As the biblical worldview is increasingly diminishing, the pressure to conform to culture is rapidly growing and strengthening in intensity. What was once widely accepted as truth and standard (such as biological sex and gender and marriage between one man and one woman) is now seen to be morally relative and comparative to how one feels, thinks, or believes in the moment.
The world we live in will do whatever it takes to distract, discourage, and deter you from staying the course and following the Way and effectively uses culture to do so. Our world is loud and attractive. Our culture is shiny, enticing, and always evolving. Pleasure is often promised but consistently fails to deliver, leaving its victims dissatisfied, confused, empty, dejected, and longing for fulfillment. Like a sugar high that wears off, humans keep seeking what looks good but is not good for us.
No human is exempt from being tempted by the flesh or persuaded by worldly influences, yet it is possible to stand your ground and push against the opposition (1 Corinthians 10:13, James 4:7, Galatians 5:16). Jesus’ words prayed over his disciples in John 17* are words of wisdom all followers of Christ need to hear and apply in our lives today:
“I have given them Your word. The world hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I sanctify myself for them, so that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe You sent me. I have given them the glory You have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and You are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know You have sent me and have loved them as You have loved me.”John 17:14-23 (CSB) [Emphasis mine]
Bible-believing Christians are called to live in the world without conforming to the world. Paul echos this commandment in Romans 12 when he advises both Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice committed to worshipping God, loving one another, detesting all that is evil, and humbly serving the body of Christ. We are to remain in meaningful contact with the world while trusting in God’s protection and serving as a witness for Jesus.
Christians are set apart from the world to serve God in the world while submitting to His will and surrendering to His Way. (And thank goodness the early Christians understood this command or the gospel may have never reached us today!) Jesus warned there will be seasons of adversity when we will face trials and tribulations and be hated by the world, but we musn’t give up on our faith or give in to our flesh (John 16:33). We aren’t meant to cower in fear or retreat as losers, rather, we are winners called to advance the Kingdom on Earth by proclaiming God’s Word to all nations around the world.
But what does that look like applied? How do we disciple one another, evangelize unbelievers, and equip the next generation of Christ followers (as well as ourselves) to exist in the world without being influenced by the world?
8 Ways to Live IN the World but NOT Of the World
Don’t bubble wrap. Shelter.
Now, more than ever before in our lifetime, is not the time to hide in fear, disengage from secular influences or environments, or bubble wrap yourself or your loved ones in ignorance or self-righteousness. Now is the time to go ALL IN and live out the faith you claim to believe!
- Study Truth (daily) and Remain Rooted: When you are intentionally, prayerfully, and actively studying scripture, you will be able to know, understand, discern, and recognize truth from lies. And remember, your truth is not the truth. God’s Word is Truth. (John 17:17)
- Unwrap to Suit Up: Bubble-wrapping oneself (that is, secluding yourself and/or those you love from the world that exists outside your Christian “bubble”) may feel good, right, or safe but what you’re feeling is really a faux padding of protection that is guarded by the self rather than by the Sovereign. While it’s important to establish boundaries and limitations (which I will address later in this article), it is nearly impossible to experience the fullness of faith if you refuse to leave the comfortable corners of your Christian curations. Conquer your fear by being strong in the Lord and mighty in His power – put on the armor of God and allow Him to protect you from the dark corners of the world (Ephesians 6:10-18).
- Shelter through the Spirit: God is with you wherever you are and wherever you may go. He is your refuge and your strength. Allow Him to cover you with His love and guide you to the people He wishes for you to encounter and the places He intends for you to travel. (For encouragement, study the historical context surrounding Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10, and Deuteronomy 31:6)
- Keep Your Friends Close: Stay closely connected to those within the body of Christ while you continue to reflect the Light of Christ. You will need encouragement, accountability, prayer, and relational support from like-minded believers who will walk alongside as you follow Jesus. At the same time, you’ll want to always make the most of the moment and engage with those who do not share your beliefs and convictions (as detailed later in this article). You never know if your interaction, relationship, word spoken or act of love may be the only glimpse of Christ the unbeliever may ever experience.
- Maintain a Fearless Faith and Persistent Prayer Life: God’s will is not to remove us from danger or opposition (see the book of Acts), but to preserve His people in the midst of conflict. When we commit ourselves to the righteous will of God, He will protect us from the internal and external evil forces of the world (Psalm 46:1) so His sovereignty will be known.
Be a living example
As image bearers of God, we are called to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1).
