The news is out. Christendom is dead. Christians are no longer the moral majority but the missional minority. How should respond? How shall we live? I want to begin a series of articles where I attempt to answer some of these questions. To begin, I want to focus on the words of Jesus near the end of His earthly ministry as He prayed to the Father on behalf of His disciples (John 17). When we consider the content of His High Priestly prayer, we discover both indicatives regarding the state of His followers in the world as well as imperatives on how they should walk in the world. In the midst of these two aspects of our Lord’s teaching about the relationship between His people and the world, we learn that there is one over-arching purpose for Christians and our relationship with the world.
Christians are in the world (John 17:11).
While this might be obvious to the reader, the point is that Christians are not physically separate from the world. Christians are in the world in the sense that they occupy the same space, go to the same markets, and interact in the same society as non-Christians. They are not people who form their own sub-cultures or ghettos to avoid the world. They recognize where God has placed them and do not run from that reality. They are relatable, accessible, and approachable to those in the world in normal, ordinary ways (e.g., friend, neighbor, coworker, classmate, teammate, etc.).
Christians are not of the world (John 17:16).
Christians do not belong to the world. They are not longer conformed to the values and ways of living common in the culture and society around them. They belong to the kingdom of God and, therefore, have a new identity and loyalty to the King and his kingdom. Therefore, while they are in the world, they do not belong to our embrace the world as those who do not belong to Jesus Christ.
Christians are hated by the world (John 17:14).
It stands to reason that if Christians are not conforming to the world and its ways, the world would mock, ridicule, detest, and hate the counter-cultural ways of Christians. Therefore, as Jesus says, His followers should not be surprised that the world hates us. The world hated Him first and crucified Him for who He was. In a later epistle, John wrote that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The strong distinction of being in the world and not of the world causes Christians to be hated by the world who does not accept the King in whose kingdom we gladly live.
Christians are called to remain in the world (John 17:15).
Jesus knew His followers would be hated by the world. He knew there would be consequences and a high cost to identifying with Him, and yet Jesus asks the Father that His disciples would remain in the world that has a predisposition of hatred and contempt. Christians do not compromise or conform to the world due to this hatred because that would be a denial of our identity. We do not retaliate with violence or acts of force, because that would be a denial of His sovereignty. Rather, we respond like Jesus and suffer the hatred and mocking and contempt as the glory of God is put on display in our trials. By remaining in the world, we love those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and give our lives away for those who have not given their lives to Jesus Christ.
Christians are sent into the world (John 17:18).
There is a temptation that every Christian will experience when faced with the reality that they are called to remain in a world that hates them. Should I embrace this suffering? Can I just retreat and retrench and wait for His return? The answer is clearly no. Jesus has sent His disciples into the world, and this speaks of a mission. The suffering Christian is sent to present Christ through their witness as an offense without being offensive. We do not shrink back due to the forces of hatred but press with greater, more powerful forces of love and compassion. In the same way that darkness cannot overcome light, even death cannot overcome His disciples because Christ has taken away its sting and no longer has victory of us.
Christians walk in the world so that the world may believe in Jesus Christ (John 17:21).
In and through all that Christians are and do in the world is the fundamental purpose of seeing people come to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus indicated in His prayer that there will be those who believe in Him through the gospel proclamation of His disciples sent into the world to be hated and suffer for His name’s sake. Christians do not exist to mark time. We exist to see His kingdom come, and our existence is laced with a passion for seeking first that kingdom in all things and with all people, knowing we have a king so worthy of having worshippers from every generation and every nation, tongue, and tribe gathering around his throne.
Every Christian needs to know who they are, what they are called to do, and why they live in this particular way in the world. In this conversation of the Son with the Father, we get a clear picture that should become the mirror in our morning to remind us of these realities and responsibilities. The great assurance we have in this life is knowing these realities and responsibilities are comprised in a prayer that will never go unanswered; so, let us so live, move, and have our being in Christ until the world sees, hears, and believes in Jesus as Lord!
Tim Brister is a pastor, writer, and church planting specialist. Find out more on his blog: Provocations and Pantings.