In the World But Not Of the World

Have you ever heard this saying before? That Christians should be “in the world but not of the world”? What does that actually mean? And do we ever get it right?

Recently, Freeman and I have been meditating and memorizing the scriptures below:

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fatheris not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

As I was reading commentaries on these verses, I learned a few  interesting things:

  • There are several different meanings of the word “world” within the Bible. Think about it: This verse calls us to not love the world while a very famous verse, John 3:16, says that “God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son…”
  • “World” can mean that physical thing which God created, the people within that created thing, and finally, the negative version of the word which means that which is in opposition to God.
  • Oftentimes, we as Christians begin to be of the world but not in it. “[We]  have adopted the good things of culture and society, but refuse to involve [ourselves] to create positive change (IVP New Testament Commentary). In other words, we take we want from this world but we don’t do anything to love for or care for this world or the people of this world.

So what does it  mean to actually be in the world but not of the world? Jesus Christ is our best example. Through incarnation, God himself came down to earth and embodied flesh as a man. He definitely lived in our world but did not fulfill the desires of his natural flesh through worldliness. The Bible even says he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Recently, I read a great blog post by Logan Gentry with some great thoughts about incarnation. You can read the whole blog post here. In this post, Logan explains how we as Christians get to be incarnational by embodying Jesus to those around us. We get to “step out of what is comfortable to join in someone else’s life, to be a participant in their life, enjoy getting to know them and laughing a lot, but sometimes crying with them” (Logan Gentry).

So we can be IN the world by stepping out of our own comfort zones and our own worlds that we’ve made that revolve around us and entering into the worlds of other people in an effort to show them the Jesus that did this for us. Basically, we can be in the world by loving the world (people) and we can keep ourselves from being of the world (worldly desires and things) by letting Jesus be enough for us and not going after the things of this world which stand in complete opposition to our God.

So how do we know that Jesus is enough for us? Well, let’s look at his life again. He not only came to live in this sin-filled, broken world as a human, but he DIED for the sinful people who inhabit this world. He not only lived the life we couldn’t live (complete perfection), but he died the death that we deserved to die so that in return, he could give us his righteousness! (Doesn’t exactly seem fair does it? It’s not; that’s why it’s called grace.)

So how can we be in the world but not of it? This verse gives me a good idea…

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15

As Logan puts it, it means “Loving someone else over your plan or your own needs because that is what Christ has done for you” (LG).

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