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When the church becomes too closely connected with its surrounding culture Christians become blind to seeing how God is at work in the world and deafened to hearing God’s call on how to engage with it. “Fitting in” becomes more important than obeying.
Similarly, when the church withdraws from the world, Christians lose their relevancy and ability to influence and preserve. The result is the same: we become blind to God’s working and deaf to God’s call. But Jesus was not ignorant of our challenges; in fact he was well aware.
On the night of his crucifixion, Jesus prayed specifically for us (John 17:14-19). Twice in that prayer he mentions how those who follow him “are not of the world” just as he was not of the world. This was obviously important to him.
Yet, even though they are of “not of this world,” Jesus explicitly asks the Father to leave the disciples in the world. He prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
Here Jesus is very clear. Christians are not be “of” the world, but they are to be “in” the world. What this means is that neither responses of capitulation/accommodation or separation are options for us. In fact, Jesus has a better idea. He goes on to pray, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Jesus has something very specific in mind. He wants his followers to continue his mission in the world and to do it in the same manner he did it. Rather than being taken “out of” the world, Jesus wants us to be “sent into” the world.
Jesus is our model. Just as he lived in his community but was clearly different from it, we too are to live in our communities but in a very Christ-like way. Just like him, we are to be fully present but in an obvious contrast to the surrounding culture.
Although we live in a rapidly changing society that is increasing hostile to the Good News, we face similar temptations faced by the church through history. We too are tempted to either accommodate or withdraw.
My prayer is that God will answer Jesus’ prayer amongst us and that we find ourselves willing and desiring to be “sent into” the world to be witnesses to God’s love, glory and grace.
Stephen L Baxter
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