Being in the world but not of the world is one of the great challenges of the Christian life. We are commissioned by our King to be His ambassadors to this world, while at the same time maintaining the distinct lifestyle of a pilgrim. It often seems like it would be much easier to simply be out of the world. But we are not called to monastic living. Kent Hughes opined that for many Christians, “it is possible to go womb to tomb in a hermetically sealed container decorated with fish stickers.”
Believers often take one of three different approaches to dealing with the difficulty of being in the world but not of the world.
Some practice isolation, wrongly believing the Gospel needs to be protected instead of shared. They understand the call to remain faithful to God’s revelation and so they completely disengage from all non-Christians. They think, “What better way to keep from falling away than to keep yourself as far as possible from any temptation?” These believers buy 40 acres of land at least 15 miles outside of town. They fashion a compound and desperately try to never step foot outside of their barbed-wire covered walls. Their legitimate desire to keep faithful to God’s truth has caused them to disregard His mission.
Some practice inoculation, wrongly believing that the Gospel has made them immune to temptation and worldliness. They understand the call to remain faithful to God’s mission and so they immerse themselves fully in the world. They ask, “What better way to reach the world than blurring any possible distinction between a Christian and a non-Christian?” These believers minimize and ignore the biblical teaching on sin and repentance, choosing to live exactly as their unbelieving neighbor. Their legitimate desire to keep faithful to God’s mission has caused them to disregard His truth.
Our only options are not isolation or inoculation. A better perspective is insulation, the belief that a daily focus on the Gospel will protect us from temptation as we seek to share the Gospel with those who are lost. It means working diligently to balance the call to remain faithful to the truth and faithful to our mission. It means recognizing that a believer will live differently than an unbeliever, but not by removing ourselves from the world of unbelievers. We will live differently in the midst of an unbelieving world.
We need to engage with the world. Though we may wish that all of the ungodly, corrupting influences were removed from our lives and that we could forsake the world, leaving it to its own devices, we have been given a mission to live out and share the Gospel in the world.