by Robert Juarez, Ontario Christian Bible Teacher (bio)
We’re probably all familiar with the popular label seen on bumper stickers, t-shirts and various other items used for advertising or promoting a biblical message. This particular message is recognized by the acronym NOTW (Not Of This World). This is an abbreviation for the phrase often heard in Christian circles for many decades now. “We are to be in the world, but not of the world.”
Christians understand this phrase to mean that, although we must live among the general population, we are not to participate in the ungodly behavior and practices of our culture. After all, when praying for His disciples, Jesus did say that “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jn.17:16).
Many followers of Jesus understand this to mean that we should, therefore, have very little to do with the “secular” realm and concentrate our efforts in the more “sacred” realm. According to this thinking, believers should spend the majority of their time, money and activities engaged in the “spiritual” things of this world. That is, Christians should be busy in church work, preaching and teaching, evangelizing the lost, sponsoring Bible studies and youth activities, caring for the poor and other such good works.
But Jesus also said these words, two verses later: “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (Jn.17:18). On the one hand, though Christians are not of the world, at the same time we have been sent into the world to serve the Lord.
Too often, followers of Jesus misunderstand the message of being in but not of as teaching that we should not engage in non-Christian areas of culture. The error here is in thinking that there is such a thing as non-Christian areas of culture.
This is to wrongly assume that some segments of culture fall under the Lordship of Jesus and others do not. This is not the biblical description of culture or society. It is not the biblical stance on cultural or societal engagement.
Instead, the Scriptures remind us that “to the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deut.10:14). The Psalmist repeats this truth when he proclaims that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps.24:1). This biblical truth can be traced back to the very beginning of time. The Scriptures declare, and creation reveals, that God is the maker of heaven and earth. And as Creator, He owns the universe – all the galaxies, the planets and stars. And Earth is simply His footstool (Acts 7:49).
And as Creator, God exercises ownership and dominion over the earth. The entire earth. It is His property. All of it. Therefore, there can be no sacred/secular divide. God is King over all. All of life is to be lived as unto the King. All of life is “sacred.”
Jesus claims ownership over every aspect of life. He tells us that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Mt.28:18). That’s why the Bible declares that Jesus is Lord! And Christ is not only Lord of the Church. He is Lord over all. Jesus is Lord over politics. He is Lord over business and commerce. He is Lord over the arts and sciences. Jesus is Lord over sports and entertainment. Jesus is Lord over all societal and cultural activities. They all belong to Him.
Christians would do well to understand this biblical truth and live it out in our sphere of influence. Culture and society would profit from followers of Jesus actually engaging those around us with the biblical proclamation of the Lordship of Christ over all. Far too many believers seem uninterested or unattached with what goes on in our society, believing that Christian activity only takes place within the walls of a church, or Christian school, or the mission field, or some sort of Christian “ministry.”
Being in the world but not of the world is not an admonition to abandon cultural engagement. This sort of thinking results in a “Christian ghetto” mentality, where followers of Jesus are content to “play church” and abandon the culture to the “world.”
If it is true that Culture is the Church’s report card, we better start staying after school. How has the Church done in bringing the message of Christ’s Lordship to these areas of society: Education, Entertainment, Media, Sports, Business, Politics, and every other sphere of culture? How well has the Christian community done in being the salt and light we are called to be?
Perhaps believers have bought into the false dichotomy of sacred and secular. Perhaps we have failed to realize that Jesus did not solely come to redeem souls; He came also to redeem society and culture. Perhaps we have forgotten that when Jesus said He was Lord over all… He really meant it.