Mortification of Sin
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
Mortification of Sin
We’re jumping in and continuing on from last week, still on the topic of self-discipline and are continuing our discussion of what it means to take following Jesus seriously.
When we become a Christian and start following Jesus we are given an inward drive towards becoming more like Jesus – more holy, more righteous, more loving. “Be holy as I am holy”, God says to His people, and then gives us the help to do that.
We’ve talked before that we don’t do this in order to get saved but out of love and obedience for the One who saved us. We know we’ll never achieve perfection in this life, and that, because of our sinful nature we’re going to keep breaking God’s laws and doing wrong – but now that we are Christian we hate that sinful part of us, because it was sin that has messed up the world, our lives, and is what required Jesus to die on the cross. So we confess those sins every day in prayer, are thankful that God’s grace is so big and that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins past and future so we can be forgiven, and then we ask God for more help, more love, more patience, more kindness, more generosity, more self-control in the coming day to live better. Not just to be a holier than thou Christian prude, but because we’ve seen how sin hurts us, others, and our relationship with God.
That’s how Christians see sin. That’s why we work hard to get rid of the sins in our life – what believers used to call the “mortification of sin”. We work with God to try to mortify, or kill, or subdue, the fleshly, sinful desires inside us that cause so much trouble.
God uses some pretty serious, life and death language when speaking of how we should deal with our sin and practice self-control. Listen to Colossians 3:1-6 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these, the wrath of God is coming.”
So, because sin is so serious, a believer engages in a process called sanctification. To sanctify something means to set it apart for special use, to be made holy. Grandma’s special china collection is sanctified by the fact that it is cleaned and then kept carefully in a china cabinet. Your favourite hockey card is sanctified by you taking it from the collection, putting it into a special protective case, and then mounting it on the wall. You are sanctified by Jesus as you are taken from the enemy camp into his kingdom, from death to life, from slave to sin to freedom in Christ, and made one of His special people.
If you remember way back in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 it told us, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’”
We cannot be righteous without Jesus. We can’t redeem ourselves. And we cannot purify or sanctify ourselves without Jesus. The Gospel of Christ tells us the consequences of our sins – death, hell, pain, suffering, fear, addiction, brokenness. It tells us that Jesus has come to save us from all that by taking the penalty for sin upon Himself, wiping out its effects by taking God’s wrath against sin for us, dying on the cross, and then rising again to show that He has destroyed sin’s power – and then invites us to follow Him. This is what it means to be born again. When we are chosen by God and accept His invitation we are immediately sanctified. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice made it so that all our sins are perfectly dealt with and if we died today we would be with Jesus forever.
But at the same time, while we still live on earth we continue to deal with the echo effects of sin all around us. So, while we are perfectly clean in God’s eyes, perfectly accepted, perfectly redeemed, we also enter the process of sanctification in order to become more like Jesus every day. We use a lot of different phrases to describe this today. We talk about growing in God or becoming spiritually mature, but whatever we call it, part of that process is the mortification, or killing, of the sinful parts of ourselves that affect our daily walk in this world. We will never become perfect, but we continue to struggle against and work towards holiness. We “put to death therefore what is earthly in [us]…”
Going Through the Motions
Now, just like today, some of the people in the Corinthian church thought that since they professed faith in Jesus, went to church, and joined in the Lord’s Supper, they could then live however they wanted. Remember the context of eating meat offered to idols and causing those around them to stumble in their faith by going against their consciences. They figured that since they were Christians, they could do whatever they wanted! Paul wanted them to be absolutely clear that wasn’t true, it was a false belief, and so he used multiple examples
This still happens today. Young people who have gone to church their whole life are especially in danger of this way of thinking. They have gone to church for as long as they can remember, can quote verses from the Bible, serve in a couple places each week, go to Youth Group or Small Group, they can answer some Bible Trivia questions and take communion each month… so they figure they’re good. They’re covered.
