“In the World but not Of It” or “Of the World but not In It?”

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John 17:16-18: (vs. 16) “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (vs. 17) “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (vs. 18) “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” 

This great truth was verbalized by Jesus in His high priestly prayer to His Father on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples on the night He was crucified. He was sending them out, just as His Father 33 years earlier, had sent Him out—to be in the world (vs. 18), but not of the world (vs. 16).

What does that mean? At the Fall, Satan deceived Eve, and, because of Adam’s lack of leadership, seized the lawful authority given to Adam at creation to rule over the world (kosmos– “world system, order, government”). He did so, legally, with impunity, from the Fall until the Incarnation.

God’s plan for man to rule for Him over the earth, as foretold in Genesis 1:26-28, was seemingly thwarted by Satan in the Garden. However, “in the fullness of time,” that plan was resurrected. Long foretold by the prophets, Jesus came to earth at the Incarnation on a mission—as a “second man,” the “last Adam,” to take creation back for the Creator. He did so definitively at the cross, progressively through His disciples whom He is praying for in John 17, and ultimately through their descendents who will follow them, the church—including you and me!

Notice in verse 18 Jesus sends His disciples (and ultimately us) into the world just as His Father had sent Him—to bear the Father’s image (to live, speak and act just as the Father would), bring the Father’s rule, His kingdom, wherever we go, and then reproduce others to follow us.

In the process of introducing this kingdom, Jesus “broke the mold” of what the “Christians” of the day (the religious Jews) supposedly were to be. He “marched to a different drummer” altogether. We have been sent to do the same. We are to be in the world, involved in it fully—government, business, the arts, education, medicine, athletics—every area of human involvement. We are bringing the kingdom of God with us wherever we go. Just because we are there, living our lives by the word of God as our guiding standard, we are bringing everything that is under our authority into that same lifestyle, just as Jesus did!

We are not living by Satan’s old marching orders, the way of the world before the cross, immersed in how Satan and his deceived captives think, speak and act. No! We now live by faith in “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” This is our calling; this is why we have been born. We are on the attack, wielding the love of God, the grace of God, and the forgiveness of God. These mighty weapons break the chains that bind Satan’s blinded captives. His promise is that the gates of Hell cannot stop us! This is the answer to Jesus’ prayer that we be “in the world but not of it.”

But the church today, more often than not, has been just the opposite. It has been “of the world but not in it.” How so?

During the decades of the mid-1850’s, three very significant events were occurring in Europe. First, the ideas of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, were spreading throughout Germany. Second, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was introduced in 1859 in England, and third, John Darby originated and was teaching a new twist on Christian theology among Plymouth Brethren churches in Great Britain. This new perspective would ultimately radically alter the whole Bible-believing Christian church throughout the world.

Marx and Darwin introduced anti-biblical ideas with which the church had never before had to grapple and which were gaining a significant audience in the culture. Christians around the world were being stretched intellectually and found themselves not able to compete in the marketplace of ideas. They were being forced to compromise their long-held biblical beliefs about creation, free enterprise and private ownership of property and were not equipped to counteract these ideas. 

The Scopes trial of 1925 signified that the battle for public opinion about creation in America was over. Creationists had lost that battle decisively, even though they actually won the legal trial. The election of young, attractive, energetic Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, called by some “the first progressive president,” meant that Marx’s ideas of an all-powerful civil government were beginning to gain traction in politics as well. “What do we do?,” Christians asked themselves.

Enter John Darby. His original, new twist on an ancient theology that had been dormant for some 1500 years was just the ticket. America was founded by the Pilgrims and Puritans on a theology with a positive view of history that flowed from the Reformation. They believed that Jesus, who, since the Ascension, was ruling over the earth from His Father’s right hand through His church, would ultimately be victorious. America would be a “Shining City on a hill” and show the world what the rule of Jesus eventually will be like.

Darby taught that, no, Jesus is not yet ruling; Satan is, and the world will get worse and worse as a result. One of this theology’s greatest proponents preached “Don’t waste your time shining brass on a sinking ship” (i.e., withdraw from the marketplace of ideas, retreat behind the stained glass windows of your churches, and give all your energy to saving souls). His idea was that “Politics is a dirty business, so don’t get involved. That’s the Devil’s business. Furthermore, Jesus is returning at any time to rescue the church from the declining mess, so don’t worry. Pack a grocery bag, retreat to a cave and wait to leave this earth at the Rapture!”

A vast portion of the church in America followed Darby’s lead, assisted by the immensely popular Scofield Bible, first published in 1909, whose notes taught this theology.  The sad result was a retreat by much of the church to escape the battle over ideas in the public square. For over 150 years these believers have been waiting for Jesus to come. 

Supposedly, all the prophetic signs are fulfilled; He could come back at any time. While we have waited, the battle for the culture has raged, with God’s side woefully underrepresented in spite of the vast number of Christians in our country. Many of our troops are “holding hands and sharing precious verses,” not in a cave, but deep within the walls of our churches, waiting to be rescued by Jesus. These Christians don’t even vote because politics is a “dirty business.” 

We are blissfully unaware that, because we are not involved in the battle, we have not recognized the enemy creeping into our churches, swaying us slowly and subtly to follow the culture and adopt his agenda ourselves! There can be NO NEUTRALITY in this spiritual battle! Much of the church has indeed become “Of the world but not in it!”

Next week we will look at our marching orders when God opens our eyes to what is occurring today.

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