Any Christian who has walked with Jesus for even a short time is probably familiar with the phrase, “We are in the world, but not of it.” There have been countless messages preached on this topic. There have been countless blogs written on it as well. I couldn’t even begin to guess how often this statement is used as a Christian one liner on social media streams. It is obviously something that we wrestle with as believers. How do we walk this fine line of keeping our minds set on a heavenly eternity, while also having been placed in a world that is set up in complete opposition to the heavenly environment of that eternity?
Related Post: “What Does the Bible Tell Us About Eternity?“
The context of this phrase comes from John 17. It is when Jesus is praying for His followers shortly before He leaves the world. Jesus passionately reaches out to His Father to request the following for his disciples:
But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 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. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world (John 17: 13-16)
Is the emphasis of this scripture to encourage followers of Christ to blend in and look more like the world in an effort to effect change? Or is the emphasis on the idea that we are not supposed to look like the world? That we are called to be set apart and to stand out? I have often heard it talked about in the former way. Meaning, I often see people use the phrase “we are in this world, but not of it“, as evidence that we are supposed to blend in. The idea would be that, even though we are not of this world, we are still in it. Therefore, we need to bend and compromise on some things. This allows us to gain acceptance and have influence to win the world for Jesus.
I am going to make a challenging and potentially controversial statement. I don’t believe that is what Jesus is praying for in this scripture. I believe that if we read the whole scripture in context, we will see that Jesus is saying just the opposite. What Jesus is saying is more along the lines of, “Help them to remain here (in this world), continue standing out (being set apart from it), but to remain joyful and protected no matter what tries to come against them.”
I will be the first person to admit, and my wife could certainly attest to this, I don’t like to stand out. I don’t like to have attention drawn to me. The more attention on me, the more pressure that I feel. I tend to avoid it. But the blood of Jesus calls and empowers me to transcend that fear. It enables me to stand up and stand out, even if everyone around me hates me for it.
We are in this world that is not our home. We have been placed here for a short time to make an impact for the Kingdom of heaven. We were not created to blend in, or to compromise God’s promises; but created to stand out and to be cities on hilltops. We are called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).