The Bible says, be careful. There’s a big difference between saving faith and merely going through the motions of a believer. Of course, this isn’t just about youth. I’ve seen this at all ages. People who attend sometimes, do a little volunteer work, and say they believe… maybe they even had a tearful conversion at a summer camp or walked down an aisle at a crusade – but they’re not engaged in the daily battle against sin. And they’re not just disengaged, they don’t actually care.
This is most acute when the young person turns 18 and moves out or goes off to college or starts a job and is getting paid and is then given the freedom of an adult. Suddenly it becomes clear that their faith is extremely thin, they haven’t been working on their sanctification at all, and within a short time, they are in real trouble. They weren’t Christians, they were merely covered by the grace of their Christian parents.
It wasn’t they that decided not to look at pornography, it was the fact that it wasn’t available in the house. It wasn’t they that decided not to waste hours on the internet and video games, it was their parent’s rules and schedules. It wasn’t they that decided to watch their tongue, it was the peer pressure from their Christian friends. It wasn’t they that decided reading the Bible. going to church, being cautious about friendships, and the rest was important, it was enforced in by house rules.
And when they get that first taste of freedom from those rules, their true level of sanctification really shows. Soon they are addicted, indebted, depressed, lethargic, have turned their back on the church, and have just enough understanding of God to blame and resent Him for all their problems. Again, I don’t want to pick on just young people, I’ve seen this in seniors too, where the only thing that kept them from blowing up their life was external pressure, not internal sanctification.
This too is all over scripture. The wheat and the chaff, the good seeds and bad, parable of the sower, the sheep and the goats, wolves in sheep’s clothing, whitewashed tombs, play actors (Matt. 3:12; 13:1-30; 5:15; 25:31-46; 23:25-27) are all phrases where Jesus talks about people that look like Christians to everyone else but are not really saved. These people talk about God, come to church, and receive the blessings of being a Christian without ever turning away from sin and towards Jesus.
Think of it like a strong smell. Coffee shops have a distinct smell. So do hockey and curling rinks. So does a workout gym or the Body Shop store. You’ve probably had that experience when someone comes home from a night out and you can tell exactly where they’ve been just by the smell, right? They walk by and immediately you just what they’ve been doing because they carry the smell with them. My wife used to work at a place where she always came back smelling of bagels. She’d have to change her clothes and wash her hair before it would come out. I had the same problem when I worked at the pulp mill. I always came home smelling of black liquor, which is basically the waste product from turning trees into pulp. It smells a lot worse than bagels and there were times I would have to strip down right in the doorway and leave my clothes in the garage rather than bring them in the house.
In the same way, a non-believer who comes to church and hangs around Christians can pick up their smell – their lifestyle choices, their joy, kindness, high morals, honesty, etc. but not actually have faith in Jesus at all. They can even stay so long they start to believe they are Christians without actually giving their life to Jesus.
Israel and Us
Let’s turn back to our passage. As we saw last week Paul used himself as an example of spiritual maturity and self-denial, but now he goes the other way and uses Israel as an example of spiritual immaturity. “The perfect example of believing the false notion that one can be saved and then live a faithless, God-less life can be seen in what happened to the Jews’ ancestors in the wilderness…” He phrases this as a warning, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
These were people who were saved by God as Christians are. They had multiple, manifold, manifest spiritual blessings. Miracles galore. Their story is every Christian’s story. They were rescued at a great cost from an oppressor, delivered from death by the blood of the lamb, redeemed from slavery, and given a new life. They were guided by God’s presence, given direction in the wilderness and darkness of life. They had a law-giver and spiritual leader to follow, just as we do in Jesus. As they trusted in God their enemies fell before them and behind them. And all along, they were given daily provision to sustain their bodies and souls. Every day they saw a new act of God’s love for them. Paul then drives the point home reminding them that Jesus is God and was the one protecting and providing for the Israelites, just like He does for us!
A People Overthrown by God
But now look at verse 5, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” This should give us all great pause. God worked miracles, set them free from slavery, and provided for them along the way – but their hearts were not with Him. They were like the young person living with Christian parents, or the citizen living in a civil country. They had the blessings of being a child of God, surrounded by the smell, but their hearts were not with Him.
