Being In But Not Of The World

Today I studied two main passages that can present a quandary in the life of the believer. These are 1 John 2:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. As a follower of Christ, a person who has a relationship with Jesus because I have asked Him to forgive my sin and promised to follow Him, I want to live for Jesus. At the same time, when you accept Jesus into your heart and start this wonderful relationship with Him, you don’t move into a “Christian bubble” separated completely from all people who do not have a relationship with Jesus. You don’t automatically become perfect and you don’t stop being around people who don’t love Jesus. At the same time, the Bible warns us about being involved in worldly things that displease God. I found so much to say on this topic and it was encouraging for me to see how I am called to live.


Let’s start out with 1 John 2:15-17:

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

“The world”

The Bible often refers to “the world” not as the physical place that we live, but rather as the things apart from God. More directly, we can think of “the world” as sin.


The encouragement is that we aren’t to go after these things that please us that God tells us are wrong, but are to make our focus on pleasing Him. This doesn’t mean that God wants to stop us from having fun or doesn’t want us to enjoy our life. On the contrary, God knows the things that are and are not good for us. Here’s one example: sex outside of marriage. If a guy and a girl are attracted to each other and decide to sleep with each other, for the most part, it’s going to end badly. Yes, there are some times that it ends up pretty good, but there’s no guarantee of that. God knows the way that He created us. He created us to enjoy having sex, but He wanted us to be in a committed relationship to do so. He wanted it to be a good thing to get pregnant at any time because children are a blessing from God. He wanted us to wake up the next morning and know that person would still be there for us and love us. He wanted us to have the kind of relationship where there is no shame and no guilt and the promise that even when we are acting unlovable or we feel like no one should love us, the other person is still there. That’s the reason that God set up those boundaries. It’s like setting up a fence around the edge of the cliff. It’s not to stop you from something you want to do, but to keep you safe.


While we are supposed to avoid “the world” and the sins we are tempted with, we still live in the world. While we are called to live in a way that shows who Jesus is, we still are around people who cuss, use innuendos regularly, dress in inappropriate ways, do things contrary to the teachings of the Bible, and who invite us to join in on “the fun”. So how do we live separate from this world while still living in it. How can we be in the world, but not of the world?

Ephesians 5:11 warns us:

11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.


If we begin doing the things that those around us are doing, we cease to be able to share Jesus with others because we are no different than them so they have no reason to become like us. We do not live differently because we are better or “holier than thou”, but because we love Jesus and our goal is to show others who Jesus is and that they are living in darkness so that too can follow Jesus and have all the same benefits we enjoy: God’s love and forgiveness, peace that passes all understanding, grace for when we fail, strength for the times that we feel weak, encouragement for everyday life, hope for today and the promise of Heaven when we die, direction and a reason for being alive, and all of our sins forgiven so that we can be in a right relationship with God. The apostle Paul shares about his experience of living in the world, but not being of it in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. 22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

“free man with no master”

At the time that Paul lived, there were free Roman citizens and slaves. While he was privileged, by choosing to give up his rights, he has the opportunity to share Jesus with more people. He saw that it was more valuable to give up his right to do such and such or live doing what he wanted and see other people come to have the same relationship with Jesus that he had.

He accommodated people so he could show and tell them about Jesus

“When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ”

He is not saying that he started practicing another religion or that he stopped following God so that he could get in good with these people, but he is saying that he was willing to follow the customs and ceremonies they practiced even though he knew those weren’t required for God to forgive his sins. If he hadn’t done this, he would have offended them and wouldn’t have had a chance to tell them about Jesus.

Think about it this way. If you wanted to go and share Jesus with someone in an Amish community, would you go in behaving like you do in mainstream American culture (even if there is nothing wrong with your behavior by Biblical standards)? If you wanted to go share Jesus with people who are Muslim, would you cover your hair to show respect to have the opportunity to talk with them?


“When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ.”

He didn’t decide to sin or do things that were biblically wrong just so he could fit in with them, but rather chose to accommodate them. The way he reasoned or explained things matched the way that made sense to them. He followed the rules to be in their philosophical discussions so that he’d have the opportunity to talk with them. This might have been for Christians who did not follow the Jewish traditions or those who didn’t have a relationship with God.


When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ.

Rather than judging them for the things that they did wrong, he was willing to love them for who they were just like Jesus does.

If he knew there was an area they were tempted in, he made sure that he did cause them to sin because of his actions.

Some people are able to go to the beach and don’t mind if girl has on a bikini or a guy has on a tight pair of shorts and no shirt. For some people, this really trips them up and causes them to sin. If I know that my friend is one of these people that is “weak” in this area and I invite them over for a pool party, I should make sure that I request that everyone, including myself, wear modest clothing. Or I should be willing to pick a different place to hang out instead of the beach. Even if I’m totally okay with and not at all tempted to sin seeing someone in a swimsuit, I need to be aware and willing to accommodate someone else’s needs ahead of my own.

When we see someone who is “weak”, Matthew 7:1-5 reminds us:

7 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. 2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. 3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Judge here means do not pronounce a final judgment about someone because God is the only who can judge us in a final way and condemn us to Hell. At the same time, this verse is saying to take care of the sin in your own life so that you are able to see clearly to help someone else with the sin in their life.


