Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In the World, but Not of the World

If you have been a Christian for any amount of time you have likely come across the phrase, "In the world, but not of the world." Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian school that meant that we literally were not to look like the world. To show an example of this I can remember a chapel speaker bringing up students that in his mind exemplified this. If you were a female this meant you were wearing a skirt that at minimum went to the bottom of your knee cap and wore some type of blouse that revealed a minimum amount of your arm. If you were a guy this meant that you wore some slacks with a button down shirt tucked in with a belt, and of course you had a neat hair cut and no facial hair. As you can guess, I was always looked down and judged at this school as I do not fit that description easily. 

This popular slogan comes from John 17:14-19:
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 ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

What does "In the World, but Not of the World," not mean?
I will go ahead and flat out tell you with full conviction that my fundamentalist Christian school had this dead wrong. For them it was all about external rules and regulations that would physically make you look different, but this is not what Jesus is calling us to. Yes, we can all agree that Jesus does not want us to be "of the world," as he himself is not of the world; but Jesus does want us to be "in the world," as that is where he himself is sending us. 

What does "In the World, but Not of the World," mean?
I agree with David Mathis here who says, "Maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase “in, but not of” in this way: “not of, but sent into.” The beginning place is being “not of the world,” and the movement is toward being “sent into” the world. The accent falls on being sent, with a mission, to the world — not being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world."

This means that as we are "in, but not of" the world we should spend time with sinners. We should have them over for dinner. We should redeem secular holidays such as Halloween. We should attend their parties, and throw the best parties as we have something to truly celebrate. So, as Christians we are not of the world, but we are sent into the world to make disciples of all people.


  1. Guess what I researched today? I was looking for aspects of Holi that I could use to point others to Christ. I am ready to buy some squirt guns! Are you in?

  2. Rather than revising, scholar Tom Wright points out that the original manuscripts actually say 'in the world, but not FROM the world'. The implication being that having been born from above, we have borne the image of the man of earth for long enough, we must now bear the image of the man of heaven, we are 'in Messiah', no longer 'in Adam'. So there is a new creation, we are a life giving Spirit, Messiah in us. That's the mystery we proclaim. As our Father sent our king Jesus, so he has sent us. AMEN Blessings to you brother!

  3. I don't know which school you went to. Some in this area do tend to be legalistic in that regard. On the other hand, there is a need for certain institutions like schools or workplaces, whether Christian or otherwise, to maintain a standard of discipline appropriate for the purpose of the institution. For Christian schools, the purpose of rules like this are manifold. For appearances, it speaks to the credibility of the school among a desired parent base. But dress codes are typically less distracting for class activities than more relaxed rules. But the rules can be directly didactic intended to instill by external practice an internal sense of self-discipline, which is a fruit of the Spirit. External practices are given in the Bible as fruitful for spiritual formation. (2 Pet 2:3-11 as one example of personal discipline; Rom 14 as one example of affecting others' consciences.)

  4. I went to Southview Christian for many years and it was much more than a dress code for them. It was a way of life and the way to look different than the world. Not included in my post is their views of going to movies and listening to rock music as being sinful. In regards to what you are pointing to in dress code for schools or workplaces I can understand, but Southview, at least when I was attending there, took it to a whole new level. Thanks for the comment and insight on the post.

  5. I certainly agree with you about Southview. That is one of the more legalistic ones I've known about that extended far beyond dress code. David Moss mentioned complaints from kids about Statesville Christian's dress code when he was teaching there, and his short answer was that it's not about the rules. His longer answer was in line with what I was talking about. When we've not homeschooled we've sent the kids to a couple of different private schools, each with a dress code of sorts, but we've always investigated to see if the school practiced rank legalism or well-balanced institutional discipline. It's important.