It's a phrase that we hear all the time in Christian circles. We are always striving to live "in the world but not of the world." While not taken directly out of Scripture, it's a consolidation of a portion of Jesus' prayer in John 17: "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 ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (John 17:14-16). This phrase is a good one, but has been used to the point of cliche. But do we really understand the full weight of what we say we are pursuing?
Unfortunately, it can be hard for me to determine a person's sincerity in such a desire, thanks to our Americanized, self-serving culture. Often I question my own sincerity. I'll cast my cares on the Lord, and take them back as soon as I'm finished praying. We act like God is just someone who comes alongside to help, when we ought to see Him as our Master and allow all of our thoughts and actions to be focused through the lens of His commands. American culture likes to pick and choose the things we like, and so we have chosen those commands that we want to follow, and to a certain extent discard those ones that make us uncomfortable. Sure, we feel bad when we go against it, but that doesn't stop us from doing the same thing over and over again.
Do we really want to see change in our lives? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to change our course of life so that it is more aligned with God and His Word? The people of God are referred to as slaves (δοῦλος) in Scripture, yet we have not given our lives in true servitude to God as such. We are living in the world, yet not acting as if we are of another world.
Part of the problem is the fact that we have minimized certain sins in our lives. We have fallen into the classic trap of "I haven't killed anyone, I haven't committed adultery, so I must be doing alright." We have created this hierarchy of the truly bad sins and the minor annoyances. Yet we are not the ones who have the right to determine the level of a sin's "badness." There is only One who has that right, and He has determined that the appropriate restitution for any single sin is death. It is an affront to a holy God, and death is the only just response.
Yet despite this judgment against us, where death is the payment for each sin we have committed and will commit, God saw fit to pay that penalty for us. He did so through His only Son, Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate at this time of year. Jesus was the only man to ever lead a perfectly sinless life, and so He was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of humanity. As Christians, we know all this to be true. But do we truly live like we believe it?
How often do we take time to sit and marvel at the glory of God and what He has done on our behalf? Not only did He send His Son to die on our behalf, but He perfectly orchestrated the unfolding of history so that we would find ourselves at the end of ourselves and realize that we cannot do this on our own. God has shown each and every one of us that we cannot thrive in this life on our own strength, for we have none. We may gain wealth or popularity, but that all goes up in a puff of smoke once we are gone. If we truly want to be part of something that will last forever, then we will invest what little we have in serving the Lord with everything, so that He might be glorified and so that those around us may see the light of Christ in us.
I work as the worship leader for a local church, but I also now work in clothing retail. I know how hard it can be to live as one "in the world but not of it" in the secular world. But if we leave the debate there, and succumb to the difficulty, then we have not allowed ourselves to be fully given over to Christ. Slaves do not pick and choose how they will serve their master; they do everything through the lens that this is what the master wants done. The same goes for us as God's slaves. He has freed us from the domain of darkness so that we can give ourselves completely to Him. We don't look at the world through the lens of sin and self; we look at it through the lens of Christ and His glory. I seek to do the best I can in the church so that I can give God glory and serve His people on a weekly basis. I also seek to give my best to my employers, my coworkers, and the customers who come into American Eagle. I want to show them the love of Christ by helping them to the best of my ability.
There is no distinction between sacred and secular. Everything falls under the category of "For the Glory of God." He has kept us here on this earth for a time so that we may declare His excellencies. This is not our ultimate home, but we are to live here like we are preparing for our eternal dwelling. How are you living for God's glory today? Are there things that you ought to re-evaluate so that you may align yourself to Christ more accurately? (Hint: the answer is yes. You just need to determine what need re-evaluation.)
This is not going to be an easy task for anyone. We have become so engrained in our ways that it will be hard to move away from it and stay away. Relinquish control. Give it to the Lord every day. As soon as you find yourself trying to reach out for whatever it is, drop to your knees then and there and pray that the Lord would give you the strength to stay away. Whether it's lustful glances, little white lies, lips that are quick to cut people down -- whatever it is, let go of it right now and give it to the Lord completely. Have someone close to you keep you accountable. Pray every single day, not only for the strength to withstand the temptations, but also for those around you to withstand them as well. Keep the focus off of yourself and on the glory of Christ. Only then will we see real change occur in the American church.
A simple servant of the Master.