The world will always be what it is. It operates on its own system of values, attractions, and wisdom that often stand in opposition to the righteousness of God. By becoming Christians, we have left their fellowship and been joined to another. Our former love for the world has been replaced by love for Christ, but none of these truths entails a withdrawal from or refusal to mix in among the people of the world.
I am ready to flee California. This used to be the greatest state in the union, but things have changed. California was just rated last for quality of life. The freeways are overcrowded, people are overtaxed, and the cost of living is at an all-time high. I want to move to Idaho, buy a farm, and live on acres away from people and problems.
I am using hyperbole to make a point. The attitude I described is how many Christians think with regard to the world. All I would have to do is substitute “world” for “California,” and the application would be the same. Christians today are greatly discouraged by what they are seeing in the world. It is becoming very difficult to be a Christian and live together in this world with unbelievers. Christians are thinking a lot about separation, and a farm to get away from it all doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
There are certainly legitimate reasons for making a move to another place. The problem is that many Christians justify a move because they want to escape the problems they are experiencing in the world. After all, didn’t the Lord call believers to be separate from the world (2 Cor. 6:14–18)? What does this mean? Are we called to withdraw from the world and have no contact with non-Christians?
Few Christians would think this call means we are to live a monastic life, but getting away from the world and its problems can be its own brand of monasticism. The irony is, that kind of separation can be a very worldly pursuit. It assumes that one can achieve in this life the glories of what is promised only in the new heavens and earth. And such a separation in this way sends a poor message to the world—that we don’t care about them and only want to get away. What becomes of the Great Commission with this kind of separation? This is why we need a healthy consideration of what it means to be separate from the world.
Come Out and Be Separate
Christians have always struggled with how to understand the call to be a separate people in the world. There have always been those who either, using Richard Niebuhr’s classic categories, pit Christ against culture or assimilate Christ into culture. We can fall back into the world just as easily as we can desire to separate out of the world. So, to what kind of separation is God calling the Christian in this world?
A brief reflection of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian Christians provides us with the answer. They were allowing worldliness to go unchecked in the church.