In the World, but not of it…What?

I have heard that statement quoted my entire life–that Christians live in the world, but are not of the world. John 17:1-26 records the great prayer of Jesus the night before He went to the cross. His disciples were gathered around Him but Jesus’ prayer also included all the generations of believers that would follow after them.

“In the world, but not of the world” . . . it sounds like it might be a slogan branding a Christian campaign. Actually it’s “stitched together” from four verses: “11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you . . . 14 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 . . . 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. . . 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.

What do those tangled phrases mean when navigating the trenches of business and life? I need more than an inspirational platitude or cop-out. As a follower of Christ I need to understand who I am and what I’m called to do within the chaos of our culture and marketplace.

We are pulled in opposite directions, and it’s easy to lose our way. On the one hand, Christians may be repulsed by the compromise and evil observed in the world. Naturally, we feel a need to isolate, even construct a bubble around ourselves and our families. On the other hand we must learn how to function and get along within the world’s self-prescribed rules. That pulls us toward over-assimilating, even immersing ourselves in the world’s culture until we are barely recognizable as Christ’s followers.

We live in the constant tension of being “in the world but not of it.” How do we avoid the extremes of isolation and immersion?

1. Recognize and accept that there will be times when you feel out of place in the world. The Bible refers to Christ followers as “aliens, sojourners, exiles, strangers” (see 1 Peter 2:10-12). That’s because our true home and citizenship is in heaven. Until then, God has purposely placed us here and Jesus understands our experience of being out of place here. A caution: If you never feel out of place in the world, you may have become too immersed in it.

2. Recognize and accept that you have a distinct calling in this world. The Bible also refers to Christ followers as “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20) who serve as empowered representatives of their nation in a foreign land. We have the privilege and responsibility to represent the Most High God and Christ’s kingdom as long as we live. A caution: if you aren’t actively engaged in our culture, you may have become too isolated from it.

3. Remember that you are not alone or without help in this world. Just before returning to Heaven, Jesus assured His disciples that He would always be with them, even until the end of this age (Matthew 28:20). He had also promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17). That promise has been kept, for many many centuries, to every believer living in this world and waiting for Christ’s kingdom to come in fullness.

Graciously, Jesus has also given us His Church, the steadfast, growing and unstoppable body of Christ–even in places where the gospel is outlawed and Christians are persecuted. Wherever you live in the world, be intentional about connecting with the people of God. They are strategically present in your workplace, in your industry, in your community . . . and in a local congregation where you regularly worship and live life in community.

Serving Him with you in the marketplace,

David Atchison

Lord, I find that the reality of feeling out of place and simultaneously trying to fit in is pronounced and challenging in my life. My fear is that I will swing too far toward either isolation or immersion. Holy Spirit, keep me from those extremes and help me find the sweet spot of walking confidently and joyfully through life with Christ while on this earth. Amen.

“A Christian in the world is one thing, and the world in a Christian is quite another thing. A ship in the water is all right, but when the water gets in the ship, it is quite a different thing.” – D.L. Moody