I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:15-17)Last week we addressed the vulgarity, specifically of a sexual sort, in much if not most, of contemporary, popular music. I concluded by drawing attention to a study in the August issue of Pediatrics, which found that teens who regularly listen to sexually charged music are much more likely to be sexually active than those who do not. Like it or not, we are influenced, heavily influenced, by media. This influence comes to us from media of all types, not just music. Think of how influenced our society is by television and movies; not to mention the cultural phenomenon of the internet. A shrinking number of our society is still impacted by the print media. We would also point out that the Christian must not only deal with entertainment media, but also with a twenty-four hour, ratings starved news media [which of course seeks to be more and more entertaining]. And let us not overlook the secularized education media, with its undisguised prejudice and disdain for the Christian faith.
As we contemplate all of these things, a burning question arises: How are we to be in the world but not of it? Obviously, being in the world is not at all difficult, it’s the “not of it” part that gives us pause. The question now before us is both theological and practical, and it is as old as man himself. The question of separation from the world, sanctification, if you will; did not come about with the advent of secular media. No, the righteous have been set apart from the unrighteous--by God--from the time of Cain and Abel [one could arguably go even further back than man, even to the fallen and un-fallen angels], all the way through to this present time. The separation of the righteous from the unrighteous will ultimately culminate, eternally culminate, in the final states of Heaven and Hell. This ultimate and final separation between Heaven and Hell is wonderfully depicted in C. S. Lewis’ fictional work, “The Great Divorce.”
It is God Himself who separates the righteous from the unrighteous. Jesus tells us this in startling terms.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household...When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. (Matthew 10:34-36; 25:31-33)So it is, God always has, and always will, separate the righteous from the unrighteous. This is what it means to be God’s “elect,” His “chosen,” His “called out ones” or “church.” God’s children are separated, by God Himself, from the rest of the world. This is the import of Christ’s indicative statement, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Do we not see God Himself separating His saints from Seth, to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob [Israel], et al.; all the way through the redemptive history of the Old Testament church? And do we not further see God, in the lives of the Apostles and each and every follower of Jesus Christ, separating unto Himself the New Testament church?
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God...(1Peter 2:9-10a)Notice the words of Jesus again, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” God separates His elect people from the world, in both Testaments, by placing them in Christ. Only by being in Christ are we separated from the world. There is no middle ground. We are either in Christ or we are in the world. This is the “theological side” of the issue of separation.
Next time we will explore the “practical side” of our sanctification. The question then becomes, How do Christians live out, in the day-to-day, their sanctification? Are we to close ourselves off--much like the Amish--from the rest of the world, or practice some sort of monasticism? Or is there another way to be in the world but not of it?