The Christian and the World

THIS ARTICLE HAS THE PRACTICAL AIM of giving believers today clear principles to follow in everyday contacts with the world around us. But, first, in order to set our practice upon a sound doctrinal base, we must explain from Scripture the meaning of the two terms used in the title, namely, ‘the Christian’ and ‘the world’.

The Meaning of ‘the Christian' The word ‘Christian’ occurs only three times in Scripture, and then only as applying to New Testament believers, members of the Church, such as the believers in the newly-fanned assembly at Antioch, Acts 11. 26; compare Acts 26. 28 and 1 Pet. 4. 16. Old Testament believers are never called ‘Christians’, nor were they indwelt by the Holy Spirit or baptized into one body, the Church, as we are. The truth is that, whereas in Old Testament days, that is, before Pentecost, believers were chiefly an earthly people with earthly hopes of God’s blessing, now since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and until the coming of Christ for His church at the rapture, New Testament believers form a heavenly people with spiritual, heavenly, and chiefly future hopes of God’s blessing. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that Christians living in the present age of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ stand in a very different relationship to the world around them from that expected of God’s earthly people Israel and Gentile believers of all past and future dispensations.

The Meaning of ‘the World' The word which is most frequently translated ‘the world’ in our authorized Version, namely, kosmos, means in its most fundamental sense ‘the ordered universe’ as created by God, and secondarily ‘the human race’ on God’s earth in a neutral sense. But, since the invasion of sin into the world through Satan tempting our first parents to disobey God’s word to them, there has developed a Satanically-ordered condition of human affairs alienated from and opposed to God which is called ‘the world’ as opposed to God our Father. This sad truth is taught especially clearly in the apostle John’s writings, so that in his first letter he can assert that ‘we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness (or ‘the evil one’)’, 1 John 5.19. Thus ‘the world’ used in its New Testament moral sense forms part of a kind of trinity of evil opposing the Holy Trinity, in which the world is opposed to God the Father, the devil is opposed to the Son of God, and the flesh is opposed to the Holy Spirit. This opposition of the Satanically ordered world system to God came to a head in the life and death of Christ, His incarnate Son, but it now continues in the daily lives and experiences of all Christ’s disciples, His body and bride, the church. It is clear, therefore, that Christians today need much wisdom in relating to the evil system of the world around them, since, although its structure was originally good and made by God, it is not in this age characterized by God, but rather by Satan, the evil one. Hence the need for principles to follow in our dally pathway of faith through the enemy territory around us.

The Basic Principle of the Christian’s Relationship to the World This may be summed up quite succinctly in the words of 1 John 4.17, ‘As He (Christ) is, so are we in this world’. Our relationship to the world is thus seen to be governed by Christ’s present relationship to it, because our life and standing before God and man are linked inseparably with Christ’s. Just as Christ in this present dispensation of grace does not belong to the world nor share its character, being a glorified Man in heaven, so the Christian neither belongs to the world nor shares its character, although he still lives in it. For New Testament believers have been chosen out of the world by God as a gift to His Son and have been saved from it by the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ as the Lamb of God on the cross. We are able to begin to enjoy an eternal life of fellowship with God while still living in the world.

The Danger of Worldliness in the Christian Worldliness is primarily an attitude of mind and is defined most clearly in 1 John 2. 15-16, where we are told not to love the world, nor the things In it ‘For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world’. Christians still have a sinful nature which desires and responds to the things in the world. There is still in us a covetousness for things which gratify self through the natural appetites and senses, and an ostentatious pride in natural abilities, attainments, and material possessions. These attitudes of mind form the basis of Satan’s world system which he has built up in opposition to God our Father. Worldliness destroys spiritual life. Instead, the Christian is to cultivate a positive spiritual life to combat this evil tendency of conforming to the standards and attitudes which prevail in the world around him by doing the known will of God. For this, unlike the world, is not transient, but will stand for ever, 1 John 2.17.

