It may sound like a simple question of semantics – grammar – just plain English. Yet “in the world” and “of the world” are two very separate and opposite concepts changing much more than just the prepositions. How can a Christian be in the world – but not of the world? Is it possible to retain our Christian purity and godliness in the midst of this “wicked and perverse generation”?
In the New Testament account, when John saw Jesus that fateful day coming to be baptized, he proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” So it is the door of hope opened that man who had stumbled darkness could find the Light of the world. When Jesus Christ redeemed us by His blood He purchased for us the ability to be in the world and not be of it.
Paul instructed the Christians at Corinth with these words: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” It would seem that the spirit of the world would keep us from knowing the things “freely give to us of God.” Worldliness is a spirit. A spirit of the world blinds us to His love and care for us. It keeps us from knowing the power in His blood and name.
In the first epistle of John we read a pretty apt description of what is of the “world” – “…the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father, but is of the world.” Yet with it comes a promise to those who are in the world but not of it – “…he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:16-17).One translation says, “He becomes a part of the permanent and not the passing.”
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” If we are of the world, it’s sorrow brings death to our spirit as well as our physical body. Yet, Godly sorrow – that in the world but not of it kind of sorrow – brings repentance and salvation.
Galatians 4 speaks of “bondage under the elements of the world.” Yet, God sent His son, to redeem us. Being in the world but not of it, brings us freedom from the bondage of the elements of the world. I have been sometimes humored as those who do not understand the freedom of our Godly lifestyle refer to us as being in “bondage” to our religious beliefs. Yet, outside any given “no smoking” area those in physical bondage to nicotine gather under smoky clouds of their own making. Then who is really “in bondage”?
To the Colossians Paul said, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” The rudiments – or principles of the world – are sometimes in direct opposition to the principles of the Kingdom. When you find yourself in the world and not of it, you understand the way up is down. Faithful servants are made rulers of many. To receive, give. To live, die.
In James we find the cautionary query, “…know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” In the struggle to be in the world, and not of the world, we cannot allow ourselves to become friends of the world. Friends are loving, caring, trusting – we cannot love, care, trust the world; it will surely betray us.
Peter wrote of those who had escaped the “pollutions of the world” through the “knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” and become entangled again, their latter end being worse than their beginning. As we live in the world, if we are not careful it is easy to find ourselves becoming again “of the world.” We must guard our hearts and lives through prayer, fasting, and the Word. We must constantly separate ourselves from the pollutions of the world, “according to his mercy… by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost…”
I close with the writings found in the Book of I John, chapter 4. If we are in the world, but not of it -we are of God…we are overcomers by His power – we know the spirit of truth – and the spirit of error. We are in the world, but not of it.
And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.