Thursday, May 19, 2016

In the World, Not of the World

     Oh... how many times was that club used to realign your behavior! :) Anytime we dared point to other people or other ways of doing things than how we did it in our conservative circles, the answer was always the same... "We are to be in the world, but not of the world." That trumped dating, dressing casually or even non-formally at church, rock music (even Christian rock), alcohol, and in some of the more extreme cases, playing cards.

     Perhaps the clearest example of this phrase's roots is in John 17:16 where Jesus says, "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" in reference to the disciples. It's very clear here that Jesus is saying that He is not of this world, and His desire is that His disciples will not be either... so we can at least take that as a fact. Jesus is not of the world, and His aim for His disciples is that we won't be either. Okay, got it.

     But! The question then becomes, "What was Jesus' intention with these words?" Quite frankly, I don't care if an American wants to interpret them this way or that way, but I am definitely interested in the intentions of Jesus in His statement. So did Jesus intend this verse to mean that though we are in the world, we are not to act as the world acts? I believe yes He does... but not in the way that many conservative Christians read Him to mean. More specifically, is Jesus intending with this verse to give us a broad, overarching decree that we are to be noticeably different from the world in our dress and behavior patterns?

     That is a difficult question to answer specifically, because yes, the Bible is clear that we are to be noticeably different. The real question lies in that admission though. How different? Different in what ways? Because this is a question that Christians seem to enjoy answering in certain ways and ignoring in others. I mean, you can say that we are being different from the world by not using playing cards, and you'd be right... but is it the kind of different that Jesus meant? You could dance naked on a pogo stick down main street and be "different", but that's clearly not what Jesus meant. You could wear a head covering and wear sandals instead of tennis shoes in order to be like Christ and wear a far Eastern style robe and be "different", but I don't see conservatives lining up to do those things.

     It would seem that even we realize that Jesus' goal was not just that we would be different, but that we would be meaningfully different in this world, not different for the sake of being different or sounding holy. This becomes even clearer when we examine what Jesus followed these words with. He says in v. 18, "As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world."

     So we're not different for the sake of being different. Simply quoting "in the world, but not of the world", as the popular Christian adage goes, is no more a satisfactory argument against Christian rock music than it would be against wearing tennis shoes. Both uses of John 17 completely miss Jesus' point; we are different in our behavior because we are on a mission... just as Christ Himself was on a mission. It's not that we're advertising to the world through our dress, bright faces, or long hair if you're a girl or short hair if you're a guy that you're Christ's disciple as so many have implied. Jesus grew up in Nazareth and the people of His home town laughed at the idea that He might be something special... He was just an ordinary boy. It was not His appearance or cultural rebellion that stood out.

     What is it that Jesus says will mark us as His, mark us as different? Is it our dress standards? Maybe, maybe someone will notice a girl in a modest swimsuit is different from the girls in bikinis on the beach. Is it a guy's short hair? Possibly, someone might think it's a Christian thing to be clean cut, though I can name you a number of clean cut, nice looking young guys who have no desire to follow Jesus at all. That's certainly not a Christian distinctive.

     Just four chapters earlier in John, Jesus tells us what it is that truly marks us as His and different from the world: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." Ah! Notice, Jesus did not say our spouse finding tactics would tell all people that we are His disciples. He didn't say our music would. He didn't say our clothes would or our refusal to drink alcohol. What sets us apart distinctly from the world is our love.

     In taekwondo, we're famous for one thing particularly: high aerial kicks. Nobody kicks like we do. We do spinning kicks, 360 degree kicks, multiple spin kicks in a row, three kicks in the air off a single jump... nobody kicks like we do. We do a lot of the same moves and adaptations that other martial arts do, but what sets us apart is our kicks.

     We are like other religions and other people in the world in a myriad of ways. We believe that sex our of marriage is wrong like Muslims... we believe in self-defense, just like many atheists do... I happen to enjoy hamburgers, like many cultists do. These things don't mark us as different from the world! What truly marks the disciples of Jesus Christ is our love, the crazy love our Savior showed to us.

     If you want to show the world you're different, refusing to play "Spades" or refusing to hold the opposite gender's hand at a game in youth group isn't the most effective way to do that. Jesus outlined a very different module for us; love. First, love Him, wildly and above all else, and secondly, love your neighbor as yourself. Love is what truly marks us as his, not our standards.


  1. This reminds me of something a grace-crazy friend of mine talks about a lot... :P

    This is thought-provoking, bro. And challenging; being known for one's love is a high calling.

  2. This is a great reminder, thanks!

    (Also I was wondering if you could create a topic page where I could access articles on a specific topic faster. You have a lot of good stuff on here and its kinda hard to navigate. Just an idea! :) )

    Keep up the good work, for His glory!

    1. That's a very good idea, Liam... I'll start work on putting something like that together very soon. Thanks for the suggestion!