Nearly two thousand years ago Paul wrote to Timothy that the last days would be terrible (2 Timothy 3:1-5). What did he mean? Was he thinking about the condition of the world leading up to the rapture of the Church and the subsequent chaos in the world during the tribulation? Or was he referring to the spiritual decline of believers during this present Church age because of their lack of commitment to God resulting in a tolerance of anything this world has to offer. John described the end of the Church age as a time when Christians would be “lukewarm,” neither hot nor cold, and as such nauseous to God (Rev. 3:15-16).
Tolerance Or Commitment?
Dorothy Sayers, an early 20th century British writer, wrote this about tolerance: “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”
When we contrast an attitude of tolerance to the current world and its standards with a life of commitment to God and His standards, we begin to understand why those willing to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost, find life far more satisfying and meaningful. Lives without God are dominated by selfishness, disillusionment, despair and anger. And the same applies to a lesser degree to half-hearted Christians who have no real commitment or God-given purpose for living.
Statements made by some missionaries give us a glimpse of what it is to be committed to the cause of Christ. Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956, wrote this in his diary as he considered a life dedicated to serving the Lord: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
C. T. Studd gave up his wealth and social position in England to serve the Lord, first in China with Hudson Taylor, and later as a missionary in Africa where he founded the World Evangelization Crusade. Before leaving for Africa in 1913, Studd was asked by a young man if he was making too great a sacrifice. Studd’s reply became the motto of WEC: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great to make for Him.”
And this statement has been attributed to many missionaries: “God always gives His best to those who leave the choice with Him.” From these missionary quotes we get an idea of the inner fire of commitment that burned in their hearts – and the same can be said of all who have surrendered their lives to serve the Lord and not allowed the current world’s standards and values to diminish their spiritual power. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV) states that such a sacrifice accompanied by a decision not to conform to the world’s standards will open for us a clear understanding of God’s will for us. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We live in the world, but we should not be dominated by its values. The Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples and those who would follow in their footsteps, asking God to protect them in the world: “My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:15-17). As disciples of Christ, we are not part of this world system because we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), but we are called to stand for Christ in a world that is hostile to Him.
In The World Or Of It?
The Lord Jesus is the perfect example for us to follow. He lived, worked and served among the people of His day, but He never condoned or participated in their sins. He was not contaminated by the world even though He lived in it. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). We are living in a lost and dying world that is driven by sin, but we do not have to participate in the sin and evil that surround us.
We could liken Christians living in this hostile environment, to the crew of a submarine at the bottom of the ocean. They are surrounded by crushing water pressure that would kill them if they were not protected from the outside pressures by a strong hull, making it possible for them to carry out their mission. They are safe as long as the water stays outside, but they are in extreme danger if a leak develops in the hull allowing the water to enter. Simply stated, the sub is in the ocean, but the ocean is not in the sub and is to be kept out at all costs.
When we accept Christ as Savior we are born into God’s family: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). As believers we need to depend more fully on Jesus for victory, and then live in the power of the Holy Spirit. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16). We must recognize that even though we live in this sinful world, it is not our home. As citizens of heaven we should follow Peter’s urging: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
What Is The World?
Just what does Scripture mean by the world? Obviously, God is not referring to this planet, because Scripture tells us of the wonders of this world, and how we should see the Creator God in the creation. “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Rom. 1:20). When we are warned against worldliness, we are being told to avoid this world system which is now under the control of Satan. He is the prince of this world (Jn. 14:30) and as such seeks to undermine all that characterizes God.
John summed up worldliness as a satanic strategy with three main characteristics: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16). As the prince of this world, Satan is working to subvert the hearts of men because he knows his judgment is soon. “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (Jn. 12:31).
This world system is identified as materialistic, immoral, selfish, perverted and unethical; it is tolerant of every deviation, sinful pleasure and world religion, while totally against Jesus Christ and Christianity. It seeks to destroy belief in the authority, authenticity, accuracy and infallibility of God’s Word.
What can we do about it? Jesus explained the believer’s position in the world through a parable in which a farmer sowed wheat seed; then at night the enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. Both grew together and when the servants asked if they should go pull out the weeds, the owner told them that pulling the weeds would also root up the good wheat. The Lord explained the parable to His disciples later: “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43). The good seed grows and matures and will be fruitful even though the weeds are there. In fact, as Christians, we have the opportunity not only to mature, but also to influence for good the “weeds” around us.
How To Live In The World
The world rejected the Lord who paid the ultimate price to bring us into the kingdom of God and the rule of Christ. As we read through Acts we see that the disciples were also persecuted and martyred for following Jesus. The world would neither accept them nor the message they proclaimed. The political and social system of the Roman Empire rejected Christianity and was instrumental in killing thousands of believers. The religious system of both the pagan and Jewish leaders also rejected Jesus and persecuted His followers. In spite of this rejection, the disciples not only lived and died for their faith, but also were used to spread the gospel over all the known world of that time. They swam against the current of the world system even though the prince of this world was empowering his followers.
The disciples discovered that they had power from God that enabled them to be overcomers. The Spirit in them was greater that any world power. “The spirit of the Antichrist … is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:3-4). The Lord Jesus had promised to be with His followers “to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). And just as He was with the early disciples, empowering them through the indwelling Holy Spirit, so He is with us today, empowering us to live for Him and swim against the current of the present world system.
Salt And Light
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt. 5:13-14).
When I lived in Colombia and visited families in jungle areas, I often saw them salting and drying their meat, because they had neither electricity nor refrigerators. The meat would quickly spoil if it was not salted and sun dried. The salt restrained the spoiling action. In a similar way Christians who live in a contaminating world can have a restraining effect on the corruption that surrounds them. For example, over the centuries many private schools and colleges were started with the twofold purpose of educating students and teaching them biblical principles, ethics and morals. The abolition of the slave trade in England was fought for in the British parliament by William Wilberforce and finally accomplished in 1807. George Muller (1805-1898), who founded many orphanages for destitute children in England, was known for his great faith in God to provide for all the needs of his charges.
Down through the centuries since Christ, Christians like these have had a profound effect on the world as they took a stand for God. They were used not only to arrest the course of worldly corruption around them, but also to shine as lights in a dark and sinful world. How do we measure up to the standards they set? Are we standing for God, maintaining biblical standards of morals and ethics? Do we speak out and witness for the Lord as opportunities present themselves? Are we governed by being politically correct, or do we speak out for what is biblically correct? Are we ready to commit our lives to the Lord and the principles He has given us?
The Lord has a plan for each one of us. We need to surrender our wills to Him, seek His will and live for Him, not allowing this world to dominate our thoughts and actions. There is nothing better than living wholeheartedly for the Lord. “You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand” (Ps. 16:11). Read again the challenge of the missionary C. T. Studd: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great to make for Him.”
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org