Separation from the World
Key New Testament texts
I John 2:15-17.
The apostle gives all believers a categorical command to
continuously avoid loving the world. Any person who willfully
makes the things of the world system the center of his interest
and desire has exalted the world to a place of idolatrous
worship. The proper love of the Father is absolutely excluded
from his life. Although God has made the material things
of the world, when any of these is regarded with supreme
interest, it has become an idol. Thus even the beauties
of nature, of art, of music, or of literature can become
idols. "The things that are in the world" can be the source
of temptations in three general areas. "The lust of the
flesh" is the desire which the flesh produces. It may be
for an object which is neutral in itself, such as food (Matthew
4:3). But when food becomes more important than the will
of God, it has become an idol. "The lust of the eyes" is
the desire for anything beautiful or attractive that can
be exalted in place of God. It may be as neutral an object
as a tree (Genesis 3:6). "The pride of life" is the selfish
and arrogant display of even good things that may replace
the desire for God. The world system and all its appeals
are passing away, but the believer who has made God the
object of his existence will continue forever. The world
system is not allowed to harm his fellowship with the Father.
God will make such a believer the heir of all things in
Christ (Revelation 21:7). Any person who allows any part
of the world to ensnare his heart away from God is committing
spiritual adultery (James 4:4). The use of the world is
not prohibited, but its abuse is (I Corinthians 7:31).
6:15-7:1. The apostle Paul commands believers not to
be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (6:14). The
contrast between the two is like the difference between
light and darkness or between God and idols (6:14, 16).
Paul is not simply giving good advice—he is declaring the
command of the Lord: "Wherefore come out from among them,
and be ye separate, saith the Lord" (6:17). He goes on to
urge, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the
flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God"
(7:1). Thus the doctrine of separation is grounded in the
holiness of God. Christians must be separate from the world
because God is separate from all sin. Believers must be
separate from sin and worldliness in order to be separated
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness,
but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11). "For they themselves
shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and
how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and
true God" (I Thessalonians 1:9). "Ye adulterers and adulteresses,
know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with
God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is
the enemy of God" (James 4:4).
Old Testament parallel
a constant problem for the people of Israel. Though God
taught His people to be separate from other people (Leviticus
20:26), when they consorted with the pagans, God sent prophets
to condemn them for their evil associations (Isaiah 30:1-17).
Since Israel was called to be God's "peculiar treasure"
and His "holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6), the people were to
reflect that holy calling in their lives (Deuteronomy 7:1-11).
God sent judgment upon Israel when they apostatized from
the Word of God and worshipped the gods of the heathen so
that they became like the heathen (II Kings 17:6-8)), followed
their practices, and even intermarried with them (Judges
3:5-8). In contrast to this pagan association and lifestyle,
Psalm 1:1 promises blessing to those who do not associate
with the wicked, and Proverbs has much to say about avoiding
evil men (for example, 4:14-19).
the unregenerate people of this earth as organized and dominated
by Satan, the god of this world (age). This system opposes
Christ and His goals for the earth (John 15:18-19).
an attitude of friendship toward, a desire for, and a wish
to be recognized by the world system. This attitude will
lead to indulgence in acts which may not be wrong in themselves
but which will identify one with the world system and thus
hinder his love for God, his spiritual growth, and his Christian
Explanation and Application
the normal relationship of the Christian to the world system:
"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before
it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love
its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have
chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth
you" (John 15:18-19). The apostle John told the first-century
Christians, "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate
you" (I John 3:15). If this enmity between the world system
and the Christian ceases, it is the Christian, not the world,
who has changed.
the world is, therefore, first a recognition of the completely
evil character of the world and a decision not to desire
or to expect approval or fair treatment from it. Second,
it is an avoidance of all actions which might fall in the
category of worldliness as defined above. Sources of contamination
from the world today include ungodly television, music,
movies, and fashions. A main source of contamination often
warned against in Scripture is worldly friends (I Corinthians
15:33). The Christian should disassociate himself from the
sins of the world, its idols, and all its unbiblical ambitions
God's command to
separate from the world, however, does not mean that the
Christian should isolate himself from society. Christians
are to be the "salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). They are
responsible to evangelize the world (Acts 1:8); therefore,
separation from the world by no means should discourage
earnest efforts to win the world to Christ. God Himself
desires the salvation of the world (John 3:16).
from the world does not forbid association with worldly
people in the course of legitimate daily work. Paul tells
the Corinthians that he does not expect them to leave the
world in order to avoid contamination with sinners (I Corinthians
5:9-13). This is in harmony with the prayer of our Lord
that believers be kept from the evil of the world, not removed
from it (John 17:15). The Christian may cooperate with unsaved
people in beneficial community projects, election of worthy
leaders, or efforts to promote morality, though the Christian
must be careful not to give Christian recognition to unsaved
people in these efforts nor to promote any organization
using political efforts to further ecumenical tendencies.
Biblical characters such as Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah
are examples of men who worked in pagan environments while
remaining true to God.
separate from the world and from worldliness for the following
- To avoid the
ever-present danger of contamination by the world (I Corinthians
11:32, 15:33; II Corinthians 11:3; I Thessalonians 3:5;
II Peter 2:12).
- To maintain a
close fellowship with God (James 4:4; John 15:15).
- To base their
lives on that which is enduring (John 15:17).
- To make clear
to Christians and non-Christians alike by their actions
that they belong to God, not to the world (I Thessalonians
- To avoid sin
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