Even as I ranted my Dixie cup prayer last week, exasperated from endlessly bailing the swelling sea of cultural contaminants from my family, I received my answer: “In it not of it.”
I’ve heard it preached and repeated in Christian conversations a million times, simply accepting it as the way it is, but this time, I wanted to know more. What does it look like on a daily basis when the of it pulls on the in it with such force that the two become indistinguishable? How do I teach this truth to my kids in such a way that it gives them the strength they need to make unpopular choices? What does it mean down deep and in context with what else God says about living here on earth but being citizens of another realm. Strangers. Aliens.
The saying is based on Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17:14-18:
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world (emphasis added).
When we are saved by grace and put our faith in Jesus Christ, Jesus says we are born again. A Pharisee named Nicodemus once questioned how this could be, wondering how a man could re-enter the womb. Jesus answers in John 3:6, explaining in it not of it:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
As grown men and women, we don’t pass back through the birth canal; we are born new in the Spirit and no longer come from or belong to the multitudes who live separated from God and opposite the cause of Christ. As far as world affairs and all things earthly, we don’t belong. We are not of it. We aren’t defined or driven by “the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, etc., which although hollow and frail and fleeting, stir desire, seduce from God and are obstacles to the cause of Christ” (www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2889&t=NKJV).
Rather, He sends us towards the world to be among those who are alienated from God. Just as God sent Jesus into the world "to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37), so He sends us, charging us with making disciples (Matthew 28:19) by following His precepts and instruction and then teaching others to do the same.
Our mission becomes impossible if we remove ourselves from the world or are too busy trying to fit in with it. Jesus went where sinners were and talked with them. In love and without condemnation, He told them what they needed to do to leave that environment or sin, but He didn’t stay there and participate in their sin so He’d be able to talk to them about it.
He was among them but not a part of them. He is our model. In it with the people, not of its things and pleasures.
To be in the world is to maintain our connection through relationships with people, loving them as Christ loved us in order that they will know we are His followers.
To be of the world is to embrace or partake in its way of thinking and living, enjoying what it offers as substitutes to salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
There is a delicate balance. Paul explains in I Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” With Jews, he would follow the law of the Jews; with Gentiles, he would not. He was a chameleon of sorts, relating to those around him in order to win them to Christ. But verse twenty-one holds the key: whether with Jew or Gentile, he didn’t do anything contrary to Christ, “not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ.”
We remain engaged with people; we disengage from things that draw our hearts away from God, and we never do anything contrary to what God tells us to do in order to fit in or relate.
It’s not going to be easy: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
That’s why we need each other. We are our peeps, “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).
The people with whom we need to fit in are the children of God, together conforming to God’s word, not the world. Uncompromised.
We love, but we don’t belong.
Lord, give us wisdom and discernment, for us and our children, to live in this world without becoming participants. Reveal areas of participation, and give us strength to separate without severing as we become more wholly Yours today.