The word “most” is a pretty big understatement since out of the thousands that left Israel, only two were allowed into the Promised Land! The rest were left to wander and die in the wilderness. They were people of God, who saw God’s miracles, but died in faithlessness.
So, what happened? It is the same story from the beginning of Genesis all the way to the end. They didn’t have faith, they didn’t believe what God had said, they didn’t trust in God alone for their salvation. That’s what God desires. The path of Salvation is fairly simple. It means trusting that what God says is true and believing that His way is the only way.
It was like that for Adam and Eve, many stories of the Israelites in the Old Testament, the Pharisees and Judas in the New. God’s message was clear, they chose not to believe it, and were therefore condemned and “overthrown” by God.
In verse 6 we read, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” Sometimes people wonder why we have the Old Testament when we have the New, or what value there is in the Old Testament. It’s ancient, full of difficult things to read, and the New Testament seems so much nicer.
This verse tells us one reason why. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is immutable, unchangeable. The God who wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah, killed everyone in the flood, and instituted blood sacrifices as the only way to appease His wrath against sin is the same God who came to earth as a baby, wept over Jerusalem, died on the cross, and taught us to love our neighbours. The Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible, the Apostle’s Bible, and the first church’s Bible, and was perfectly sufficient for teaching about faith, salvation and life. The Old Testament doesn’t tell a different story, but gives us the beginning of the story and we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t study it. Paul says that the stories we read of the Israelites and how God dealt with them are examples for us that we should learn from.
So what are we to learn? There are four main sins that are highlighted. Let’s read together, and notice how serious these warnings are. Starting in verse 7: “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
The temptations the ancient Israelites went through are the same as we go through today, and the sins they commit that separate them from God are the same too. The stories of the Bible are there to instruct us, warn us, encourage us, and teach us about ourselves and God. So I’m going to ask you to do a little digging in your soul to see if these are represented there.
The first mentioned is idolatry, which references the story of the Golden Calf when Moses went up to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and while he was there Aaron and the rest of the Israelites crafted an idol to worship in place of God. It wasn’t that they were simply tempted to put their faith somewhere else, it was that they actively chose to reject Yahweh, formed a false god of their own, and then “sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play”, meaning they copied in the cultural, pagan festivals they saw around them.
They did, essentially what I’ve been talking about with young people and cultural Christians. While Moses was away they threw all their beliefs out the window and then worshipped, feasted, drank and danced the way they always wanted to, showing what was really going on in their hearts.
We do the same today as we turn away from God and put our faith and trust in things of our own design – money, insurance, diet, human authorities, or when we dabble with pagan things like horoscopes or superstitions. We can make money, comfort, food, or sex our idol as we turn to it to save us from pain, guilt, shame, fear. Remember the context of the Corinthian church eating food offered to idols and realize that Paul was also speaking of Israel’s example of eating, drinking and partying like unbelievers, throwing off God’s standards and doing whatever they felt they wanted to do regardless of how it affected themselves or anyone else.
If you want to know what idols you have in your life, ask yourself: what you do and what do you reach for when you hit a crisis hits or when you want to celebrate?
The second temptation for the Israelites was sexual immorality. Pornography, lustful thoughts, wandering eyes, sexual fantasy, adultery, and the rest. For them, this was tied to their idol worship. They used the golden calf and worshipping false gods as an excuse to sin sexually. Once they had crafted a god of their own, or borrowed one from a neighbouring nation, they worshipped it as the unbelievers did – which included sexual sins. As we’ve already learned, this was a huge temptation in Corinth, but just as much in ancient Israel.
The further you wander from God, the more you believe what the world believes and act like the world acts, the easier it is to fall for the temptation toward sexual sin. We’ve already talked a lot about that so I won’t belabour the point, but notice God’s punishment here. You might think, “Well, that’s back in the olden days, God doesn’t do that now!”
