Options for Engaging the World
What is the Christian’s relationship to the world? It’s always helpful to review what Scripture teaches us about our involvement in the world, and we want to keep these thoughts before us because the dangers are real. Again, John wrote, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
Jesus told His disciples: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
In praying for his chosen disciples, Jesus spoke of their relationship to the world: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).
We often talk about being “in the world but not of the world…” But what does that mean? “Of the world” would indicate a mindset that thinks and acts like the world without much effort to change others or to point them toward Christ. “Of the world” means a mind set on the flesh, with the focus being on what pleases us instead of what pleases God. Contrast that with Paul’s admonitions:
“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:6-8).
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2).
What are our options when it comes to living in this world?
1. We can fully accept it and live in it (like an atheist). In this case we have completely given up on trying to live as Christ would have us to live. We have given ourselves over completely to the world, which is a mind that is hostile to God (cf. James 4:4).
2. We can fully reject it and live “out of it” (in total isolation). In this case we have given up trying to convert others and have a positive influence on those around us. Christ sent His disciples into the world to make a difference and let their lights shine (Matt 5:14-16).
3. We can try to compromise Christianity and bend it to the world. In this case we hold onto an unbiblical form of “Christianity” without trying to buck against the world very much. We call ourselves Christians, but we won't really try to reach out with the gospel. After all, we don't want to offend the people of the world with something like a crucified savior (see 1 Cor 1:18ff).
4. We can try to accommodate the world to Christianity. In this case we are bringing in more of the world to affect more of God's people (cf. 1 Cor 5:6-7). We make Christianity look more like a worldly endeavor rather than a spiritual relationship with God.
5. We can try to understand our relationship to the world through God’s lenses. This is what God would have us do. Our filter for understanding the world is Scripture instead of trying to understand Scripture through the lenses of the world. We see the world as lost and in need of Jesus, whereas the world sees “religion” as lost and in need of more worldliness. Yet the only hope we have of understanding our relationship with God is by understanding our lost condition without Him. Then we can begin to have a proper perspective of the world.
Paul expressed the mindset the Lord expects us to have: “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:1-2).