Rejection by the World to be Expected … The unbelieving world neither understands nor has time tor a true believer in Christ. On the contrary, just as it hated and persecuted Christ, so we must expect its hatred and rejection as His chosen ones out of the world, John 15. 19-20. Ease and comfort in this present life are not necessarily sign that we are rightly related to the world. It may mean that we have adopted worldly attitudes and compromised in our testimony to the world around us. For in John 16. 33 our Lord assured His disciples that ‘in the world ye shall have tribulation’, and the apostle Paul assured Timothy that all who will to live godly lives in relationship with Christ are certain to suffer persecution, 2 Tim. 3. 12. But Christ went on to say that, despite this unpleasant truth, we are to rejoice, because He has overcome the world, so that it is damned to eventual destruction. Again, the apostle John is inspired to assert that our faith in Christ overcomes the opposition of the world, 1 John 5.4, and he also assures us that ‘Greater is He (the Spirit of God) that is in you, than he (Satan) that is in the world’, 1 John 4. 4.

Separation from the World without Isolation In John 17. 15-17 our Lord prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples about their relationship to the world around them during His physical absence from them. He stated that, although His disciples did not belong to the world just as He Himself did not, it was not yet His will that His Father should take them physically out of the world, but rather that they be protected from the power and influence of the evil one who at present controls the world. This is still the case for believers today. For mere physical seclusion from the world in monasteries does not prevent worldly desires and attitudes from developing in the heart and life. Instead, we need to be protected from the world by living a positive spiritual life close to Christ. This positive sanctification of the believer takes place only through the constant application to our lives of the whole of God’s truth as revealed in the Scriptures by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. For a wholly negative separation from the world merely creates a vacuum which the flesh or the evil one will fill, but a wholly positive separation to God will have the expulsive power of a new affection for our Lord.

Involvement in the World without Compromise In the verses following those which we have just considered, that is, in John 17. 18-20, the Lord states to His Father that He has sent sanctified believers in this dispensation into the world with the gospel of God’s grace. But it is clear from our Lord’s own example that the proclamation of this gospel and its outworking in the godliness of our lives should be the limit of our involvement with the present world. For during His own life and public ministry on earth He Himself stood apart from the established political and social systems of His day. It needs to be emphasized today that it is still not yet the time for Christ or His disciples to assert authority in the world. During the present age of grace God is not dealing with His earthly people Israel, but calling out His heavenly people, the church, the Bride of Christ, from all nations. Not until after the rapture of the Church will God begin to deal with His earthly people again and to judge the world which has rejected both His Son end the gospel of His grace in Him. This age is not the millennium, the thousand-year rule of Christ over the earth, in either a literal or a spiritualized sense. That day, the day of the Lord, is still future to us. Today Christians are pilgrims and strangers in the world and should simply accept the existing social and political structures. There are two good reasons for this non-political stance. The first is that, before human conduct can be corrected, the human heart needs to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Christ. The second is that, since the whole present world system lives under God’s judgement and will be replaced by the new creation in Christ, it is pointless for Christians to attempt the reformation of the world. Rather, in view of the certain future judgement, we should use the preaching of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ and our example of godliness to persuade men to accept God’s offer of salvation from judgement, so that they become part of God’s new creation. It is primarily in this way that we are salt and light in the world. Further involvement will lead inevitably to compromise with the world and the marring of our testimony to Christ.

