The Christian and the World

Man in Forest

One of the more interesting books I have read was The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel. This book describes a man – Christopher Knight – who disappeared in 1986 and was not found until 2013. For twenty-seven years, he lived alone in the woods in central Maine without any contact with others. The way he was able to survive in the woods – not just for part of a brutally cold Maine winter, but for almost three decades – was fascinating, despite his unethical methods (stealing in order to acquire supplies).

One reason why a book like this was so popular – it was a national bestseller – is because we are intrigued by the idea of one who was able to disappear into the woods and continue his life without interference from the world around him. There may be times when we wish we could escape from the world, yet we know that this is not practical or realistic. We all live in a society and necessarily need to interact with others.

As Christians, there is a “relationship” that we have with the world. Jesus described it in the following verses:

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. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also be believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:14-21).

In this passage, Jesus was talking about His apostles; yet the principles can apply to all Christians. So let us consider what Jesus had to say in this passage that will help us understand the proper relationship we are to have with the world.

Hated by the World

Jesus said, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them” (John 17:14). Not long before this, Jesus warned His disciples of the fact that they would be hated by the world for being chosen by Christ (John 15:18-20). He even said, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). This shows that the opposition will often be religiously motivated, coming from those who misunderstand what it means to serve God.

The reason why Christians will be hated by the world is because we have been “given” God’s “word” (John 17:14) – not because of race, social status, personal animosity, etc. (if people hate us for those reasons, they will hate us whether we are Christians or not). The fact that people hate us because we have received the word of God shows that the world has a hatred for the truth found in God’s word (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10).

We must be willing to accept the fact that we will be outcasts from the world. “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12-13). As outcasts, we should prepare for persecution. Paul warned Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Compromising or abandoning God’s word may help us avoid this opposition, but it will not be worth it. Nothing we might gain in this life is worth losing our soul (Matthew 16:26).

Not of the World

Twice in His prayer, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14, 16). This was repeated for emphasis. Jesus came “from above” (John 8:23). His home was in heaven. Yet He came to earth and sanctified Himself for the sake of His followers (John 17:19). This means He set Himself apart for the work that He came to do. Jesus explained that to His apostles in this way: “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded me” (John 14:30-31). When He came to earth, He “accomplished the work” the Father gave Him to do (John 17:4).

We are to conform to Christ as He left us “an example for [us] to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Peter wrote, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose” (1 Peter 4:1). We must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” (Romans 12:2).

Another thought in Jesus’ prayer that was repeated for emphasis had to do with the fact that His followers were sanctified or set apart by the truth (John 17:17, 19). As Jesus sanctified Himself in order to do the Father’s will, we must sanctify ourselves in order to do what He has instructed us to do. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). James wrote, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). By doing this, we will set ourselves apart from the world.

Cannot Be Taken Out of the World

Despite the hardships they would face in the world, Jesus did not pray for the apostles to be taken out of it: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). There was a reason why they were in the world. They were to be His “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They were the “ambassadors for Christ” to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Like the apostles, we also cannot be taken out of the world. There is a reason why we are here. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This cannot happen if we are not in the world. As Paul told the Philippians, we are to “prove [ourselves] to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

Rather than praying for His disciples to be taken out of the world, Jesus prayed that they might be kept “from the evil one” (John 17:15). His prayer is for us to overcome the devil. He provides a way of escape for every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), but we must be willing to take it. James wrote, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Sent into the World

As Jesus was sent by the Father “into the world,” He sent His apostles “into the world” (John 15:18). These men received a commission to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). The purpose of this was to try to bring people to the Lord. Paul told the brethren in Corinth, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). As the Lord’s “ambassadors,” they were “making an appeal” for men to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

We are not directly under the same commission as the apostles, but it does apply in certain ways to us in principle. We are to be in the world – not just that we cannot be taken out of the world (John 17:15), but that we seek out opportunities to interact with those in the world. Like the apostles, our goal is to bring people to Christ. This can be done in part through our example. Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that…they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). It can also be done through our words. Later in the same letter, Peter said, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).

Showing Christ to the World

Jesus mentioned two ways in which the apostles would show Christ to the world:

  1. Through their word – “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20). They would preach “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) in order to make Him known to the world and lead people to believe in Him.
  2. Through their unity – “That they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). Earlier, Jesus told His apostles that unity with one another through love would be one of the defining characteristics that would be recognized by the world: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

We must show Christ to the world by proclaiming His word. We can do this by “being ready to make a defense to everyone” (1 Peter 3:15). When persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, the disciples were scattered; yet they “went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

We also show Christ to the world by having unity with one another. Paul told the brethren in Ephesus to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In order to do this, we must “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:14). This goes back to the verse we noticed earlier that we prove to be Jesus’ disciples by having love for one another (John 13:34-35), and this love will lead us to have unity in Christ.

Conclusion

As Christians, we cannot be taken out of the world. Therefore, we need to be sure we have a proper relationship with the world so that we can be pleasing to the Lord. We cannot afford to let the world influence us to drift away from Christ. Instead, we need to be a positive influence on the world so that we can help lead others to Him.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on Love, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Thankful.