” (1 Peter). If you never feel out of place, then you have become immersed.
2. Accept your purpose for remaining in this world. The Bible also refers to Christians as “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20) who serve in a foreign land as empowered representatives of their nation. Christ Jesus has assigned us the privilege and responsibility of being representatives of His Kingdom. If you aren’t purposefully engaged in the culture, you have become isolated. If you are engaging the world with an unloving spirit, you might need to go back to diplomat school!
3. Rejoice that you are not alone. Jesus told all His followers “I am always with you, even to the end of this age (Matthew 28:20) He has kept this promise over twenty-one centuries through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the Lord has given us the Church. The body of Christ is unstoppable even in places where the gospel is outlawed and Christians persecuted! Wherever you go, find where the people of God are gathered. He has placed them in your workplace, in your industry, in your community and certainly in the congregations where you worship. Join me in making more meaningful connections with others who are in this world, but not of it.
Serving Him with you in the marketplace,
Lord, I find that the dynamic of simultaneously feeling out of place and trying to fit in is very pronounced and challenging. Yet, I must accept the inevitability of it. My fear is that I will just cross back and forth between isolation and immersion. Keep me from those extremes. Help me find the “sweet spot” of living out my life with Christ while I’m on this earth. Thank you for arming me with these three simple truths as I face every day. Amen.
“Love the City of Man for the sake of the City of God.” Tim Keller