The Bible teaches that since we live in the world, we are involved with the world. Scriptures such as “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15), seem irrelevant and impossible to many today. They say, “We live in the world; we know there is plenty wrong with it, but we see no point in trying to avoid it.”
However, as we read the New Testament, it is clear that we are not to become entangled with the world.
What is the world? There are at least three meanings attached to this word.
First, there is the created world. “God … made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24).
Second, there are the inhabitants of the world, whom God loves and for whom Christ died. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
Third, there is the world denoted by the Greek word cosmos, meaning the world system, which is headed by Satan and based upon self, greed and pride. This is the world that God warns about, and it is this world system and philosophy that Christians are to shun and remain free from.
The warnings of Scripture are clear. The Bible says: “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). It teaches in Galatians 1:4, “[Christ] gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil [cosmos].” In other words, the world was such a great danger to our souls that this danger caused Christ, the Son of God, to go to the cross to deliver us from it.
Throughout the Scripture, the lines are definitely drawn between the world of unbelievers and the world of the children of God, in such Scriptures as, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Jesus Himself said, “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 17:14-16). And He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
The Bible also teaches that the Christian will face opposition in the world. “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” said Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12. Just as Christ’s life with all its love, concern and selflessness was a rebuke to the cosmos of His time, so our lives with Christ abiding in us today bring about criticism, opposition and persecution from those who cannot comprehend the mystery of God’s redemptive grace.
The Bible teaches that we are not to be discouraged by this. We are to consider it as evidence that we are identified with Christ. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12).
The cosmos has entertainment and diversions that so permeate the atmosphere as to make the way of the cross seem antiquated and irrelevant, and to make a godly person seem puritanical. In much of the entertainment media fostered by the cosmos, the name of God is profaned, sex is glamorized and Christian moral standards are laughed at.
Even many Christians are tricked into believing that you cannot enjoy life except as a member of the “cosmos crowd.” However, the happiest people I know are separated followers of Jesus Christ. They are not dependent upon artificial stimulants. They do not have to resort to sick, dirty jokes. They do not have to abuse their bodies to relax their minds. The Bible says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
To be a Christian is not a pious pose. It is not a long list of restrictions. It flings open the windows to the real joy of living. The cosmos would have us believe that following Christ is nothing but “thou shalt nots.” The cosmos would have us believe that Christianity is a killjoy, a stolid kind of life, unnatural and abnormal.
The Scriptural evidence is to the contrary. Christ said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). And those who have been truly converted to Jesus Christ know the meaning of abundant living.
The Bible teaches that worldliness is a force, a spirit, an atmosphere of the cosmos, that is in opposition and in contradiction to all that is godly and Christian. Its goal is selfish pleasure, material success and the pride of life. It is ambitious and self-centered.
Christ identified Satan as the prince of this cosmos. Satan employs every device at his command to harass, tempt and thwart the people of God. His attack is relentless. Paul wrote, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
However, the Christian is not left defenseless. God provides the power to give us victory over Satan. Paul said, “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). And John wrote, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
We will never overcome the onslaught of Satan and the power of this world system by mere human effort or by our deeds of righteousness, however commendable they may be. We can overcome by the blood of the Lamb.
The Bible instructs Christians to make a clean break with all the evils of the world and be separated from them. The Apostle Paul said, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
We are not to get our worlds mixed up at this point. This is where the confusion lies. Jesus ate with publicans and sinners (see Mark 2:16); nearly everyone He associated with was an outcast. But His relationship with them was not purely social; it was redemptive.
God meant that we are not to mingle with the world, but we are to witness to the world. We are to love the world of people whom God loves. We are to weep with those who weep (see Romans 12:15), suffer with those who suffer and identify ourselves with the poor, the sick and the needy.
But as for loving the evil cosmos, being enamored with the world system of evil, we are to be separated from it.
This can only be achieved by a close walk with Christ, by constant prayer and by seeking the Holy Spirit’s leadership every hour of the day. God has provided us the wherewithal to resist the world and be separated from it, and it is ours to appropriate that power every hour of our lives.
Christians are like the Gulf Stream, which is in the ocean and yet not part of it. This mysterious current defies the mighty Atlantic, ignores its tides and flows steadily upon its course. Its color is different, being a deeper blue. Its temperature is different, being warmer. Its direction is different, being from south to north. It is in the ocean, and yet it is not part of it.
So we as Christians are in the world. We come in contact with the world, and yet we retain our distinctive kingdom character and refuse to let the world press us into its mold.
The world is keenly aware of its emptiness, of its unfulfilled dreams, of its failure to cope with life. The world system is inadequate to meet the deeper needs of the human heart. This is ideal soil for the implanting of the Gospel. God has seen fit to entrust the work of His Kingdom to us. If the world system is changed, it will be through our witness.
The primary responsibility of the Christian is not to reform the world nor to remake the world system, but to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel—that God loves the world, has redeemed it through the cross of our Savior and seeks to save it.
And finally, Christians look for the end of the world. The Bible teaches that God is going to renovate the world, rid it of its wickedness, and that Satan himself will be cast ultimately into the lake of fire and brimstone (see Revelation 20:10).
The Bible says: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:10-12).
Thus we are not to hold the world in contempt. We are to obey its laws. We are to love those for whom Christ died. We are to pray for them, witness to them, help in all worthwhile social projects we can. But yet we are to achieve that most difficult of all tasks—not to be conformed to the world. This is the Christian’s stand; this is the Christian’s job. ©1968 BGEA
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Photo: Russ Busby/©1968 BGEA