The Christian: Not of the World

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
There are believers who take part in the world's concerns from generous and philanthropic motives—simply with a desire to do good, to relieve sufferings, or to check the aboundings of iniquity. We cannot question their benevolence, their high principles, or their sincere wish to do God service. But the purest motives will not lead a Christian right if he fails to understand his heavenly calling; and the question still remains whether these believers, sincere and excellent as they are, have entered into God's thoughts about what He would have them do.
If God were still carrying out His earthly purposes, if His design now were to bless or to improve the world, such a course as that indicated might be the right one for a believer to pursue. But this is not the case. The world is not going on to blessing, but to judgment, and a Christian is called to walk in separation from it. If he seeks to follow the guidance of Scripture alone, what would he say then to the idea of attempting, by political and social means, to improve the world? Would he not say, God has reserved the blessing of the earth till Christ comes; am I then to attempt it earlier? or can I, by going on without God, answer any good purpose? Am I more conscious of the evil than He is, or better able to redress it? If He has clearly foretold that the world is hastening on to the judgment it has incurred by rejecting Christ, can I arrest the judgment by my efforts, or shall I entangle myself in the system which is thus awaiting its doom? I am called to fellowship with Christ, and if He has bid Christ wait, shall not I, His fellow heir, wait with Him? If God is now calling a people outside the world, is not this my place, instead of plunging into the thick of its affairs, hoping to bless where God is purposing to judge? I cannot, by becoming responsible for the world's government, hope to avert the sentence. And as no man would paint and ornament a house whose foundations he knew to be giving way, the mere attempt to improve the world shows that I am not expecting its judgment, and helps to foster the delusion that peace and safety are ahead instead of the sudden destruction which God's Word announces. True benevolence demands that I warn those inside of its impending fall, instead of lulling them into security by joining in its decoration.
All this, however, it may be contended is mere inference from the general principle that the Church is heavenly in character. Is this inference supported by the directions given in the Word as to the walk of individual Christians? It is clear that the early disciples were called to share their Master's rejection. "If any man," says our Lord, "will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Matt. 16:2424Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24). He Himself was giving up His place of earthly power, and taking that of earthly rejection. So long as such is His attitude toward the world; that is, until His kingdom is established in glory, this is the fellowship into which He calls His disciples. It is no remote inference, but a direct, express statement.
The cross was the punishment of felons and slaves—not only a cruel, but a shameful death. To take up the cross was to assume a position outside the world, the object of the world's enmity and contempt. This then is what Jesus calls His disciples to do. Nor did this cease with His death. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also." John 15:18-2018If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. 19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. 20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18‑20).
This shows what the early disciples were to expect. Will it be said that the world has changed? that Christianity has so spread as to make such language inapplicable now? In the first of the passages just quoted, Jesus joins His followers with Himself in rejection. For how long? No time is named, but as He utters these words in taking up the Church character and laying aside the Messianic, it seems clear that the rejection of His followers lasts during this state of things. In His Messiahship, He will be exalted and His followers with Him. This conclusion is confirmed by the other passage cited, which contrasts two classes—the world, and those who are "not of the world." These are spoken of as
opposed, not for a time, but in character and principle, and therefore as long as the age lasts. It is asserted generally that believers are "not of the world," and are therefore the objects of the world's hatred.
I admit that the outward marks of this antagonism are much effaced. Religion has become worldly, and the world has become religious. Christians, forgetting their heavenly calling, have struck hands with the world, bid for its favor and places, plunged into its pleasures and pursuits, and earned its patronage and rewards. But does this alter the Word of God which says that the believer is not of the world," or that the world hates what is not of itself? Alas! we measure God's truth by our own failures, and because the world tolerates a worldly Christianity, conclude that Christ and the world are reconciled! They are not; and if there is a truce between the world and His followers, it proves no change of the world toward Him, but the lukewarmness of those who profess His name. Scripture, instead of teaching that the spread of Christian profession would soften the distinction between true believers and the world, makes it one of the heaviest charges against the professing Church, that it has committed fornication with the kings of the earth. The commerce between the Church and the world is infidelity to Christ. The amity between them shows, not the conversion of the world to Christianity, but the conformity of Christians to the world.
Indeed, when we look at the descriptions uniformly given of the world in the New Testament, it is amazing that there can be any doubt upon the subject. What is the world as there portrayed? It is presented under two different, but kindred, aspects, as the place which has rejected Christ, and as an organized system of things with Satan at its head. Everybody admits that Christ was rejected, but that the guilt of His rejection still clings to, and characterizes the world, is a truth almost entirely overlooked. We are so accustomed to regard Christ's death from the side of God's grace, that we forget to regard it from the side of His government. The cross stands before our minds simply as the means by which sin was put away, and the rejection of Christ by the sinner is deemed nothing more than his own individual rejection of salvation. But Jesus is set forth
in Scripture both as the author of salvation and as God's anointed ruler, and in each of these characters His rejection involves much more than the loss of personal blessing.
It is not only, however, for having rejected Jesus as a Savior that the world is under condemnation. God sent His Son into this world as the anointed One, the rightful ruler, and the world has cast Him out. Can this be a matter of indifference to God? On the contrary, it is a matter of deepest moment. What God sees in the world, and what He expects the believer to see, is a place guilty of having rejected His Son as its rightful Lord.