The Christian in The World
Basic Studies in Christian Living for Young Believers, #11
Among the most perplexing problems that confront the young believer in Christ are those that relate to his attitude towards the world — its people, pleasures, pastimes, places. “Should I do this, or go there? What harm is there in that? So and so goes there — why shouldn’t I?” These and similar questions puzzle the minds of many and are frequently expressed openly, of-times with less than satisfactory answers.
One of the main reasons for the difficulties is that the Scriptures do not give direct commands or prohibitions; many of the problems arise from modern life and were unknown in Biblical times. However, God has not left us without guidance or instruction, and in the pages of His Book are age-abiding principles which can be applied equally well to the problems of today as to those of 19 or more centuries ago. The Scriptures are the Christian’s rule of life, his final court of appeal — not the opinions and statements of others, however weighty, nor the example of others, however good. If he diligently searches the Scriptures and truly seeks to learn the Lord’s will therein, his quest will not be in vain.
Another source of difficulty is the variety of opinions expressed and of practice adopted by Christians apparently equally godly and spiritual. It is disconcerting, to say the least, to receive diametrically opposite advice from two mature believers whose judgment is generally worthy of respect. Romans 14 should be carefully studied as it gives very important guiding principles in connection with matters of this kind. Problems relating to diet and days — on which divergent opinions were held — are considered, and two important dangers are stressed that we still do well to remember and avoid. On the one hand, while we should ourselves have a firm conviction (“fully persuaded”) based on the Scriptures, we should not despise the principles and scruples of others, nor, on the other, should we judge the apparent lack of principle of others (see especially verse 2).
A third difficulty arises in the mind of some, namely, the fear of being considered aloof or even of antagonizing unsaved friends if they refrain from things considered by some to be perfectly innocent or even necessary. The principle of separation from the world is repeatedly stressed in God’s Word and it will be surprising if the Christian’s life is not in many respects different from those around us — to their wonder and annoyance at times. See Romans 12:2; 1 Peter 4:24. We should, however, be careful to avoid adopting a “holier than thou” attitude. What we are, we are by the grace of God; let us never give the impression that we consider ourselves to be better than they. It may be difficult to explain to unsaved friends the reasons for our different attitudes to such matters — since we look at them from an entirely different standpoint, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned. We should, however, be fully assured in our own minds in the light of God’s Word, and, while we may not be able to convince others, we may use occasions of discussion as opportunities to witness for our Lord.
Our blessed Lord, in what has been well described as “the greatest prayer of all time,” recorded in John 17, used four significant phrases which summarize His disciples’ relationship and attitude to a world that is an enemy of God and has shown its hostility to Him and to them (see James 4:4; John 15:18-25; 16:33; 17:14); verse 6, “The men which Thou gayest Me out of the world;” verse 11, “These are in the world;” verses 14, 16, “They are not of the world;” verse 18, “I … sent them into the world.” Our Lord has not only left us in the world; He has sent us into it — to shine as lights in it (Phil. 2:15), to preach the Gospel to it (Mark 16. 15), and to sow the good seed of the Word in it (“The field is the world”); to be an influence for Him. We must ever remember, however that like our Master, we are “not of the world,” having been called out of it by Him. This world is not our home; we are “strangers and pilgrims,” passing through, not settling down; “ambassadors,” not citizens; transformed, not conformed (Rom. 12:2); influencing, not influenced by it; loving the world of men and women as God loves (John 3:16), but not loving the system — which is “not of the Father,” not the things that are in it.
When we are confronted with such problems as are referred to at the beginning of this paper, we should consider them in the light of certain
1. The Love of Christ and His sacrifice on Calvary (2 Cor. 5:14, 15. Gal. 2:20; 6:14). Here is the constraining motive that should guide our whole lives and influence our every decision. How insignificant will seem any sacrifice we make in relation to worldly attractions, when seen in the light of His great sacrifice! If His love for us has stirred in our hearts a true love for Him, surely we can never again love a world that crucified Him and that still despises Him and His followers! “Can I take part with those who nailed Him to the tree? And where His name is never praised, is there the place for me?”
2. The Lordship of Christ (Rom. 14. 6-9). “We are the Lord’s.” To Him we have an over-riding responsibility, for “we live unto the Lord,” Every doubt and every decision of our life should be submitted to Him, and His will and commands obeyed implicitly. Let us take our question, “Should I do this or that?” to Him and ask, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
3. The Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14. 9-13). “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” What an influence that day should have on this day — that day, in which the actions of this day will be brought to light and their influence clearly revealed! How carefully, then, should we weigh our actions here, since “every one of us shall give account of himself” — not of his brother except insofar as he has influenced his brother. In view of that day, let us neither judge others for their actions, nor stumble them by ours.
4. (d) The Glory of God (1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31; Col. 3:17, 23). “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Here is the chief end of the Christian’s life, and the golden rule by which it can be regulated. Many a problem can be solved by simply asking the question, “Will God be glorified through my doing this?” If the answer is negative or uncertain, it is better left undone.
The application of these principles to specific difficulties will in most cases lead to their solution. If we are still in doubt about a certain pleasure or habit or pastime, we should ponder the influence.
What influence will it have on (a) our spiritual lives (Heb. 12. 1)? How will it affect our appetites for God’s Word, our desire to pray, our love for the Lord and His people, our opportunities for Christian service and fellowship? Will it increase or curb our desire for spiritual things? Will it spur us on or retard us as we run the race set before us? Will it be a wing to help or a weight to hinder? Is there a possible danger of acquiring an appetite for it with serious spiritual consequences? (b) Our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20): Our bodies belong to the Lord and are the vehicles by which we serve Him here. We should maintain them in fit condition for this service and seek to use them for His glory, avoiding anything that would interfere with their proper functioning. The writer, for example, refrains from smoking, in part because of the undoubted relationship between smoking and lung cancer and other conditions, which if developed, would impair his usefulness and limit his period of active service for the Lord, (c) Our time: “Redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:16). It is encumbent upon us, as those who will give account, to spend our time wisely and not wastefully. We all need recreation, but let us be sure we obtain it profitably and, as far as possible, in the company of God’s people. (d) Our money: As stewards, we are responsible for the use or abuse of the material possessions wherewith God has blessed us. How much money is consumed in smoke that could benefit the Lord’s servants and His work! How much, is directed to the support of things that lead many astray! (e) Others (Rom. 14:13-15, 21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13): We must ever be careful not to stumble others by our actions, and remember that a situation into which we may enter without peril may endanger the spiritual health of another who may enter therein. What may seem perfectly innocent to one may be poison to another. Be careful what you do and where you go; others are watching and being influenced.
If, having sought the Lord’s will in His Word and in earnest prayer, we still find ourselves in doubt, it is a safe rule “When in doubt, don’t.” On this principle, the Apostle closes the chapter to which we have so frequently referred, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23),.
In pursuing a path of separation from the world, we may frequently find that the Lord would have us give up for Him many things that we might hold dear, or pleasures in which we might be tempted to indulge. We can be sure that no sacrifice we make but will be amply repaid by Him. “He gives the very best to those who leave the choice with Him.”‘ Indeed we shall discover that as His things, the “things above,” occupy our attention and affection “things on earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”