In the World, but not Of the World

By Royce Frederick

There was a strange man named Simeon who lived from A.D. 386 to 459. He lived on top of a column sixty feet high for thirty-six years. From that position, he preached to people and gave his judgment in cases of dispute. During the third through fifth centuries A.D., many people who wanted to follow Christ lived very strange lives in an effort to escape the temptations and corruptions of the world. Some of them lived in caves, while others went into the deserts to live. Some of them weighted themselves down with chains. Some ate only grass. Some prayed in the rain, wind, and snow without moving. Some endangered themselves before snakes and wild beasts, and a few burned their bodies. They were trying to be “holy” by doing these things.

These strange practices did not come from God. They came from several false beliefs:

— the belief that flesh and everything connected with flesh is sinful;

— the belief that a person who is married is less spiritual than a person who is not married;

— the belief that a person is suffering for Christ when he tortures himself;

— and the belief that living such a life and dying such a death was a sure way to heaven.

Christ and His inspired writers never taught such ideas. The disciples of Christ are “in the world,” but they are “not of the world” (John 17:11, 14). Jesus prayed to God the Father, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them [set them apart] by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:15-17). Although we live in a sinful world, our conduct should be guided by God’s word, not by the things we see and hear in the world around us. God’s word helps keep us away from the evil one. Jesus also prayed, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). To be a light which leads people to glorify God (Matthew 5:14-16), the Christian needs to live in a godly, holy manner among people (Titus 2:12).

The Bible often uses the word “flesh” to refer to evil desires which tempt us and find expression through our physical bodies (Rom. 8:5-13). And the Bible often uses the term “the world” to mean the evil practices of most people in the world (1 John 2:15-16; see Matthew 7:13-14). But the material world (the earth) and all physical things are not evil themselves. Christ became a human, with flesh and blood like you and me, yet He never committed any evil or sin (Jn. 1:14; Heb. 4:15). God created all things through Christ (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16). Satan never created anything. Sin and evil are actions. Sin occurs when we abuse physical things or have extreme desires for physical things.

Some people have forsaken God’s word and forbidden marriage (1 Tim. 4:1-3). However, the Bible shows us that the marriage relationship was created by God and should be held in honor (Gen. 2:21-25; Matt. 19:4-9; Heb. 13:4).

We should endure suffering and should sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Christ. But the Bible does not teach us to torment our bodies. When a person torments his own body as a method of religious devotion, it may appear very impressive, but it has no spiritual value: “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Instead, we are taught to endure persecutions and hardships which come upon us from other sources as we stand for the truth and live for Christ (Matt. 5:10-12; 2 Tim. 2:3-6). We should be a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:l). The way we accomplish that is by using our abilities diligently in the work of the Lord’s church (Rom. 12:4-8), and by living unselfishly and righteously among our fellowman (Romans 12:9-21).