A couple weeks ago, one of our members prayed that we be aided by God to remember who we are and the example we set for others as we engage in the celebrations and festivities typical during this season. We do have the challenge of being lights to the world, of being positive examples to those around us, without being adversely affected by the world. While Jesus was on Earth, He was no recluse, shielding Himself from the world, but he claims in John 17:9-11 that neither He nor His disciples are of the world. He prays that His disciples not be isolated from the world but instead guarded from its corrupting influences. From this, we derive the phrase, “In the world, not of the world.”
A Separate People
When we think of separateness and distinction, we can turn to the Old Testament nation of Israel for example. In Exodus 19:4-6, God separates His people and He calls them His holy nation. He has forged a special relationship between Himself and the people, but they would grow weary of their differences from the other nations and often stumble. Many of them wanted to act and think like the wold while reaping the blessings of God. This attitude does not work for them, nor does it for us.
In I Peter 2:9, we are described in terms similar to ancient Israel. Peter calls us a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Like those Jews, we are to be a separate people for God, and this is to be reflected in every aspect of our lives. Peter goes on to remind us that we once had no spiritual identity, but now we are of God, benefactors of His mercy, keeping our conduct in check and avoiding the temptations of this world (verses 10-12). Paul, in II Corinthians 6:14-17 reminds us that we are not to tie ourselves down with the world and that we are to separate ourselves from this world, and he calls us to cleanse ourselves in 7:1.
Maintaining Our Identity
We must remember our relationship to this world. When Jesus prayed in John 17, He did not encourage us to physically isolate ourselves, but, rather than be influenced by the world, we are to be a good influence upon others. In I Corinthians 5:9-10, Paul admits that Christians must interact with those in the world, but he addresses their conduct around others.
In this, we have to remember the importance of Heaven above anything in this world. There are many things of this world we place emphasis and importance on, but all these things are temporary. They do not last. In relation to our eternal lives, these are unimportant.
Furthermore, I must be willing to be changed by God’s word. I must resist the pressure to follow the tides. Rather, God’s word must move me to do what is right. In Romans 12:1-2, we are encouraged to be living sacrifices – not conformed to the world but transformed into something spiritual and new.
The big question for us is how we view the distinction we carry. Do we view it as a punishment? Do we feel deprived or inhibited by the lives we are to lead? (“Look at what I must give up.” “I’m not allowed to…” )However, if we take this view, it will not be long before we slip back into the world. Really, when it comes to those prohibitions, what are we asked to give up that really matters in the long run? On the other hand, what do we gain that really matters? The answer in this case is everything. When stacked against those sacrifices we are asked to make, the gains are vastly overwhelming and far more permanent than anything in this transient life.
The children of Israel continued to falter because they were busy looking back at what they thought they lost while failing to appreciate what God gave them. In I Peter 1:3-4, Peter gives thanks for his incorruptible inheritance paid for by the blameless sacrifice of Christ (verses 18-19). He goes on to speak of the purification of our souls, and I Peter 2:5 then brings us to the new identity we gain in our service to God. We can maintain our separateness and distinction if we keep our goal in mind and remain thankful for the blessings God has provided for us.
lesson by Tim Smelser