Listen to the words of Jesus in Revelation 21:5-8, at the end of the Bible: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’”
You may think Jesus is the warm and cuddly version of God that doesn’t care about sin, lets everyone do what they want, and lets everyone into heaven, but I assure you, He’s the same as He was with the Israelites. He may wait on the punishment, but I assure you that your faith is revealed in your actions and though you may not take your sin seriously, but Jesus sure does.
Does that mean a Christian who sins sexually can lose their salvation? No. As we said before, the difference is sanctification. The difference is that you hate that sin and want to be rid of it. Do you?
The third temptation was put Christ to the test. What does that mean? It means questioning God’s reliability. It’s when we declare God unreliable and then force or demand that He proves himself to us. The Israelites “put Christ to the test” as they told Moses that God and him don’t know what they are doing, that they would surely die of hunger and thirst, that life was better under slavery, that God was holding out on them, refusing to give them their favourite foods, and ultimately that God wasn’t strong enough to defeat their enemies. Over and over they said that God had left them and demanded more and more miracles. (Numb 21, Exo 17)
The Pharisees “put Christ to the test” too. Even though they had heard of and even witnessed multiple miracles, they continued to bring false charges against Jesus, tried to trick Jesus into making mistakes, and then demanding Jesus prove Himself with more miracles (Mark 8:11, Matthew 12:38-39). They even did it as He hung on the cross.
Satan “put Christ to the test” in the wilderness as he tempted Jesus to work miracles for wrong reasons – even tempting Jesus to force God Father to prove His love and prove Jesus’ was special by jumping off the top of the temple!
Have you done this? Atheists love this game. They love mocking Christians and telling God to dance for them, write in the sky, do a crazy sign, and then claiming God doesn’t exist when He refuses to play their game. Do you do this? Do you ever tell God that you’ll believe or obey if He’ll do something for you? Do you ever put yourself in a situation where God has to act just so you can see if He’s real? Do you ever question if God is good or His ways are right, and then deny Him when things don’t go your way? The Bible is clear that is a very serious sin.
Jesus responds, “An evil and adulterious generation seeks for a sign…” Jesus never rebukes or corrects people who are genuinely seeking Him out of need, but He also knows when people are coming with wrong motives.
And the fourth temptation was what is here called “grumbling”. Grumbling isn’t simply talking to God about tough things in your life that you don’t like. God wants us to bring our frustrations, concerns, worries and all the rest to Him. Grumbling is akin to complaining. It’s that low-level murmer in the heart where you keep telling yourself how horrible your life is, how it’s out of control, how the universe is out to get you, that God isn’t helping, nothing is right, there’s not enough money, time, energy, health, or anything else. Your friends aren’t really that good, your house isn’t right, your technology isn’t good enough, your spouse isn’t good enough, your life is too hard, too hot, too cold, too noisy, too quiet… murmur murmer grumble grumble complain complain.
This one is very difficult for me and one of my greatest temptations. I’m a child of discontent and have a very critical heart. I know this about myself and I have to be very careful about it. Why? Because grumbling is spiritually destructive and debilitating. It shows a lack of faith in God, a belief that He is unloving towards you. It’s a lack of contentedness and shows a misunderstanding of grace. It is the belief that you inherently deserve more than you have and God is unfairly holding out on you. It destroys your worship, your prayer life, your relationships, and your witness to others. A grumbling spirit leads to fighting with others, and envy, jealousy, covetousness. (James 4:1-3) “I hate that person. Their life is better than my life, their job is better, the have more of what I want…. And I hate God too for not giving me what they have.” There’s a big difference between complaining to God and complaining about God. Job complained to God but didn’t sin. Israel complained about God and did sin.
What about you? Are you a grumbler?
This section ends with, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
God is faithful. He is for you. He wants your sanctification and wants you to be more holy, because more holiness leads to more joy. He wants your spiritual success and knows what you need in order to grow. He knows your breaking points. Your temptations are not unique to you and he has given you scripture, fellow believers, and the Holy Spirit within you to help you understand them and get through it. And, when you are faced with the burden of temptation, God promises two things: a way out of the temptation, and the strength to endure it. The escape may not be immediate, but He promises that if you trust Him, lean on Him, ask Him, then you will have the strength to endure the temptation and mortify that sin within you – and then grow stronger in faith and in sanctification.
