What does it mean to be "in the world, but not of the world"?
"Be in the world, but not of the world" is a phrase that's heard a lot in Christian subculture. It refers to what Jesus said as recorded by one of His close friends in John 15:19 and John 17:14-16. This concept is also talked about later in the New Testament by the famous convert Paul (see: Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).
Who rules the world?
When the word "world" is used in the New Testament, it's a translation of the Greek word cosmos. (No, we're not getting all astrological on you.) "Cosmos" most often refers to the planet earth and its human inhabitants who live their lives with their backs turned toward God. Satan is the Prince of this "cosmos." Even Jesus called him that in John 12:31 (also John 16:11). The Apostle Paul mentions that the "whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19).
Basically, the system of the world is ruled by Satan. We really don't want to be a part of that, right? Awesomely enough, Jesus says that those who believe in Him are no longer a part of that cosmos—sin has no power over us, and we don't have to be trapped by the evil principles of the world. Even more awesome is that belief in Christ causes us to change. Our hearts will be less interested in the things of the world as we strive to be more like Jesus.
So if we aren't ruled by Satan and sin anymore, that's great, but we still live here! Yeah. Not so great. But Jesus has given us freedom from that evil, remember? We may be physically present ("in the world"), but we don't have to be a part of its values ("of the world"; John 17:14-16). We're set apart from the wickedness of the cosmos as we seek to live a holy, righteous life.
Don't start worrying. You DO have a choice!
Before you start worrying about measuring up, stop and listen (or read, rather). Believing in Jesus doesn't mean that you will automatically stop sinning. Sorry, but that's not how God wired us. We can still make our own decisions. But with Christ, we don't have to be a slave to those bad choices—we have the power to choose NOT to do the sinful stuff the world loves.
We can choose not to keep the corrupt darkness in our minds that the world wants to shove into our eyes and ears. We have the freedom to choose Jesus now (Romans 12:1-2). It's a daily thing, a commitment, but remember that you have power in Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9)—you're not alone.
You are a Representative of Another World
That said, we don't want to get all self-righteous, either. We are like Ambassadors for Christ's Kingdom, visiting a world that is not our home, showing people how amazing our real home-world is, and inviting them to come back with us. We're lights of hope to those who are stumbling around in spiritual darkness. How do we shine like hope?
Live your life in such a way that those who don't believe can see that there is something you have that is good and wonderful—something different, something they'll be curious about, something they'll want for themselves, too.
Don't Hate This World
Keep in mind that just because this world is not our home, that doesn't mean we should despise it. We can still enjoy the world , such as the beautiful creation God has given us. However, there is a dangerous darkness here that we must avoid. The world's values are not the things Jesus values. The world's pleasures are not the pleasures of an Ambassador of Christ, tempting as they may be. Personal pleasure is no longer our goal in life, as it once was, but rather the worship of God and living our lives as light in the dark.
Make every effort to live, think, and act like an Ambassador for Christ's Kingdom, for you are princes and princesses of that world—not this one.
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