“In the world, but not of it” is the slogan of so many Christians eager to adopt the world’s lifestyle. It’s a phrase that’s vaguely Biblical and in truth, there are some similar verses. However, the phrase has become a way to excuse worldly living among Christians as a means of connecting to our present culture. The reason? Well to reach the lost of course! How can we relate the gospel to those that need it most if we can’t have common ground? A childhood friend used this exact phrase to explain why he would watch, listen, and do everything the world did. Unfortunately, not only does this make your testimony less effective, it could also hurt you or your family as well.
When is following our culture ok?
Paul said in 1 Cor 9 that he was “all things to all men” that he might win as many people to the Lord as possible. We have that obligation as well. A missionary to Indonesia would do well to learn their language, eat their food, and find common points of interest as a way of connecting people to Christ. In America, we have similar cultural considerations.
There is a line in the sand, though. In that same passage, Paul draws it in verse 21:
To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
In America, we like our food, sports, hobbies, and our entertainment. We should use those common interests to reach people. But just like Paul said, while we do those things that are distinctly American, we ought to maintain our distinct Christianity. We are not without law to God. We shouldn’t listen to the same music, watch the same shows, or enjoy our sports the same way.
What will you gain?
When we act differently than “the norm”, there is a natural curiosity from other people. Consider the Amish. They behave in stark contrast to modern society, and as a result, many people are interested in their way of life, and what it is like to be them. While that goes to an extreme that I wouldn’t recommend, Christians can be different and produce a similar result.
God wanted the Israelites to look different than the world around them. He wanted everyone to know that they were God’s people. So he had them eat different foods, wear different clothes, and even trim their beards differently. In the New Testament, we are told to come out from among the lost and be separate. It’s the same principle found in both places. In the workplace, tactfully declining alcohol, dirty language, or even gossip can let people know that you are different.
Sometimes you will experience a little persecution for being openly Christian, but that will help you in three ways.
- Since you have outed yourself as a Christian, you will have greater incentive to do right because you know others are watching.
- You will create an untold amount of witnessing opportunities just by being pleasantly outspoken about your faith.
- You will gain the respect of those around you who understand that accepted some risk to be a public Christian. You may even discover some other “undercover” Christians in the process!
Drawbacks of being worldly
When you say there are no lines, and that we need to be just like the world to reach them, you give up everything that we just talked about AND you accept new risks that you didn’t have before. You will be much more susceptible to peer pressure. It will be so much easier to go along with the crowd when everyone is jumping off a spiritual cliff when you have already decided that there aren’t any lines you won’t cross.
You will open yourself up to small areas that the devil can use to gain an inroad in your life and the results may not only affect you. Abraham decided to go to Egypt (picture of the world) during a famine and acted just like the heathen Egyptians when he told Sarah to lie about her identity. He got his food, but ultimately his trip to Egypt gave his nephew, Lot, a taste of the world that he never forgot when he decided to pitch his tent toward Sodom. Hagar (picked up in Egpyt during the trip) became a source of strife in his family and led to trouble for the Israelites down the road.
Maybe you will survive by immersing yourself in worldly culture. So did Abraham, but those around him suffered. Your kids may not make it if you don’t draw some lines.
How to really reach the lost
Living publicly as a Christian is a huge step toward being a better soul winner, but ultimately do not forget that sometimes (when God leads us) we should be open about sharing the gospel with others as well. Paul said we need to persuade men. A good testimony will get people curious, but ultimately a direct conversation built on a foundation of love and humility is the best way to get people in the kingdom.