Legitimate Relationships with Unbelievers The New Testament letters, which are the most directly relevant part of Scripture from which to seek guidance on this subject envisage Christians in various relationships with unbelievers and give clear instructions as to how we are to conduct ourselves in them. A Christian may have family who are unbelievers, an unbelieving employer or employees. He or she may have married an unbeliever before being converted, or have entered a business partnership thus. New Testament teaching is that if such relationships are unavoidable, as marriage or family relationships are, they are to be continued in accordance with Christian principles. Even with marriage, separation is not to be considered, unless the unbelieving partner so wishes. The unbelieving partner is sanctified by the believing partner. But if such a relationship is avoidable, it may only be formed or continued as long as the Christian’s testimony is not thereby compromised, cf 1 Cor. 7. In 2 Corinthians 6 the unequal yoke with unbelievers is expressly forbidden. A yoke means any relationship which demands mutual agreement and joint action and responsibility. Marriage to an unbeliever after conversion is just such a yoke and should never be contemplated by a Christian who is still single at conversion. Business partnerships are another example of a yoke to be avoided with unbelievers after conversion. Christians would also be wrong to become closely associated with the confusion of unbelieving Christendom in the world and should only consider fellowship with individual true believers. We should also be very careful about our friendships with unbelievers, because evil associations corrupt good ways of living. It is true that Christ did befriend repentant sinners, but it was on His own terms that He did so in order to bring them salvation through faith in Himself. We need to remember that as Christians we are inseparably related to Christ, and therefore God views friendship with the world in any of its forms as spiritual adultery against Himself.

Legitimate Use of the World by Christians In 1 Corinthians 7. 31 the apostle Paul speaks of believers who ‘use this world, as not abusing it’. This means that although natural activities will have undue prominence in the last days, Christians may engage in them. Such activities would include all normal eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, and agriculture and engineering. Food and marriage are part of God’s original creation and 1 Timothy 4.4-5 says that all God’s blessings in creation are sanctified by the word of God and prayer. Enjoyment of creation is entirely good and right, if thankfully and prayerfully received, but we need to guard against selfish indulgence. Consider, too, that the money which a Christian earns in his or her daily employment may be used to further the work of the gospel and to relieve the needs of the poor. A Christian is a steward of the material things which he has acquired by honest means in this world. The nature of our daily work is relevant to this subject. For although there are some jobs which a Christian should never think of doing, such as brewing or betting, for example, there are many which are related to God’s original purpose that man should tend and rule the earth for Him, such as farming or engineering, or which can be used by a believer to express God’s compassion on the sick or poor, or His righteousness in government. However, Christians living in affluent countries such as ours should be very exercised before the Lord as to how far they may use the world around them and discern just when they are in danger of abusing it by selfish indulgence of the carnal desires which are still latent within all of us.

Submission to Divinely-ordained Authority in the World Under this heading we consider the Christian’s relationship with the government, law, and armed forces of the country in which he or she lives. Romans 13 clearly states that in this day of gentile rule these authorities are ordained of God to uphold righteousness in the world, so that Christians must usually obey them. We may refuse to obey them only when to obey them would constitute disobedience to God, and even then we should submit uncomplainingly to the consequences of so doing. If, for instance, a government forbids any form of evangelism and conversion to Christ, then we must like Peter in Acts 4 and 5 obey God rather than men. For a Christian must keep himself free to preach and live out the gospel of the grace of God at all times. We are to pay our taxes and render all that belongs to the human authorities to them when it is required, but not what belongs to God, namely, our lives and essential manhood or womanhood. Conscientious objection in time of war is a valid stance for a Christian to take in the age of grace, when God is dealing with a heavenly people, the church. It would not have been so in Old Testament days, because then God was dealing with His earthly people Israel, nor will it be so in the future dispensation of Christ’s rule and judgement in righteousness over the whole earth. The point is that Christ’s disciples today are not to fight to establish His rule in the world, John 18. 36, but simply to preach and live out the gospel of God’s grace, which precludes fighting the world’s various political and military battles. Our present mission in this world is not to kill unbelievers, let alone other Christians, but to live in accordance with God’s principle of grace in the gospel. Today Christ’s kingdom is not established by force, but by the willing response of individuals to the truth of God in the gospel.*

Mutual Love among Christians in the World In John 17. 21 our Lord prayed for the oneness of all true believers in Himself as an effective testimony to the world regarding Himself and His mission from His Father. It is also a protection from the world in time of persecution. We have enough enemies in the world not to need divisions within our own ranks. These then are some of the principles which as Christians today we need to apply to every aspect of our lives, so that we may worthily represent our Lord and Saviour in a world that still rejects Him.

*Note: The writer is not presuming to dictate to another’s conscience in this matter. What he says is to be carefully weighed by each one before God, Ed.


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