Victory Through Separation

I earlier mentioned the two commandments Jesus gave us about the world. One, we are supposed to come out from among them and be separate. Second, we are supposed to make disciples of all nations. We might think at first that there is a tension or contradiction here. But God’s commands do not conflict with one another, when they are rightly understood.

I wonder if, prior to Christ, Jewish scholars ever got into arguments about the nature of the Messiah. “I tell you, he will be a suffering servant!” “No, he will be a glorious king!” “Servant!” “King!” “Servant!” How could they have possibly known they were both right? And is it possible that the same goes when we argue “Separation and holiness!” “Evangelism!” “Separation and holiness!” “Evangelism!”

God is a God of paradoxes. Want to gain your life? Lose it. Want to be great? Humble yourself and be a servant. The meek shall inherit the earth. The King was born in a manger. Pray for your enemies and bless those who persecute you.

It should come as no suprise, then, that we win the world by separating from it. This is how we fulfill the two mandates of “come out from among them, and be ye separate” and “go ye therefore to all nations”.

A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, because it is on the hill and not on the plain. It’s set up, separated, from the plain around it. The lamp is visible because it’s on the lampstand. Take a candle or an electric lantern into a dark room. Hold it up and notice how much light it gives off. Then set it on the floor and compare. The actual output in lumens is the same, but when the lantern is lifted up and set apart from what it’s illuminating, the light is far more visible.

We live separated, different lives out of loyalty to Christ. The contrast between our lives and the rest of the world is what makes us visible. We walk in wisdom toward them that are without. We are separated from the wicked in our relationships (2 Corinthians 6:14) and the way we live our lives (1 John 2:15-16).

Jesus said that the world would believe the gospel because of how believers treated one another (John 17:22-23). There’s little in the Bible to suggest that the world will believe because of how we interact with the world. The only thing that comes to mind is Paul’s admonition to be kind, gentle, and patient with unbelievers (2 Timothy 2:24-26). But primarily, as a friend of mine puts it, Christians ought to treat each other so well that the world gets jealous.

Of course, total isolation or segregation from the world is impossible and undesirable. We would have to physically leave the world. We will interact with the world as we go about our daily business, and of course there are certain relationships (e.g., family, co-workers, neighbors) that we will have with unbelievers. For example, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 that it’s perfectly appropriate for us to accept invitations to eat with unbelievers (although even then he warns us to be careful). That is why we must “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15), to “walk in wisdcom toward them that are without, redeeming the time”, and to “let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col 4:5-6).

This has been disparagingly referred to as “incidental evangelism”. But I think it is Biblical.

Some people are called as missionaries, to take the gospel to other peoples and lands. Praise God for them! We are not all called to be missionaries in that sense, though. For most of us, we sanctify God in our hearts, be ready and willing to answer questions about our faith, and expect to be reviled for it (1 Peter 3:14-17). Jesus said the world would hate us.

We must separate from the world because the world is an enemy to God. Friendship with the world is enmity to God. Worldliness – appropriating the values and customs common to people ruled by Satan – is not compatible with building the kingdom of God. So we must separate from it.

But this also means that we will be visible by virtue of being separated. The distinct lives we live will be obvious. They must be, if there is any difference between serving Christ or serving Satan.

Separation from the world is the only way to effectively build up the kingdom of God, and is the only way to let our light shine before men.

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8 Responses to Victory Through Separation

  1. jeff weddle says:

    I was recently thinking and blogging about “come out from among them and be seperate” and was wondering what it was that seperates us. I came to the conclusion that it was hope. Hope that we are safe with God and have a better life coming in heaven. If we lived like we had hope the world would notice and feel free to ask about it. Then, we should be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us.

  2. Chris P. says:

    Lev 19:1-4 and 1 Peter 1:13-19

    We are holy(set apart) because HE is holy (set apart) and He has called us and placed His name upon us. He makes us holy.
    The blood of Christ separates us from the world, and our subsequent actions are proof of our holiness. These actions do not make us holy.
    We are separate even when we go into all that is corupted and preach the Word and offer the example of behavior befitting the children of the light.

