I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. John 17:14–18 (NLT)
The question of how we as followers of Christ interact and engage this world has long been a question that warrants serious consideration. It is vital to understand the conflict that exists. In 1976, Dr. Francis Shaeffer introduced the book “How Should We Then Live.” The book addresses the challenges and pressures that the world is placing upon the people of God. Dr. Schaeffer said:
“Here is a simple but profound truth: If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, the society is absolute. Society is left with one man or an elite filling the vacuum left by the loss of the Christian consensus which originally gave us form and freedom.”
If we accept the premise that the world is hostile to us as believers and, as a whole, rejects absolute truth, what are our options? Jesus said that because we do not belong to the world, the world will hate us. In view of Jesus’ request of the Father to not take us out of the world, we have three options: we can assimilate, attempt to isolate or resist. What does it mean for us?
If you are a fan of Star Trek, perhaps you recall the storyline involving the Borg. The Borg are linked in a hive mind known as “The Collective.” They are known for conquering entire civilizations. As they approach, they say: “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” It is not unlike ancient Rome. They projected overwhelming force to defeat foes.
J.B. Phillips, in his translation of the New Testament, put Romans 12:2 like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within.” If left to our own strength, we will be assimilated by the world. The world has overwhelming resources and influence. The world desires to be the Borg, “The Collective,” where everyone thinks in uniformity.
We see those forces pressing in all around us. Sadly, we see compromise among some Christ-followers. Some are abandoning the gospel’s truth in a vain attempt to gain the world’s acceptance. The world promises freedom, but it delivers enslavement. Do not trade the freedom found in Christ for the world’s bondage.
Down through the centuries, there have been those who have tried to escape the world’s pressures by isolating themselves in monasteries, abbeys, and other retreats. On the surface, it may sound like a good idea, but there are two problems: First, how can we fulfill Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” when we have isolated ourselves from the world? Secondly, the world is only one part of the “axis of evil” confronting us.
Even if we successfully isolate ourselves from the world, we still face our own fleshly desires and our adversary, who goes about like “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Isolating ourselves for brief periods is spiritually beneficial. It allows us to be re-energized and refocused. There is a delight in spending time with our Savior, but extended time away from the battle is not the answer.
Resistance Is Not Futile
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corinthians 10:3–4 (NIV)
We may intuitively understand that we are in a great conflict and yet fail to see the war behind the war. We find ourselves irritated by what is happening around us, but if we do not grasp that what we see is not the actual battle, we will lose. We see people doing ungodly things, but they are not our enemies.
As believers, we must understand that this world and the prince of this world are warring against us. Although we are at war, it is not our objective to destroy the world or those in it.
In, But Not of
In John 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples and us before his crucifixion and resurrection. In preparation for his departure, he tells the Father that he has prepared the disciples by giving them the words of the Father. Jesus acknowledges that the world hates his disciples because they do not belong to the world, just as He does not belong to the world. Jesus does not ask the Father to take us out of the world but to keep us safe from the evil one. Jesus asked that we be made holy by God’s truth by teaching us his word. He commissions us to be sent into the world, and we are reminded that he was a holy sacrifice for us so that we might be made holy by the truth.
Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are. 1 Peter 5:9 (NLT)
Finally, we receive encouragement by knowing that we do not stand alone in this fight. Not only are our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world enduring suffering, but there is also the great number who have gone before us. Resisting the world, our fleshly desires, and the devil is not futile.
Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT)