“In it, not of it,” is not a phrase found in the Bible. At least not verbatim. It is something that reflects a truth about Christians, that we are called to be within the world, but not of the world. We are supposed to be present on this earth, but we are not supposed to look like everyone else who’s not following Jesus. But is that really the extent of what this phrase means? And what should we take this over-simplified phrase to mean?
Does it mean, Sigh, I guess we’re stuck here for now, but our mission is to just not look like those guys over there? This, it seems, is the way that many Christians take this phrase, as a lament that we are here at all, rather than taking into consideration the missional aspect of our lives, the fact that being here means something and has purpose.
Many Christians want to be so unlike the world that they totally remove themselves from it. They wear drastically different clothing, don’t listen to certain types of music, don’t get tattoos, and I’ve even heard of some who refuse to wear makeup, and fewer who view piercings the same way as tattoos. Their kids are homeschooled, not because it is the best option for their family, but to keep their kids away from “those” kids that go to public school. Mothers stay within Christian moms’ groups, never venturing into the realm of the unsaved, and fathers never go out with coworkers, not because they struggle with drinking, but just because their friends do and there may be alcohol and cuss words. Children eventually go off to college and they stay within the sheltered confines of Christian circles, never daring to risk exposure to anything else, as if “The World” is some kind of disease that can steal away your salvation slowly but surely.
Now mom’s groups, not drinking, no tattoos, homeschooling, choosing to wear a certain type of clothing, and Christian friends: none of those things are bad. None of those things do any harm on their own, and in fact we are told to have fellowship with other Christians (I mean, what is the Church?). But…
Is this what it means, to be in the world and not of it?
I would say absolutely not.
By withdrawing in this way, and hoping that others will come to Christ by looking in on you from a distance through your little Christian window, or come to know him just because you shared your 60-second testimony that probably doesn’t even feel relevant to the person who just heard it, you are not really fulfilling a big part of the great commission. Yes, part of making disciples is training and being trained by people who already know Jesus. But Jesus was a friend of sinners, and aren’t we following his lead? Jesus told us to go out and make disciples, not stay within our little bubbles of Christian schools, Christian potlucks, and all-Christian friends and hope that those other people will come our way eventually, or worse, just surrender them to “that way of life” with no influence from us at all. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of those activities in and of themselves (Christian schools, potlucks, and friends), but to exclude people who so desperately need Jesus from your circles is not being in the world. And we are, in fact, called to be part of the world.
How are you supposed to engage a culture that you have no part in? How are you supposed to show Jesus to broken people when you don’t know any people that haven’t already experienced his presence?
In John, when Jesus is praying for his disciples, he says, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15, NIV). Jesus explicitly says that he does not want us taken out of the world, but only that we would be protected from Satan while we’re here. Otherwise, you’d just be raptured as soon as your got saved, and then what? He then says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16, NIV). So we are not of the world, which is where the second part of “in it, not of it” comes from, and is, unfortunately, the only part of that phrase that many will take to heart. But, I also am not seeing the part where it’s us that makes us “not of the world.” From what I’ve just read, it looks like its Jesus who does that. We are not of the world because we’re of the body of Christ, not because we don’t drink and went to a private Christian school.
“In the world, not of it,” is not a lament, it’s a state of being. You are here, you are present on this earth, and though you are part of a greater Kingdom, you are here for a reason, and that reason is clearly outlined in Matthew 28:19, when we’re told to go and make disciples of all nations. To do otherwise is foolish, and not why we’re here. We have to stop hiding, and we need to stop bashing those who are courageous enough not to hide for being “too much like the world.” That’s not being like the world, it’s fulfilling our ultimate (co)mission.