Christians are in the world but not of the world. It’s a churchy catch-all to difficult questions that always boil down to the same thing. “Is this allowed?” It’s an answer that sounds religiousy and lets you avoid actually answering tough questions about things that make us uncomfortable. For example, morality, right and wrong, and God’s law. That’s a twofer. It’s even from the bible. Sort of…
“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. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:14–18)
It’s easy, just watch. I want to go to a concert but I think the lyrics to the music are inappropriate. In the world, but not of the world. So, instead of listening to people sing about how much they love drugs, go to a show in some church where they sing about how much they love Jesus. Even though it’s not actually in the world because the rest of the world didn’t show up. They knew it wouldn’t hold a bic lighter to the real thing. Still, you can have your cake and eat it too. Sort of…
Or maybe your church talks a lot about how horrible dressing immodestly is. Instead of a difficult conversation about Christian freedom, love for neighbor, and a dark history where this was used not to elevate and honor women but demean them, just say ‘in the world but not of the world’. Then, dress how the world dresses, but incorporate a bedazzled cross to cancel it out. Sort of like eating ice cream while walking on the treadmill. That sort of works, right? No?
It doesn’t work because ‘In the world but not of the world’ assumes God’s law changes between heaven and here, and it’s our job to bridge the gap by finding loopholes. It doesn’t and it’s not. Morality doesn’t cease to exist with bedazzled crosses. The world won’t love praise bands that sing about something they don’t believe in. It doesn’t work because in all of it we completely ignore Jesus. This side of glory we can’t fulfill God’s law. That’s why we look for loopholes. Jesus points to something in the world but not of the world to measure righteousness. Himself. Not loopholes. Love.
The point isn’t that Christians take a detour on earth before going to heaven. It’s that Jesus left heaven behind, took flesh and came to earth. God abides on earth, friend of sinners, and help of the helpless. He loved you by dying on the cross to keep you from the evil one and make you holy.
Sanctification means made holy. Holiness doesn’t come from bedazzled crosses on every tanktop, but one bloody one where God died for you. We are baptized into that cross. Baptism unites us in death and resurrection to Jesus. We are in the world as He is in the world. Called to love each other as He loved us. But we are not of the world as He is not either. We’re tied to a resurrection that conquers the sins we don’t’ have to excuse anymore. They’re forgiven, washed away in the blood of Jesus. We’re free from loopholes. We’re joined in love. We’re baptized.