Hang around Christian circles long enough and you’re sure to hear several catchphrases. Some of them feel good or give us something to say when we don’t know what to say. Some of them sound right but are not found in the Bible or are grossly out of context. Some of them are compressions of longer passages. One such phrase is “in the world but not of the world,” a compression of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:13-21.
“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:13–21, NASB95)
Our next Intentional Tension is found in Christ’s observation that while we are in this world we belong to another world. What does that mean for our everyday lives? How do we tune the tension between being a citizen of God’s kingdom and living, breathing, working, and playing in the world around us?
Over the years, many individuals and groups have steered towards the “not of this world” side of the coin. They have sought to separate themselves from all worldly attachments to perfect their faith. Paul taught that believers are not to be unequally yoke or bound to unbelievers in 2 Corinthians 6:14 and following. As a part of his argument Paul says, “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.” (2 Corinthians 6:17, NASB95) Stories of hermits and cloisters of monks with their spartan living quarters are sprinkled throughout Christian history. The Amish of today, for example, seek to maintain a totally separate culture and society. There is merit in being cautious about adopting or retaining the world’s attitudes, views, ideals, and desires. Paul encouraged the Romans, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB95) But I wonder if being separated from the world to the point that we are barely in the world is what Jesus intended.
It may seem that the flip side of separateness is being so immersed in the culture that we almost forget whose we are, but that’s not it. That is what happens when the real flip side is forgotten or ignored. In Jesus’ prayer quoted above we read, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” While we are not of the world, we are sent into the world.
Paul likened this to being an ambassador, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NASB95) If you are a follower of Jesus then you are His ambassador, His representative, His witness, His hands, and His mouth to the lost, lonely, and broken people in the world around you. Paul took this seriously, even to the point of bearing chains and being in prison (see Ephesians 6:20).
Consider how Paul handled his own “sentness”, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” (1 Corinthians 9:19–23, NASB95) While Paul did whatever it took to reach some, he never lost sight of who He was in Christ. However, in the same way, some have taken separation to an extreme; some have taken “being all things to all people” to an extreme. It’s like an ambassador that forgets which country they represent. Some have gone so native it is nearly impossible to see that they are following Jesus.
God’s Intentional Tension to be tuned is between separateness and “sentness.” Perhaps we should rewrite the old saying of “in the world but not of the world” to “sent into the world but not of the world”. As followers of Jesus, we all came out of that other world. There is (or should be) a desire to push away the thoughts, attitudes, and expectations of that old world that are contrary to our new home in Jesus. Yet, that same world that we were called out of is the same world Jesus sends us back into as His ambassadors.
When the tension between separateness and sentness is tuned the note sounded is intercession. We see the brokenness around us and cry out to God. We see the fallen and reach out our hand to help them up. We suffer the arrows of misunderstanding, hatred, and false accusations because of our desire to see others made whole in Christ. We accept others even when they flaunt their sin in the hope that we may win some to Jesus. We touch the untouchable and love the unlovable. We risk rejection and loss for the sake of the Good News of Jesus Christ. We stand in the gap. If we sway too far towards separateness we isolate ourselves from the world we are sent into and our witness is too weak to notice or is seen as judgment. If we sway too far towards the world we forget why we were sent in the first place and our witness is invisible or non-existent. By holding onto both of these truths we will be effective ambassadors of Jesus Christ as we live, work, play, and do the things of life in the mission field Jesus has placed us in.