 Life Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians, Pg 135.
We’re continuing our Burning Questions series today and today’s question is one that is a wonderful, perennial, perpetual, question that believers have been asking themselves since time immemorial. It is simply stated: “How can Christians live in the world, but not be ‘part of’ the world?”
The phrase is used a few times during Jesus’ last night on earth, especially in Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer – the prayer he prayed for all those who would believe in Him – in John 17. It says,
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world….” (vs 14-16)
Finding the Line
That’s basically where the Christian trope “in the world, but not of the world” comes from, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about forever. Christians know that we’re supposed to be different than the world, but how? What’s the most important difference? What are we allowed to do and not allowed to do?
Churches, pastors and parents have been trying to decide what qualifies as something that is “of the world” for a long time. Are movies “of the world”, or just some movies? Is technology and the internet “of this world”, or just certain technologies and some websites? Does anyone remember a while back when Christians were all freaking out about Dungeons and Dragons because they thought playing it was a direct path to hell?
Can a Christian have the newest smartphone, or play cards, or go to a pub for a beer, or go on a date, or wear fashionable clothes, or be vegan? Where’s the line between “in the world” and “of the world”?
I found an article online – full of flames, skull and crossbones, written in bold-red letters, called “Strange Gods in the Christian Home” that outlined all kinds of things that Christians need to avoid. Now some were fairly obvious – like occult movies, but some were a little weird.
It spoke of a painting that a missionary brought back that had “hidden satanic symbols on it”, and as a result his family got sick and suffered “one disaster after another”. Another story told of a family that received a “cable box” that got HBO as a free trial for three months. They didn’t watch HBO at all, but claimed that by merely having a cable box with access to it, they “became very depressed”, a family member “became very sick”, and their pet died. They got rid of the “accursed” cable box and things got back to normal.
The site gives a checklist of movies to watch out for so your home doesn’t get taken over by demons. Included in this list are The Wizard of Oz, Pokemon, The Lion King, Power Rangers, and Star Wars.
Is any of that possible? Do demons reside in cable boxes and hide in paintings? What about Pokémon cards? What about Yoga class? What about video games? What about Halloween? Can a Christian girl wear a skirt and cut her hair? Can a Christian play secular songs on the guitar? What about magic shows? What about eastern martial arts?
Where’s the line? We’re always looking for the line, clear rules, easy guidelines, and obvious answers. Sadly, Jesus didn’t give us a list of good things and bad things that we would encounter. Though some people think it is, Pokémon’s goodness or badness just isn’t in the Bible.
Sanctified and Consecrated
But here’s the thing. Finding the line isn’t the point anyway. Making the perfect list of right and wrong isn’t the aim of the Christian life. Trying to figure out where “in but not of” boundaries, isn’t the goal. And that’s why we don’t want to stop reading at verse 16. Jesus wasn’t done talking yet. Read the next two verses:
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (vs 16-19)
You see, Jesus’ didn’t want God to take us out of the world – but to send us into the world, just like He came into the world to save it. He says clearly in verse 15 what He’s NOT praying for: that we would be taken out of the world. He’s not asking God to help us make our list of dos and don’ts and, cloister ourselves away, hide from the world, and live in Christian bubbles for fear that we will fall into temptation. No, He says that what He wants us in the world, but “kept from the evil one.”
And, conveniently enough, when we look at the words that Jesus uses here, He gives us a pretty good plan for what it looks like. He asks God for something very specific. While we’re in the world, Jesus wants us to be protected. How? By “sanctifying us in the truth” (which He says twice) which is “God’s word”, and “consecrated” by Jesus.
Both of those words, “sanctified” and “consecrated”, are the same word – HAGLAZO, meaning “made holy, sacred, special, dedicated towards, committed to, set apart for”.
Jesus wants us to be sanctified, set apart as people who know the truth and live it out. And here’s the cool thing: John 1 says Jesus is the Word of God. In John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the truth”. Here we read “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” and then Jesus saying “for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth”.
