The life of a Christian is full of seeking answers and internal struggles. One of these struggles is finding balances: a balance between living joyfully and soberly, between being gracious and being truthful, between holding fast to primary doctrines and keeping a loose grip on secondary issues, etc. The balance I want to talk about is the balance between being in the world and not of it.
“In the world, but not of the world.” If you have been around Christians for any length of time, chances are you have heard this before. It is one of the more popular “slogans” of Christianity, drawn from John 17:14: “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.”
If you ask most people what it means to be “in” but not “of”, most likely you will get an answer like this: “We can’t be separate from the world like hermits, but we have to be very different.” This is the right answer. A Christian must be very different. But it is when we apply this truth to real life that we must be careful to be balanced – in other words, rightly dividing the Word.
Gambling is a real problem for many people. It has ruined lives nearly beyond repair and caused horrible pain. Does this mean Christians should never play card games?
Some people would say, “Yes.” Christians should not play card games.
Let’s take the same principle and apply it to another scenario. Gluttony is a real problem for many people. Not only does it cause serious health problems, but also an addiction to food, or any other physical appetite is no different than idolatry. Does this mean Christians must eat very little?
Not many people would agree with that.
Let’s apply it to another scenario. The rest of the world begins to exclusively wear red hats. Christians are called to be different from the world. Does this mean Christians begin to exclusively wear white hats?
Obviously, there is a wrong application and there is a biblical application. What is the biblical, Christ-like way to be a non-conformist?
The answer is incredibly simple: Obey the Word of God. Look back at John 17:14. What is directly connected to the Christian not being of the world? It is the possession of the Word. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them. …”
This is what makes biblical non-conformity different than simply being a sub-culture. A sub-culture is different than the rest of the culture for the sake of being different. Being different, for a sub-culture, is the point. But for the Christian, following Jesus is the point. The Christian isn’t simply refusing to conform to the world; the Christian is conforming to Jesus Christ. The Christian is not reacting against what the world is doing. The Christian is imitating what Jesus is doing. The Christian doesn’t care if the world wears red hats, as it were, but desires to wear whatever hat Jesus is wearing.
As I said, the Christian life is full of finding balances. How do we find the balance of being in the world but not belonging to it? The answer is found in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”