In The World But Not Of It

In The World But Not Of It June 13, 2016

“We are to be in the world but not of the world.” This is a phrase that has been quoted ad nauseam and usually by preachers who even preface it with, “The Bible says.” But, does it? You might be surprised to learn the phrase “we are to be in the world but not of the world” is not a verse found in Scripture. While it is true that there are a several passages that seem to portray the concept, it is also true that those using the phrase are often not explaining it as it was intended. They create their own definition of what is “of the world.” It’s most often used as a form of legalism, which is a way for a person to identify what they feel, is “of the world” and forces their preconceived bias onto others. It sounds good, it sounds pious, but behind its use is usually an attitude of self-righteousness.

To get started let’s take a brief look at just three of the passages this quote is often derived from:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17; NIV).

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:22; ESV).

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:19-23; NIV).

So, what do we see? In 1 John 2:15-17 we see the primary point is to not “love” the world or the things in it. Our love must be for God and the things of God, not for worldly things such as lust and pride. This is speaking of a heart attitude, not a list of do’s and don’ts as so many proclaim in their feeble attempts to regulate activities we may or may not be allowed to partake in. The same is true for the verse in Romans. We do not conform to the ways of the world; we discern things so we follow God’s will appropriately. Again, not a list of things acceptable or unacceptable, it’s a heart condition, living by way of a renewed mind.

And when we look at the 1 Corinthians passage, we actually see Paul adapting himself and his actions so as to fit into different cultures and subcultures so they might be receptive to his message. In fact, he speaks of the freedom he has in Christ to do such things, to participate in various actions. Although some of what he took part in would be looked down upon from those in Christian circles, he still did them, and with a clear conscience, in order to relate to the people so as to be accepted in order that they might be receptive to what he had to say.

In these passages we see freedom to live life in the world, we see freedom to participate in actions that are not condemned in order to relate to the cultures and subcultures around us, we see we are not to love the world but we are to actively “be all things to all people.” The message behind “in the world and not of the world” is far from a phrase to enforce what a certain person or group of persons deems as acceptable or unacceptable. It is more of a statement to live one’s life freely as long as you don’t love the things of the world, you’re living for God’s will and not your own, and your mind has been renewed.

“We must also understand that being in the world, but not of it, is necessary if we are to be a light to those who are in spiritual darkness. We are to live in such a way that those outside the faith…know that there is something ‘different’ about us.”[1]

“Being ‘in’ the world also means we can enjoy the things of the world, such as the beautiful creation God has given us, [as well as countless other things as well] but we are not to immerse ourselves in what the world values, nor are we to chase after worldly pleasures.”[2]

Well, with all of this said, why don’t you put away your list of things “of the world” which are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture and I’ll put away mine. Believe it or not there are gray areas that are not forbidden, nor endorsed. Let’s obey as we are taught in the New Testament, but also live freely in the grace we have been given, and the freedom we now have, which we are also taught to do in the New Testament.


[1], “How Can Believers Be In The World But Not Of The World?”

[2] Ibid.


Featured Image: earth by Beth Scupham; CC 2.0


This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.

Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.

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  • Ra Tehuti

    Its good to see an article of such sorts published online for study. What has been outlined in this article is logical from a conservative Christian perspective, but when one is not knowledgeable to the facts that Paul (whose writing you referenced heavily) was a gnostic, doesn’t do justice to the whole concept of “being in the world, but not of it.” From my experience the conservative Christian perspective or understanding is totally different or devoid from that which makes “spiritual sense.” No matter how hardcore religious we are, everyone from a pastor to the common man can note the discrepancies in and throughout the old testament vs. the new testament, which are totally conflicting. Yes, I agree we should not force our list of what things people can and cant do, but I also disagree in your various statements there are still ways to “enjoy” the world, but not be “of the world.” To not be of the world would mean to be totally separated from the various spoils and pleasures of it meant to continue blinding you spiritually to your true purpose based and what it has to offer, and the truth of it only being a prison for your soul. From the conservative Christian perspective this is hard to deliberate being that if the bible teaches that God made the world and created man to rule over it (rule, reign, be property owner, (whatever),etc), how can the bible turn around and say to “not be of it?” Also, if the bible states this god created man from the “dust of the ground” which means he was created from the earth, this also makes no LOGICAL sense. If we take the gnostic view though of these verses they tend to make all the sense. I relay back to my comments of Paul being a gnostic which is evident throughout the book of Corinthians and romans. For instance, he indicates he is not totally from gods law, but under Christ law. Once again, no logical sense, unless we realize that Paul along with other Gnostic’s believed that the god of the old testament is not the god of the new testament. The god of the new testament, born from the mishap of Sophia, created man out of an intent to enslave and could only do so by stealing divine sparks (i.e. souls) from the “true father/creator/pleroma” which exist outside of the physical world, cosmos, and scope of this old testament god or the “demiurge.” No matter how enlightened we become, our physical flesh always falls under the law of moses or the “demiurges law.” The true father who sent Christ or Kristos (though not indicative of one man) to awaken mankind is that which I am speaking of. There is more evidence in the old testament to coincide with this rather then disagree as we can see the old testament describes a blood thirsty, vengeful, rape allowing, and baby killing god vs. the new testament “all loving” god. In the Gospel of Thomas (exempted from the bible) found in Nag Hammadi Egypt, the teachings of Christ to the disciples stated that when we look upon things of this world and come to truly know them, we should become distraught and not marvel in them (not exactly verbatim, but along the same lines). Thus, this same inclination that this world is only an illusion and what exist in it only distracts us from obtaining enlightenment. This is why in most spiritual text from the Vedas, bible, to the Quran, it shows that those who were on the path of enlightenment had to fully separate themselves from this world in order to reach such a state. Rather it be not conforming to the titles given to them or enjoying NOTHING it had to offer. Buddha was said to be born of royal blood or lineage, but chose the path of poverty and a meager existence in order to get to know god/himself. This is nothing more then a story of each individual man to discard physical pleasures and delights and to only live in spirit. You cant enjoy something without connecting some form of yourself to it, thus becoming attached to it. This only serves to continue your pursuit of that which is not bringing you back unto the true father, but closer to that of the demiurge or what some may call our egos.

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