  3. Robert says:

    Yay, I still have readers! :-) It was getting pretty quiet around here…

    Jeff, I think the hope that we have will produce many tangible differences in our lives as compared to the world. It’s my opinion that as we actively seek to obey Christ, it ought to produce a radically different way of living. IMHO, we too often shortchange this and are satisfied with what amounts to cheerfulness and dynamic personalities.

    Chris, I agree with you – but too often (virtually always, I think) we wind up acting just like the world in all the significant ways. In an earlier post, I quoted Spurgeon who said of Christ “He was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.’ In one sense, no one mixed with sinners so completely as He did when, like a physician, He went among them healing His patients; but, in another sense, there was a gulf fixed between the men of the world and the Saviour, which He never essayed to cross, and which they could not cross to defile Him.”

    Unfortunately, when I “mix with sinners”, it’s because of a lack of holiness. I’m careless and worldly, not missional.

    I would also generalize your statement “our subsequent actions are proof of our holiness” to say that our holiness ought to produce a way of life that is separate or different from the world, especially since the world is largely ruled by the devil.

  4. Chris P. says:

    Robert,

    I always read your posts. They are refreshing, especially compared to most of what I get mixed up in. :-)

    You are right to rephrase my statement on actions, as I assuming that we are walking perfectly all the time, and I don’t to be sure.

    I am also thinking of Hebrews 7:26-28 in terms of Spurgeon’s quote. He is separate in a way that we can never be, yet he was unjustifiably called called a winebibber and a glutton. Unfortunately you are right as we too often imbibe and overeat in our attempts to reach out.

  5. kalen says:

    i like your blog and look forward to reading it in the future. i appreciate your emphasis on the fact that we don’t have to become like the world in order to win them to christ. we don’t have to put on a big marketing campaign and try to entice them in the same way that the world does so – in order for them to see christ and come to him. it’s the life of christ in us that will compell them.

    but i disagree with your statement that “We are not all called to be missionaries in that sense, though….be ready and willing to answer questions about our faith”. although not everyone will go to another country to preach the gospel, i believe that it is our right and our promise as believers to see the power of god manifest around us. through the word of god dwelling richly in us and through the testimony of our life, for many people to be convicted in their hearts and turn to the lord.

    of course, there are probably many people who instead of getting excited about god by these things, because of a hard heart, will hate us. and jesus said that the world would hate us. but i do think it’s a bit defeating to say (and i’m not sure this is exactly what you were saying) that not all people are really called to have authority on their words and lives and for people around them to get saved and discipled.

    anyway, cool blog, be back soon…

  6. Jimmy H. says:

    i think you need to be careful when you talk about being “seperated” from the world… i think the church as a whole has done a pretty good job seperating itself from the world, and then expects the world to come knocking in search for hope… i think it’s a copout (and a sin) when the church waits for the world to come to her rather than the church going to the world (like Jesus demonstrated and commanded).

  7. Robert says:

    Kalen, I would go further than saying “we don’t have to become like the world in order to win them to Christ”. I’d say that if we try to do it that way, we will fail.

    I’m not suggesting that we do not have the right and responsibility to share Christ with those around us. I’m contending that for most of us, the way we share Christ is very different than running through the “Four Laws” with them.

    As far as I can tell, nothing in the Bible tells individual believers to be evangelists. But I do see instructions to believers individually to live godly lives publicly, then answer questions and explain the gospel appropriately (1 Peter 3:14-17, Colossians 4:5-6, Matthew 5:16).

  8. Robert says:

    Jimmy, if you haven’t already then please go read There is a Devil and Come out From Among Them to see the Biblical / theological basis for my point. Particularly, read the commentaries I linked to in the latter post.

    The Bible teaches a twofold separation. First, we are to be separated from unbelievers in careless or harmful relationships. The Bible tells us that he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm, and also that bad company corrupts good behavior. So we must be wise. Secondly, and far more importantly, is that we are to be separated in the lives we live. We are to live differently than the world. To some extent, this separation will produce the first. And the church has done a terrible job in being separated in this sense.

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