The Bible calls Christians to separate themselves from the world. Let me be clear, I am not saying that the Bible is advocating for a separatist movement amongst Christians. I do not believe that Christians should separate themselves from the world so much so that we have no contact with those outside of the church. If God wanted us to be so removed from the world that we had no contact with people in the world, I believe He would just rapture us out at the moment of salvation. Even Jesus, in his High Priestly Prayer, did not ask God to take us out of the world but to keep us “from the evil one” (John 17:15). The Great Commission to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) requires us to be in the world. There are sects who completely separate themselves from the world in the name of Christ, yet I would argue that their separation is based on fear and is completely unbiblical.
In the World but Separate from the World
While Christ does not desire for his church to be removed from the world, Christ does not want his church to identify with the world. The world is a dark place and Christ has called his church to be “the light of the world. A city set on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). The church is to be the light of Christ that shines his light into a world that is dark, lost, and damaged by sin. We cannot be that light if we are removed from the world.
However, I would argue that many Christians fail to be that light, not because they have removed themselves from the world, but because they look too much like the world. I know many who claim to be Christians, and yet they produce no fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). They act like the world, they talk like the world, they indulge in the things of the world, they look like the world. It is almost as if their lamp stand has been removed. While the Apostle Paul has admonished the church not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), they have not only become friends with the world, they condemn the church for preaching a message of repentance and salvation through Christ alone. They claim to speak for God while approving of the those in the world who live lifestyles that are at odds with the Gospel.
Enemies of God
The truth is, while these people claim to be Christians, the word finds them to be liars. They are actually enemies of God. The Bible is clear that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). People who strive for friendship with the world make themselves an enemy of God (James 4:4). The Apostle Paul, addressing this issue of the church being involved in worldly things, asks the church in Corinth, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).
Yet, all of this should really come as no surprise to us. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that many in the last days would have an “appearance of godliness” but they would deny “its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). In a previous letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote that “in later times some will depart from the faith devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). There was a time when I believed that 1 Timothy 4:1 would involve people actually leaving the church because they had departed from the faith. However, I have come to realize that there are many in the church who sit in pews, tithe regularly, teach Sunday School, and even preach in pulpits who have departed from the faith. They preach salvation without repentance. They preach acceptance and tolerance while scoffing at holiness. They want everyone to be comfortable and have a good time while at church. Yes, sinners should feel loved by Christians when they attend our churches, however, they should never feel comfortable. They should feel the weight of their sin when confronted with the truth of the Gospel.
People today identify more with their political party of choice than they do with Christ. They are quick to defend their president and slow to stand for Christ. Many identify with their sexual orientation. They have become a letter in a long list of letters. Others identify with how tolerant and loving they are, yet they don’t realize that they condemn themselves and others to Hell. Christians are to imitate Christ. He is our source of identity. If Christians identify with anything other than Christ, then it isn’t Christ they are following and they are guilty of idolatry.
I have been as guilty as anyone else of professing Christ with my mouth and of denying him with the way I lived my life. I am guilty of claiming to be a Christian and yet identifying myself as anything else other than a follower of Christ. I have done things that I am deeply ashamed of while claiming to be a follower. I make no excuses. However, there is grace where there is repentance. Unfortunately, many would rather justify their sin than mourn over it. They would rather indulge than deny. Sin is a cancer and it is eating away at the church today.
An Example to Believers
As Christians, we must be an example. In 1 Timothy 4:12-16, Paul admonishes young Timothy to:
Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation, to the teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persis in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
We must be an example of godliness, of holiness, of repentance, and of the truth who profess. We must let our “light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We cannot expect to be a strong witness for Christ if we look like the world. We must be set apart, we must be separate, we must look like Christ. Christ is our light, and we must shine it in a dark world that cannot see without it.