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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:

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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.

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.

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“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

  18. Artie Whitefox

    December 17, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    Swearing is saying an oath that God does not want us to say. There was a person who won an great war in the Bible. He said he would sacrafice the first thing he saw. He saw his daughter. See how dangertious oaths are. It is not a sin to have a nice bike.

    When people are like Jesus, they will not be of the world. Not being of the world does not mean not having modem day things. The lack of them cannot save you. Renewing of your mind. Not thinking like Satan who was Lucifer. Pedophilia people, zoophilia people, furries, Bronies are not of the world. Peacful nude people are not of the world. God is not pleased with people who charge people with this, and that crime. People need to not give fire to people, to not see God as fire. The law of man makes people to walk around as if they were robots fearful of being treated badly. It is evil to make the Bible to do the same thing. God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone. People have been taught to take pleasure in the death of gays and zoosexuals. People took pleasure in the death of the Indians. People yell death threats to furries. That is evil

  19. Brandon

    January 3, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    I believe that being in the world but not of it means, I don’t have to shy away from places were people curse or act immorality (which would be everywhere nowadays) but that can be around it or see it, but not do those things myself. I watch shows with profane lude language but I NEVER USE THAT LANGUAGE. In it but not of it. But if one struggles with wanting to repeat those things then of course THEY should avoid being around them. I just choose to remain a Cristian so that I don’t have to avoid everything.

  20. Artie Whitefox

    January 19, 2022 at 10:19 pm

    People who curse are people who are not talking like Jesus. They curse at people who sexually interact with another species. They curse saying harsh words at them, making them to feel bad. People curse at pedophilia people. They are stoned before they can exsplain that they have rules that they go by. Muslims and catholic leaders don’t have their rules.

    The church has done a good job at making monsters. The nude form is even hated. That is God’s image. Parts that can make life, and sheathes that contain them are hated. Devils curse at them. Devils curse at the sight of sex that can make life. Hide from me they say. I have made laws against you through people. The church made people to believe one lie upon another. Wicked magicians run the church, state, and government. Not Harry Potter There are imaginative child like loving hearts in it.

    Leviticus 21:14 You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.

    Leviticus 6:3 Or have found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely; in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein:

    Malachi 2:10 “Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers.

    Profane people take God’s name in vain misrepresenting him.

    Propane people are not honest.

    Leviticus 21:21-23
    No man among the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a defect is to come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a defect, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the food of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go in to the veil or come near the altar because he has a defect, so that he will not profane My sanctuaries. For I am the Lord who sanctifies them.’”

    That has nothing to do about traditional swearing.

    Ezekiel 7: 19 They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed: their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord: they shall not satisfy their souls, neither fill their bowels: because it is the stumblingblock of their iniquity.

    20 As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty: but they made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things therein: therefore have I set it far from them.

    21 And I will give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil; and they shall pollute it.

    22 My face will I turn also from them, and they shall pollute my secret place: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it.

    23 Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence.

    Profane people are violent people. People know who has been violent to who.

    Profane people made the world to use money. Think about that.

  21. Kimberly H

    March 28, 2023 at 9:18 am

    I realize that this article was written years go, but I know it was the Holy Spirit that led me to it this morning. As I was spending time with the Father in prayer this morning I laid some of these very concerns before Him. I was assured by the Holy Spirit that Jesus didn’t come to save the saved, He lovingly came to save sinners. He went into places others would dare not go to save one! God is a God of laughter and smiles and He created us in His likeness and image, not to be God, but to re-present God. Certain things simply don’t resonate with my spirit so I make the choice to turn them off, or don’t indulge at all because the effects could be deadly even though it made me laugh. I know I don’t have to die physically to die spiritually because the couch (location) can be considered a killer if I allow the wrong information to fill my mind while I sit there! I mindful that as I am mature in Christ certain things just fall off. I simply lose my desire for certain things that I used to like to do, I understand that just because my life has changed, the lives of my friends may not. Does that mean no longer attend gatherings with them? Certainly not! We are His witnesses and our lights are necessary! So I will continue to shod my feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace and go with God as my guide letting my light so shine before men that they may see my good works and glorify the Father in heaven! It may be my story, but it’s always for His glory!

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