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We Are Not of the World, So that We Can Be for the World

We live in a culture that is highly polarized and divided on all kinds of issues, and this raises important questions for us as Christians. What does love and faithfulness to Jesus look like in our culture?

We’ve been reading through the Gospel of John as part of our Bible Reading Plan, and one of the things Jesus says that has grabbed my attention is his statement that he is “not of this world.”

“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23).

As I read through the gospels, I find that there is something so unique about Jesus, so compelling. And I think this phrase captures it: he is not of this world. The world, in John’s Gospel, represents life apart from God, life in darkness, characterized by values and pursuits that arise out of that darkness rather than out of God’s light. Jesus steps into the world as one so out of place that he is utterly astonishing. People are drawn to him precisely because he is not of this world, because he shows a different way to live, a better way, one that actually leads to life. But people also hate him for it. In fact, his statement in John 8:23, “I am not of this world,” is spoken to those who oppose him.

Jesus is not of the world, but he is for the world. And it’s precisely because he is not of the world that he can be most for the world—that he can bring the healing the world needs, that he can offer new life and a better way.

That’s our calling too. As Jesus’ followers, we are no longer of the world, so that we can be for the world. Like Jesus.

“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.” (John 17:14).

And again:

“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world…As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:16, 18).

Not of the world, but sent into the world. Not of the world, so that we can be for the world. That’s what Jesus is saying.

What does that mean? It means we’re meant to be different. To live differently, to love differently, to have a different way of seeing, a way that aligns with truth and reality as given by God. It also means we walk in humility and compassion, not in anger and condemnation. It means we cling to God’s word and that we’re shaped by his heart. Our lives are meant to have the fragrance of Jesus (see 2 Cor 2:15). Some will be drawn to this. Some will oppose it. Just like with Jesus.

As we seek to follow Jesus in this way, I’ve found two temptations to be ever present. One is to conform to the world, to let its values, its pursuits, its way of seeking power and prestige and self-fulfillment get into us. It’s easy to drift into becoming just like the world. On the opposite side is the temptation to stand over against the world, with an “us” vs. “them” mentality that looks with mockery and disgust and condemnation upon the world.

Neither of these is the way of Jesus. Because of our union with Christ, we are no longer of the world. And it’s only in our being distinct from the world that we actually have something to offer the world, something that really has life in it. But it’s only when we enter into the world with humility and love that we can offer the better way of Jesus to the world.

So what does it look like to live in the world, but not be of the world, so that we can be for the world?

It looks like grace and truth: “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

That’s what Jesus came into the world to bring—the very glory of the eternal God, full of grace and truth. Grace and truth together characterize his “kingdom [that] is not of this world” (John 18:36). They’re meant to characterize us, the people of his kingdom.

What that will look like in specific situations will require a lot of wisdom and prayer, staying close to Jesus, walking in step with his Spirit daily, living in his word so that his heart and his story gets into us and shapes us, so that his life fills us and flows through us (see John 7:37-38).

To follow the “not of this world, but for the world” way of Jesus is not easy. We will be opposed. Jesus said as much:

“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 15:19).

Knowing this can help us face opposition in a different kind of way—with joy and humility, with kindness and love, offering to others the life we have found in Jesus. This is our great privilege, our calling in our present culture: to follow in the loving, life-giving steps of our Savior, being a people who are not of the world, so that we can be for the world.

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