The Christian and the World
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
At this present time, as much, if not more than has been the case since the New Testament began, there is a need for practical separation from this present evil world. As man becomes more sophisticated in technological terms, so does his ability and scope for evil activities. In practice, Christians are exhorted to keep themselves unspotted from the world's evil ways. In this age, when godlessness is much on the increase, there is great need for day by day, even moment by moment, spiritual exercise to holy sanctified living; living apart from everything that is contrary to the mind and will of God.
What do we need to be separate from?
We must be clear about this question, for some would seek to separate themselves altogether from everyone who is not a Christian. This is clearly erroneous and contrary to the prayer of the Lord Jesus in John 17. 14-17, 'I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth'. So, clearly, we are to be separate from the evil of the world rather than from unbelievers generally, for if this were the case how could we ever reach them for Christ? This is not to say that we should associate with non-Christians in such a way that our testimony for Christ is compromised, but rather that in our daily lives we use our contacts with them to point them to Christ. This is how the church expanded so rapidly in the first century - this gossiping the gospel, backed up by holy living.
In practice, bow do we strike the right balance?
It is easy to state in principle that we remain separate from evil, but working it out in practice is much more difficult. The trouble is that the heart has a bias towards evil, and has depths of motivation that God alone knows, 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings, Jer. 17. 9. The old nature is still present with the Christian, and needs to be reckoned in the position of death, 'Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord', Rom. 6. 11. In practice, how then do we check these motivations of the old nature so as to ensure we remain in God's pathway?
Here are some suggested guidelines based on the Scriptures:-
1) Firstly, is the thing we want to do for the glory of God?, 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God', 1 Cor. 10. 31.
2) Secondly, will our actions be a cause of stumbling someone else, particularly someone recently converted? The Christians at Rome had a problem with regard to eating food. Those from a Jewish background would abstain from certain meats, and although there was nothing inherently evil in the food, the apostle advises the Gentile Christians to abstain, so as not to stumble others, '. . . but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself (i.e. in the context of food): but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died', Rom. 14. 13-15. In our culture we may not have a problem with different types of food, but the same principle should be applied in other areas of our lives. Do we by our actions, or the places we frequent, cause someone else to stumble?
3) Thirdly, what about relationships? This is an area where we need to let others know where we stand. Do our friends know we are Christians and do we, if asked to accompany them to questionable places or activities, make a stand for the testimony's sake by refusing to go with them. We also need to ensure that we are not unequally yoked with non-Christians, 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty', 2 Cor. 6. 14-18.
This passage of Scripture teaches that if we enter into partnerships with non-Christians in any area of life, it won't work, and for the following reasons:-
a) An unequal yoke will be irksome and cause grief. The illustration is of an ox and a mule being yoked together in pulling a plough. They will definitely pull unequally.
b) The righteousness of a Christian cannot mix with the unrighteousness of a non-Christian. If the Christian tries to involve himself, or herself with an unbeliever it could result in the Christian being dragged down to the standards that are natural to an unbeliever.
c) The light of a Christian won't mix with the darkness of an unbeliever just as physical light never mingles with darkness. It's either one or the other.
d) A Christian belongs to Christ, the unbeliever to the devil (this may seem strong language but it is true). The Lord said to those unbelievers who opposed Him in John 8. 44, 'Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do'. The two groups cannot be mixed.
e) The Christian is a temple of God. God indwells the believer by His Holy Spirit whereas the unbeliever is controlled by the spirit of the world. Even in the modern western world, it is full of covetousness which is equivalent to idolatry, 'Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence (cravings), and covetousness, which is idolatry', Col. 3. 5.
Probably the most important thing in enabling the Christian to live a separate and fruitful life for God is that his over-riding motivation must'be Christ, and that the affections be set on things above, 'If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God', Col. 3. 1-3.