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Christian Worldview: What Does It Mean to Be “In the World” but Not “Of the World”?

Christian Worldview What Does It Mean to Be
Image Credit: Erik Mclean from Pexels

Some time ago, my wife and I watched an episode of a comedy series hosted on Netflix. Within a few minutes we became increasingly uncomfortable with the language and content of the humor. Don’t get me wrong, it was hilarious, and as a cop, crude, vulgar humor has been a part of my everyday experience for over two decades. But as we sat there watching this particular episode, we both had a growing sense that the show was somehow “desensitizing our sensibilities”. We started to feel… “dirty”. We turned off the laptop; watching any further only demonstrated our tacit approval and we wanted to stop before our worldview had been permanently altered.

I immediately thought about the all too familiar expression many of us quote as scripture: We are called to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. This notion is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament, even if it isn’t a direct quote:

John 15:19
If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.

John 17:14-16
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

It seems that Jesus understood the tension we would experience as Christians living in a hostile ideological environment. The authors of the New Testament also encouraged us to continue our relationships with the world around us, but to be careful to live in a way that pleases God, not the culture:

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

1 Corinthians 5:9-10
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.

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Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

James 1:27
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

So what does it really mean to be “in” the world, but not “of” the world? How do we decide which shows we ought to watch, which environments we ought to avoid or which activities are “out of bounds”? It may be helpful to examine these questions from the perspective of location and information:

“In” the World: It’s Our Point of Location
Paul was right when he said that we would have to leave the world altogether if we wanted to truly separate ourselves from immoral, “worldly” people. That’s not what God is asking us to do. The fact that you might be in a location where your Christian worldview is being challenged is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God may have placed you there so you can have a positive impact on those who don’t yet know Jesus, or at least learn more about the culture so you can influence it later. So, while my wife and I were located in front of our laptop watching the sitcom, this was not the issue that concerned me.

“Of” the World: It’s Our Source of Information
My concern was simply that the repeated exposure to the worldview expressed in the show was having an impact on my worldview as a Christian. It was starting to change the way I think. That isn’t always the case for me, but there are definitely times when I’ve caught myself repeating some objectionable phrase (or embracing some ungodly concept) simply because I heard (or saw) it repeatedly in some movie, cable show or series of conversations at work. It’s one thing to be located in these environments; it’s another thing to draw from them as a source for information and behavior. I’m less concerned with my point of location than I am with my source of information. Click To Tweet

I’m less concerned with my point of location than I am with my source of information. I often place myself in locations where non-Christian cultural worldviews are strong. My career forces me into situations that are challenging and I am still curious and adventurous enough to choose locations that are unfriendly to Christianity. I step away only when I recognize the environment is starting to change the way I think. I back off when I realize my point of location has become my source of information.

For more information about strategies to help you teach Christian worldview to the next generation, please read So the Next Generation Will Know: Training Young Christians in a Challenging World. This book teaches parents, youth pastors and Christian educators practical, accessible strategies and principles they can employ to teach the youngest Christians the truth of Christianity. The book is accompanied by an eight-session So the Next Generation Will Know DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case ChristianityGod’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.

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Written By

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. He holds a BA in Design (from CSULB), an MA in Architecture (from UCLA), and an MA in Theological Studies (from Gateway Seminary).



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  16. Wayne

    October 16, 2020 at 9:04 pm

    Yes your right to a certain point Jim. I’ve know Christians that were born again that were in the world and still part of it but not of it.
    It was probably differently viewed in Christ’s time. Still not easy considering the empires whom ran or controlled those territories in those Countries of their day & time.


  17. stephen

    November 5, 2020 at 10:58 am

    hi, nice article but my questioning is “what is of the world ” being a st Francis type of christian in 21st century.
    do I shun going to movies, reading book, having insurance, using bank money (ie a loan from an unknown scource) to live in my own house, even using a bank, are these examples of the world.
    your article doesn’t touch the point of how to live in this world but not of the world. should I buy fashionable dress, have hair dyed, paint my nails. can a ‘christian’ smoke.
    brought up in a christian environment so think i have not been of the world yet I may ~ Paul in Rom 12. the message reads this pretty well. cheers

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