In other words, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their saviour from sin, as the one who died for them on the cross, is already sanctified, set apart, and consecrated. What Jesus wants from God is that He would use His power, His Spirit and His Son to help us live out that which we already possess – to live in the truth and power of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Following Jesus Makes Us Different
A couple of hours before Jesus prayed this High Priestly Prayer He was telling his disciples this:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
There it is again – “of the world”. This is the pattern that scripture describes. Jesus chooses some people to be His own. He chooses us “out of the world”, so that we would no longer be “of the world”, but instead be of His kingdom.
In other words all Christians are “sanctified”, “set apart”, “made different” from the rest of the world. We think differently, act differently, react differently to problems and blessings, and see things differently than the world see them.
We will be so different that the world will hate us. We will be as 1st Peter 2 calls us, “aliens and sojourners” or “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), a displaced people that doesn’t feel at home in the place where we live. We will no longer be “their kind of people”, so they won’t understand or like us.
This is probably the biggest emphasis of our question: “How can Christians live in the world but not be of the world?” because as soon as we become Christians, this world no longer feels like home. Our language changes, our priorities change, where we get our authority changes, our whole outlook on life is different.
That’s the toughest part for a lot of young people (and some older ones) to understand about Christianity: that being a Christian means that we can’t be like the world! We are sanctified, as Jesus is sanctified, set apart from the world. Christians, by their very nature, are going to be radically different from the people around them.
St. Augustine, in his book “The City of God”, talks about two cities formed by two loves. He says:
“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” (Augustine of Hippo: The City of God)
These two cities are woefully incompatible. When we choose to identify ourselves with Christ, we don’t have the choice to identify ourselves as other things too. There are no dual citizens in the Kingdom of God. That’s the first commandment.
The generation of modern Christians have a really hard time with this. They may claim to love Jesus, but they also love the good and pleasurable things in this world like music, wine, games, sex, friends, entertainment just as much. The love acceptance, tolerance and freedom more than the Word of God.
They feel a constant pull, because they’re trying to be citizens of both cities – the world and of God’s. They want to be captivated by the Word of God, followers of the Son of God, motivated by the Spirit of God – but the trade is too much for them, so they try to live as dual citizens. But they can’t for long.
Mortification of Sin
Many believers today don’t relate well to verses like:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
Theologians called this the Mortification of Sin, and it is the outworking of what Jesus was praying about when He asked the Father for us to be sanctified by the truth. We get chosen by Jesus, repent from sin, saved by grace, sanctified by God, and then we look at ourselves and start to see more and more sin. Our love for Jesus and desire for Him starts to cause all other loves to tarnish – especially our love of sin.
So, we seek to Mortify, or kill, that sin inside us. Mortification of sin is “the act of self-denial or the ‘putting to death’ of sinful instincts in order to have freedom from sin and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Manser, M. H; Dictionary of Bible Themes) One of the results of our conversion to Christianity, after God shows us our sin and offers us new life in Jesus, is that we no longer love our sin, but want to kill it inside us. We deny ourselves the things that our old, sinful, worldly self, used to like and instead practice discipleship and Christlikeness. We deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23-24)
Ephesians 4:22-24 uses the imagery of taking off our old clothes and putting one new ones. He says we are
“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The old self is deceitful, so we are to take it off – not try to wear both our old life and our new life in Christ.
Think of the story of Paul who, before he trusted Christ, was full of pride, power, and self-exalting titles. He says it this way in Philippians 3:4-11:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
He had it all: power, reputation, resources, education, and a blameless reputation among all the most important people in Jerusalem. But then He met Jesus. He met Jesus and Jesus showed Paul what all those things were really worth in the light of eternity. Paul realized those things were a path to hell, and in an instant – and then many times after that – he saw that all that he had worked for, all the things that he thought were so important, all the things that made him better than everyone else – was actually pointless. He looks at all those worldly things and calls them garbage compared to knowing Jesus.
