Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, told the church at Corinth to ‘be separate’ from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17). But what does Paul mean by separate? We are not separate. We are in the world. We work in the world. We are surrounded by the world. The entertainment of the world allures us to embrace the ways of the world. The 24/7 cable news feed desires to change our thinking to the thinking of either the conservative or liberal world. We use the world’s currency and surf on the world’s Internet. Our young people are enthralled by the world, and when we were young, we were more or less just as enthralled depending on our individual commitment to Christ.
God called the nation of Israel to be different. God’s chosen people in the Old Testament were supposed to be a peculiar people—utterly set apart from the pagan culture around them. They worshipped only one God. They had a very specific set of rules that was supposed to govern their conduct. They worked only six days a week. They taught their children from the Torah about the God of Abraham, who created all things. They participated in very specific and unique religious festivals that remembered God’s work of redeeming his people from bondage. They longed for their Messiah to come and establish a kingdom without end. Yet these same people so struggled with being separate, they continually found themselves worshipping idols and committing sexual immorality. The KJV uses the word ‘whoring’ to describe this ungodly behavior. God’s covenant with Israel was not sufficient to keep them from being like the world. What God’s people needed was a new covenant (Jer. 31:31).
Jesus inaugurated this new covenant with his own blood (Heb. 9). Jesus’s death inaugurated a new covenant between God and his people possible. Those who are born again through faith in the gospel are adopted into the family of God and the house of Israel (Gal. 3:7), but they are not under the Law of Moses. Those who are born again through faith in the gospel are members of the new covenant. They receive a new heart (Ez. 36:26) and are sealed with the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13). All this and more was done so that God’s people could finally live up to God’s law and thus be truly separate from the world. Being saved from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23) begins at the moment of conversion. Christ died so that His people would be in but not of the world. Christ’s disciples are distinctively separate from the world. We don’t share in the world’s values, opinions, and worldviews. We are counter-cultural in our thinking, attitudes, and behavior. We don’t abort babies. We don’t drink alcohol to cope with a hard day at work. We don’t use the f-word. We are different. We are separate. We don’t take believers to court. We go back to church a second time in one day to participate in a religious ceremony with the body of Christ. We don’t parade around in immodest swimwear at the beach. The music we listen to is different. And we don’t do this to get to go to heaven; we do this because Christ died for our sins. We present our bodies a living sacrifice. We die to our sinful nature and desires and live “in” but not “of the world.” But what about the gray areas? What about when it is not clear what “in but not of” looks like? The believer diligently seeks to be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18). He (or she) is not under the law. Instead, he is filled with the Holy Spirit so that he may be led by the Spirit. Gray areas are governed by the Holy Spirit. There is confidence and security in this truth, as the Spirit never speaks against the revealed Word of God. For example, a believer could never say I have peace from God about marrying an unbeliever. The Bible is abundantly clear that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). When the revealed word of God is not clear, each believer must ask the Spirit show them what “in but NOT of” looks like in a given situation. Each believer asks the Spirit to show them exactly what “come out from among them and be separate” looks like in the gray areas of this life.