When we are around Christians, it is wise to honor the message communicated by Paul in Ephesians 5. Applying this instruction will assist us in leading a consistent Christian life:
- Reflect God’s character and follow His example (5:1)
- Walk in love (5:2)
- Reject sexual immorality, impurity, greed, and other forms of idolatry (5:3,5)
- Avoid obscene and foolish talking (5:4)
- Do not partner with those who live in the dark, rather, live as children of the light (5:7-11)
- Don’t be foolish; seek wisdom and live as people who are wise (5:15-17)
- Don’t stumble into drunkenness; be filled with the Spirit (5:18)
- Pursue love, respect, and selfless service and sacrifice towards one another in marital relationships and in Church leadership (5:22-33)
When we are around non-believers (“outsiders”), consult the wisdom found in Titus 3:
- Submit to rulers and authorities, obey, and be ready for every good work (3:1)
- Do not slander anyone, avoid fighting, and demonstrate kindness and gentleness to all people (3:2)
- Avoid foolish debates, genealogies, quarrels, and disputes about the law because they are unhelpful and futile (3:9)
- Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning because such a person has gone astray, is sinning, and is self-condemned (3:10-11)
Regardless of the audience or people group, remember we were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, living by evil and envy, and enslaved by various passions and pleasures (Titus 3:3). Each of us is guilty of sin and falling short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Live a life that leads with grace and is guided by love.
Talk about all the things, but at the right time and not all the time.
True faith requires obedience and submission to God, but also action and daily application. As you seek to live in the world, invoke your faith to help you navigate the world.
Pray for wisdom and discernment as you use the Bible as truth, guidance, and authority to understand the world we are living in and the culture that surrounds us. Said otherwise, discuss the issues on display as well as culture’s influence on society. A few examples include the right to life versus the “right” to abortion, biblical love and acceptance versus worldly love and affirmation, biblical justice versus social justice, God’s design for diversity and unity versus the world’s intent for diversity and unity, and other culturally relevant topics and themes.
We need to talk about these things in the “safe space” of the body of Christ so we can:
- Ask questions
- Express concerns
- Explore difficult subjects
So we will:
- Become thoroughly informed [on God’s stance on cultural/social issues]
- Become fully equipped [to engage in the world]
- Become boldly and confidently secure in our convictions and beliefs
At the same time, be cautious on how you are partaking in these conversations along with the individuals you are interacting with and receiving knowledge/insight/opinions from. Additionally, monitor the amount of time you are dedicating to these topics – are you obsessed with talking about them, preoccupied, ignorant, or having other emotional responses or reactions such as self-righteousness, anger, hatred, fear, apathy, or anxiety?
We don’t want to be completely absorbed by these issues to the point where they are having a negative effect on our spiritual walk with Christ, but we should also desire to hold ourselves, our leaders, and authority figures accountable to the moral, just, and biblical position on all the things that are going on in the world. As one of my favorite podcasters, Allie Beth Stuckey, likes to say: “Politics matter because policies matter because people matter.”
Unplug and unwind
There are times when the world can appear dark, dreary, disappointing, or depressing; loud, chaotic, or distracting. Likewise, the weight of what we experience or witness in the world can feel heavy, overwhelming, and burdensome. When the world feels like it’s closing in, return to Jesus and find rest for your weary soul (Matthew 11:28-30).
Even Jesus, God in the flesh, needed time apart and away from the world so he could rest and refresh to do his work in the world. This is why Jesus often withdrew from the world and retreated to deserted places to pray (Luke 5:16).
This could look like:
- Spending more time outdoors or exploring the beauty of nature
- Shutting off the TV (or putting a streaming service on hold for a month)
- Detoxing from social media and/or limiting screen time
- Fasting from secular influences (music, books, movies, etc.)
- Being more intentional about honoring the Sabbath
- Or other ways to unplug and unwind from the world without giving in to the numerous leisurely attractions and distractions that come from the world.
Whatever you do, make sure you are honoring the Lord, enjoying the countless blessings He has given you, and expressing gratitude for the gifts He has bestowed upon you.
Establish boundaries and limitations
As any mature or lifelong Christian knows, it’s important to establish boundaries and limitations. This applies to the relationships we maintain as well as the environments we are a part of, the activities we participate in, the content we are consuming, and other secular influences that surround us.
To assist us in understanding the need for boundaries, limitations, and relational accountability, we can consult Paul’s message to the Romans when he teaches them the law of love (as it applied to certain customs, rules, and regulations from that time regarding food and drink that were acceptable/unacceptable for specific people groups):
“Therefore, let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean. For if your brother or sister is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy, by what you eat, someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and receives human approval.
So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong to make someone fall by what he eats.It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin.”Romans 14:13-23 (CSB) [Emphasis mine]
We shouldn’t desire for any stumbling block to be placed before ourselves or other believers (and I’ll argue this should be applied for any person, Christian or not, whom we love and want the best for). What one person can handle, another person may not. A great example of this is with drinking alcohol. While it is wrong (a sin) to enter drunkenness, it is not inherently wrong to consume alcohol. Some individuals may be able to enjoy a serving or two of alcohol without reaching intoxication while other individuals may not be able to monitor or moderate their consumption (given a lack of self-control, addiction, or other reason/motivation).
Another example would be sending a child to public school. A wise question of contemplation would be, Is the child prepared to engage in the world while knowing the difference between God’s truth and the world’s lies that masquerade as truth? Some children may be strong enough and spiritually mature enough to enter into that environment, though it is likely that most children are not. Therefore, these children will likely be more easily persuaded by the various elements and influences of the world that they will surely experience throughout the 6+ hours of the school day.
