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In the world, but not of the world


I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me….
They are in the world….
They are not of the world….
I have sent them into the world. John 17

If you haven’t realized yet, these articles I write are just as much for myself as for anyone else. I have a hard time processing anything without writing it out. So now I’ll write out something that I’ve had in mind for a long time, and that ties into the last article I posted.

What does it mean to be in the world but not of it?

1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

To be in the world has a rather obvious meaning—we are here, “doing life” with the rest of humanity. If you’ve ever doubted that you were in the world, I’d be highly surprised. Go talk to your mom.

But to be of the world is different. According to John, “Of the world” means to be one with the world’s desires of the flesh, desires of the eye, and pride of life; the same goals, passions, purpose, and though the world may not know it, the same destiny.

The world has one goal-to be happy. It manifests its goal in different ways: the American dream, socialism, get rich quick schemes, and even funding charities to feel better.

But we, as Christians, don’t have the same goal. We don’t have the same motives, we don’t have the same purpose. Even while we buy cars, work a job, do school, take care of our families like others in the world, everything is different, because it is done for God.

The reason this ties into the last post is because the world is living for the world, but Christians, who are not of the world, are living for eternity. Before I go into how this looks practically, let me cover one more thing.

So if we have different desires and motives than this world, what does Paul mean when he says “I have become all things to all people”? 1 Corinthians 9:22.

Where is the line between being “not of the world” and yet becoming one with the world in order to win the world to Christ? I don’t believe this is an “either or.” There is no line. We can be all of both.

To become all things to all people is to break down every unnecessary boundary in order to reach someone for Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:13 “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” So we can still be different from the world in our purpose and motive, and yet put aside boundaries that disconnect us.

However there is a line concerning becoming “all things to all people.” How far can we go? We obviously can’t sin to become one with the world. Neither can we compromise our conscience. So how externally different from the world are we?

I have thought about this a lot. I don’t know that I can explain the whole thought process to you, but it has concluded in one thing, “They shall know we are Christians by our love.” *

So our clothing should be different in that it is loving.
Our music should be different in that it is loving.
Our media, reading material, internet intercourse, should be different in that it is loving.
More importantly though, our attitudes should be different in that they are loving.
Our words should be different in that they are loving.
Our actions, thoughts, and motives should be different in that they are loving.

I can’t tell you specifically what you ought to wear, listen to, or speak, but it must be loving. After all, to reflect God is the same as to reflect love.**

In this way, even though we break down unnecessary boundaries, and hopefully all of them, we are going to be different than the world. The world will see that we are different in our attitudes and motives, our words and actions. It is quite possible, in fact probable, that they will be offended. (John 15:19) But we must be sure that it is the gospel offending, and not us.

I ran through this all pretty quickly. So to recap:

  1. We are not of the world because we have different desires, passions, purposes, and motives. We are living for eternity.
  2. We are also sent into the world to win souls to God. We must break down every unnecessary boundary in order to minister God’s love.
  3. Practically, this is manifested in love. Everything must be done in love.
  4. We must be sure that the gospel is offending, not us, that we are not standing in the way of God’s work. (Jesus is the only way to God, we are not the only way to Jesus.)

I hope this all made sense and hopefully made some things a little clearer for you.


In Christ’s Love,

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. Romans 12:2


*Why is love the reigning factor? I won’t go into this here, but there is a wonderful sermon here.
**God is Love [link]

7 thoughts on “In the world, but not of the world

  1. Aww, this is awesome, Ellie. I’ve had this in my inbox for a while, and just got around to reading it… And the timing was perfect. This was just what I needed to hear right now.

  2. Pingback: Update on Life, April Edition | A Blog of My Own

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