While many people have used this verse to say “don’t judge me” or “only God can judge me”, the Bible does tell us to make judgments about other people. Consider Matthew 7:15-20:

15 “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.


On a side note: While looking up verses for this study, I came across this really great article that discusses what the Bible says about judging others and about how Christians are to respond to others who are sinning that don’t have a relationship with Jesus. I encourage you to read it at


So we cannot judge someone and decide that they are going to Hell, because that is not our job. We are supposed to pay attention to people’s lives and notice who is not living right especially when this conflicts with what they say. If someone says they have a relationship with Jesus, but their life shows otherwise, we can surmise that they don’t really have a relationship with Jesus or that if they do, they are living in sin and really need to take a good, hard look at themselves.

One example that we can look to is what Jesus did when it came to being around people who didn’t follow God or who had just started following God but still had their same reputations. This is recorded in Matthew 9:10-13:

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” 12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

While Jesus was around these people, at no point did he do the things that they did or put Himself in a position that others thought He was in sin. For Jesus, even though some of the women who followed Him and started a relationship with God were prostitutes, He never put Himself in a position to be alone with these women where someone would question His actions.


These people that don’t have a relationship with Jesus are the ones that Jesus wants to save and wants us to care for and reach out to. So while we are to not be judgmental of others in a condemning sense, though we are to love people even when they don’t love Jesus and live for Him, we cannot become like them. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 exhorts us:

22 Stay away from every kind of evil.

Don’t put yourself in a place that is going to cause you to sin. This doesn’t mean that you have to become a legalist and decide that everything is bad and everyone is bad, but we do have to realize that if we put ourselves in harm’s way, it’s likely that we’ll be harmed. If something is a temptation for you, stay away from it. If going somewhere or doing something will make it appear to everyone else that you are in sin and will ruin your witness of living for God, don’t do it.


We have to continually go back to the fact that we cannot be around people in the world (who don’t live for Jesus) and being exposed to those temptations without becoming like them or giving into those temptations. Psalm 1:1 states:

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.


If we allow this to be what we are constantly exposed to, we are going to be in trouble. Romans 13:14 encourages us to:

“ . . . make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are going to give in to temptation or be so influenced by the world that you stop being who you are in Jesus.

Matthew 5:13-16 is one of my favorite passages (especially the last verse) and brings up a great point:

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. 14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.


Furthermore, even when we are around people who do not have a relationship with Jesus and cannot be expected to act in a way that a believer would, we cannot condone their behavior. We may have love for someone (not romantically but love them like Jesus does) and have a desire for good things that are in their best interest, we cannot ignore that their lifestyle is unacceptable to God. From Galatians 5:19-21, we know that God is serious about sin:

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.


Because God is serious about sin, we must be as well. Isaiah 5:20-21 cautions us:

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!

While we have love for people just as Jesus loves them, this does not allow us to ignore their wrongdoing. This doesn’t mean that we hate them or do things against them, but it does mean that we cannot accept the way that they live as right or encourage them in sin. In fact when it comes right down to it, if asked, we still have to tell them that the Bible says the way they are living is wrong (in a loving way just like Jesus would). Truly, it would be more hurtful to them if we smiled and stood by while they continued to live a life of sin separate from God and then spent eternity in Hell separated from God than it would to lovingly tell them about the God who doesn’t accept their behavior, but created them and loves them.

So how then shall we live in the world and not of it since we are still human and likely to sin? Romans 12:2 encourages us to live in the world but not be of it by doing the following:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

We are reminded in this verse that it is not about our power to live for God, have a good witness, avoid sin, and live in such a way that we can bring others to Jesus. It is all about Him and His power. The way that we are “transformed” into the person that God wants us to be (more like Him) is through “the renewing of [our] mind[s]”. This means that we continually have to spend time with God to become like him. If we are spending our time out in the world and making people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus our close friends and spending our time doing what they do, there is no difference between us and them because we have become them even when our goal was to reach them so they could have a relationship with Jesus, too.

I once heard that you are like the five people you spend the most time with. I’ve also heard it said “Garbage in, garbage out”. What are you putting into your mind? Who do you spend the most time with? Yes, we all have people we work with or go to school with that we have to be around, but it still holds true. What are you putting into your mind? If you’re around someone (or even not and you just make the decision) and you decide to put garbage into your mind whether it’s participating in a conversation that you wouldn’t have with Jesus standing next to you, watching something you wouldn’t if Jesus was looking over your shoulder, or even dwelling on, thinking about, or fantasizing over something when no one but Jesus knows, you are putting garbage into your mind and that’s what is going to come out. Instead, our mind needs to have this constant “renewing”. Talking/praying to God throughout our day, reading, memorizing, repeating, or thinking about a Bible verse or passage, singing a song that encourages you toward God and reminds you of a verse or a truth in the Bible, and talking about Jesus with others are all ways that you can do this.

Continue to love others, show them who Jesus is and give them a reason to desire Him by the way you live your life, love people but recognize and be willing to discuss the fact that sin is wrong and that we must all come to Jesus to be forgiven. Spend time with people who don’t know Jesus, but don’t become like them. Don’t set yourself up for failure in doing so. Know your limits and safeguard yourself against temptation. Most of all, depend on God’s strength and walk with Him so closely that you are more like Him than you are like the world. Be in the world and be Jesus to the world, but do not be of it and the same as it.


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