The phrase, ‘be in the world but not of the world’ is a common expression that’s often quoted as Scripture. Although the phrase itself doesn’t appear in the Bible, the notion is consistent with what the New Testament teaches.
This concept of being in the world but not of it is being increasingly difficult for followers of Jesus. Yet, it’s also becoming increasingly important. We need to both understand what this means and also how we can practically live it out.
So let’s dive in, what does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?
Where The Bible Says Be In The World But Not Of It
We are going to start with what the Bible teaches us about being in the world but not of the world. And again, this isn’t a direct quote, there’s no verse that actually says this. But the concept is found throughout the New Testament.
What we are going to do is look at three of the places where this idea is most clear.
John 17:14 Meaning
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. John 17:14-16
In John 17 Jesus prays an incredible prayer before he goes to the cross. The above verses are from a section of this prayer where he prays for his followers.
Many Christians withdraw from the world; they create safe subcultures where they can be separate from “those” people. But Jesus prays the opposite in John 17:14; he prays that his followers would be present in the world but not fall pray to the evils in the world.
In other words Jesus wants us to be in the world but not of the world. After all if our mission is to make disciples of all nations we need to be present in this world.
Think of a boat. The place for a boat is on the water. It’s designed to ride above the waves. But if the water starts getting into the boat trouble awaits.
Christians are to be like the boat and the world is the water. God means for us to be on the water, but not to let the water in. If we let the water in we will sink quickly.
That’s what Jesus is praying for in John 17:14. That we would stay above the waves.
1 John 2:15 Meaning
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
John later echos this same concept with a warning to not love the things of this world. Now, this does’t mean we can’t find joy in this world. Rather we shouldn’t be consumed with what this world has to offer.
1 John 2:15 tells us not to place our ultimate devotion to something in the temporary world. Rather the temporary things in this world should point us to God.
Too many Christians care more about worldly things and not eternal things. They love the world more than they love God. They are in the world and of the world.
While 1 John 2:15 doesn’t use the phrase, it does still challenge us to be in the world but not of the world.
Romans 12:2 Meaning
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 takes an interesting approach to this concept and shows us how we can be in the world but not of it. We need to be transformed.
The reality is each of us once were of this world. But when we decided to follow Christ we stepped in to a new life. And now we can be in the world but not of it. How? By renewing our mind we will be transformed.
5 Practical Ways To Be In The World But Not Of The World Today
What I’ve seen is that this concept is really easy to say, it sounds good. But many followers of Jesus don’t actually know how to apply it.
So, I want to end by looking at 5 practical ways we can actually be in the world but not of the world.
1. Be Present In The World
Christians should be present in this world. We should not withdraw. Our God-given mission requires us to be present.
The problem is many Christians would rather create barriers between them and the world around them. Rather than going to the people around us with the love of God we wait for them to come to us… and we expect them to clean themselves up before coming near us.
Not only does this not work, it’s not what Jesus did. He went to the broken and hurting people around him. He was present in the world around him. He didn’t create barriers that kept people from him.
To be in the world and not of it means that we have to actually BE in the world. Yes, it’s difficult and can get messy. But that’s what Jesus did and what he called us to do to.
2. Don’t Compromise
While we can’t withdraw from culture we also can’t compromise what’s most important. We need to listen to what God says is best, not the world.
Let me be clear, we don’t compromise on what GOD says is best. Christians are increasingly known for making stands on things God never told us to do. We’ve elevated preferences, certain sins (but not others), and especially politics to unhealthy levels. We regularly die on the wrong hills.
While we shouldn’t compromise on what’s most important, this doesn’t mean that we need to throw it in people’s faces. Truth isn’t a weapon. Jesus had all the truth in the world, not once did he beat someone with it. The church today could stand to learn from that approach.
3. Use A Filter
Every minute of every day we are bombarded with messages. From social media to billboards, news reports to political leaders, and tv shows to influencers. We are constantly being told we need something or believe something.
Christians need to take all these messages and filter them through what is true, what God says is best. Without a proper filter we will be influenced and start believing the wrong things. This means that we need to spend time learning what God says is best so that we can create a good filter.
To be in the world but not of it means that we are going to be around all these voices, so we have to be on guard to not be influenced by them.
4. Stay On Mission
Following Jesus is not easy. In fact he promised it wouldn’t be easy.
In John 15:19 Jesus says, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”
We will run into resistance if we choose to follow Jesus. We should expect that and prepare for it. That way we can stay on mission.
The best way to do this is surround yourself with other followers of Jesus who can encourage you and help you. Everyone needs a few people in their life that they connect with regularly.
5. Hold Onto Hope
While Jesus promised us we would have trials and troubles in this life he also promised us that he would be with us. Not just in this life, but for all of eternity. We have an incredible hope to hold on to.
It’s hard in the most difficult seasons of life to hold onto hope. But if we keep our eyes on Jesus we will be able have hope, even in the darkest of days.
Here’s two great resources to help you:
Core 52: A Fifteen-Minute Daily Guide to Build Your Bible IQ in a Year
Quest 52: A Fifteen-Minute-a-Day Yearlong Pursuit of Jesus
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