He continues in verse 7:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish [garbage, dung, excrement], in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
That’s the thing that modern, western Christians don’t get. We have give it all up for Jesus – our education, our plans, our patterns of behaviour, our hobbies, our family, our self-identity, and we trade it all for something better – knowing Jesus. We make the great trade of all we have and all we are, for all Jesus is and all He wants us to be. Why? Paul says so that we might know the power of the resurrection when we die (for as Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)). And so we might become more like Jesus – even though that means suffering
The picture we are given throughout scripture of this transformation from non-Christian to Christ, non-believer to believer, Citizen of the World to Citizen of the Kingdom of God, is as radical as it gets – death and resurrection. Dying to self and rising in Christ is a major theme, a consistent description of what it’s like to become a Christian. The change is so radical, so dramatic, so extreme, so comprehensive, that Jesus called it being “born again”.
Jesus also said it this way:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)
Rebirth is a huge transition. From seed to tree is a huge transition, radically altering everything about the seed. But the seed must die for there to be fruit.
Colossians 3:1-4 says:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
In the World
So we still haven’t’ solved the problem of how to be “in but not of”, but we’re getting closer. The Bible says we are to see ourselves as dead to sin and alive in Christ. Our whole task is to then live in our true nature. We are Citizens of God’s City, but we are still living in this world. We are strangers and aliens. So what are we to do?
One reaction is to hide in fear. See the world as a powerful enemy that is to be feared. Run away from everything that is in the world. No art, no music, no movies, no games, no dancing, no non-believing friends, no nothing… run in fear because the world is too big!
That’s what I read on that article I shared. Fear of everything, a demon behind every bush. Everything is out to get you – Hollywood, board games, even the paintings on your wall and your cable box – and God is powerless against it. The implication is that God is so weak that all it takes is a tiny chink in our armour for Satan to destroy us.
That’s not the God I know.
- Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
- Demons were terrified of Jesus! (Matthew 8:28-34)
- Jesus worked through Paul so powerfully that even the handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul used were used to cure sickness and drive away demons. (Acts 19:11-12)
- In James 4:7 we are told that if we “Submit to God” then we can “resist the devil and he will flee from you”.
- Colossians 2:15 says that when it comes to demonic powers, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.”
- In 1st Thessalonians 1:5 it says, “…our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit…”
We don’t need to be afraid of things in this world. They are ours to enjoy and no demon can overpower a citizen of God’s kingdom! That’s why Jesus says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) and Paul says “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Jesus’ desire is that His people are sent into the world that He created, full of people He loves, to worship Him and enjoy Him forever, spreading the good news of salvation through Him. Will that cause trouble? Sure! Jesus promises us that. Will it all be a bed of roses here on earth? No way. But does a Christian need to live in constant fear that everything in this world is out to get them? No. We are to be in the world, and enjoy the world, and know that we are victorious already over evil because of the complete, saving work of Jesus Christ.
We Need Discernment
Now we’re a little closer to the answer to our question, but our human nature still wants a list, a guideline, a rule, or something so we can know what is “in” and what is “of”, right? We still don’t know what to do with Pokemon, Star Wars and Yoga.
Well, let’s back it up to what Jesus says. How are we to be delivered from “the evil one”? Through our sanctification by the truth, the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ. The closer we are to the light of Jesus, the more clearly we will see the dark schemes of our demonic enemies. Christians call this Discernment, which is a fancy word for knowing right from wrong or knowing how to live wisely.
So the better question is: how do we increase our discernment? Same answer. Get closer to Jesus in prayer and reading His Word. Want to know if Pokemon, Star Wars or Yoga is evil? Talk to Jesus, listen to your conscience, and read the Bible and you’ll be able to make a good call! Do you want kids who know right from wrong? Certainly set boundaries, but don’t trust that they will stay with them forever – or even when you’re not around. It’s better to teach them to read the Bible and pray so they grow in discernment – because they’re listening to and being guided by Jesus.
God does speak today, if we would only listen. There are a lot of guidelines in scripture for how to live a wise and joyful life, love people, flee temptation and avoid sin – if we’d open the book and our ears to what God has already said.