One more applicable example is the types of content we are exposed to, such as certain types of music, books, movies, social media and more.** Music with profane language may encourage some people to use profane language but may have no such effect on other people. The same is true with TV shows or movies of violence and the influence of social media on one’s life and personal behavior. One individual may have no problem partaking in social media while another individual may experience feelings of envy, comparison, or inadequacy or may be inspired to develop a different persona online than who they are in the real world.
Train yourself in the ways of the Word so you can take on the ways of the world
Piggy-backing on all that was covered above, when we know what is good, right, and true (based on scripture), we are able to know and recognize what is false and faulty. Our world does not acknowledge biblical Truth (except in the rare instance when it is convenient to its narrative) and has become an expert at distorting what is actually true – it dresses lies to appear as truth and deconstructs words to reconstruct new meanings and interpretations.
Context is key in our cultural moment. I advise every follower of Christ, if you haven’t already, to study apologetics and pursue discipleship (both discipling and being discipled). The more time you spend in the Word under the wise counsel and encouragement of discipleship and the active involvement within your church body, the more prepared and knowledgeable you’ll be to challenge lies, speak truth, confront culture, and evangelize.
I believe every human wants to be seen, heard, known, and loved but is lost, confused, or is seeking this natural human desire in the wrong ways and through the wrong people, places, or influences. Christians have what our world wants and needs – the truth of the gospel message. Sure, this sustaining truth may hurt before it heals but we shouldn’t let that stop us from sharing the life-giving message we know to be true. The love of Jesus heals all the hurts in the world.
Engage with the world
If we separate ourselves from the world and refuse to engage in our culture, then how will people who don’t know Jesus come to know Him? (Romans 10:14)
God has chosen His people to be the vessel of communication to share the good news and spread the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. This is the reason why we are here, in this place, time, and period of history. We, Christians, have a role to play and we can be sanctified throughout our engagement with culture when we share what we know to be true. Those who are lost are hungry. May we be inspired to seek them, find them, and guide them back Home. The Living Water awaits to refresh weary souls and bring what is dead back to life.
Welcome others into your “world”
While we are called to live in the world and bring hope to the world, we should also invite outsiders into our “world.”
This can look like many different things to many different people given unique and specific situations, circumstances, life experiences, individual relationships, and spiritual maturity. Some ways to extend the “invite” include:
- Being intentional with getting to know your neighbors. You don’t need to know or have a relationship with every person in your neighborhood, however, those who physically reside near or next to your earthly home are what I call “on purpose” people. Chances are good you see or interact with a neighbor or two every day of the week. Whether you partake in friendly driveway or sidewalk conversation, offer to water their garden while they are traveling, send your kids over to rake their leaves or shuffle their driveway/pathway as an act of love, or welcome them over for a meal, do something to get to know those who live in close proximity to you.
- Invite a seeker, skeptic, unbeliever, an individual(s) with lukewarm faith, or someone of a different religion or spiritual perspective to attend a church service or Christ-centered event with you.
- Invite those outside of “your world” to things in the world. Examples include attending social gatherings, events, or other mundane activities together like getting to know one another or catching up over coffee or happy hour, attending a fitness class together, or carpooling together if you’re heading to the same place or in the same direction.
- Bring over a meal or care package if someone had a baby, is sick or recovering from a surgery or other ailment, recently experienced a loss, is going through a difficult season, or just because you want to show love.
- Similarly, you can offer to help someone with chores, errands, watching their children, carpooling, or other acts of love that can lift or lighten life’s burdens or busyness.
As I tell my children almost daily, you never know if you are someone’s only chance to experience the love of Christ and the truth of God’s Word. Make the most of every moment – shine Light whenever possible, reflect the image of God in all that we say or do, and represent your citizenship in Heaven as you live as an exiled citizen of Earth.
“Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains, so that I may make it known as I should. Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.”Colossians 4:2-6 (CSB) [Emphasis mine]
Why Else Are We In The World?
We exist in the world to live as ambassadors of Christ and testaments of faith. We influence the world by pursuing a counter-cultural lifestyle and belief system, by trusting in the ultimate Authority, by the outward focus of discipleship and evangelization, by the inward priority of studying God’s Word, by serving as an active member within the body of Christ, and by honoring God in all things that are good, right, and true.
Christians in the United States of America possess the freedom to spread the Gospel message and preach the good news across the country to all ears that can hear. Let’s not just open this gift but use it every day we’re gifted life on this planet. Push fear aside, die to self, tell Satan to go back to where came from, or do whatever else you need to do to make God’s greatest command your number one priority (Matthew 28:19-20).
That is how we live in the world while being the change we wish to see in the world.
*I recommend reading all of John 17 and praying for the Spirit to provide you with wisdom and discernment that will guide and direct you on how you can best live in the world without conforming to the world.
**I stand firmly aligned with God’s stance on sexual immorality and believe no individual should occasionally, consistently, or intentionally expose themselves to pornographic content or other forms of erotica.