“We must not become, as John Stott puts it, “a rabbit hole Christian,” the kind who pops his head out of a hole, leaves his Christian roommate in the morning and scurries to class, only to frantically search for a Christian to sit by [an odd way to approach a mission field]. Thus he proceeds from class to class. When dinner comes, he sits with the Christians in his dorm at one huge table and thinks, “What a witness!” From there he goes to his all-Christian Bible study, and he might even catch a prayer meeting where the Christians pray for non-believers on his floor. [By what luck that he was able to live on the only floor with seventeen Christians!] Then at night he scurries back to his Christian roommate. Safe! He made it through the day and his only contacts with the world were those mad, brave dashes to and from Christian activities.” Rebecca Manley Pippert

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” John 17:15-16

Ray Stedman used to quip, “There are two kinds of people in the world: Those that divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.” I fall into the former. There are two kinds of people: Believers and non-believers, and the difference between the two could not be more profound. Believers are called by God. Believers are children of God. Believers know God. Believers hear God, serve God, please God and love God. Jesus said it like this:  “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”  Although our feet are on the earth, our hearts are in heaven.

We are like Jesus. He came from above [John 6:38] and although he walked the earth and made his dwelling among us [John 1:14], he never came under the influence of the fallen world system [John 7:23]. Because we are chosen by God, we have been called out of the world. We have received the Word [John 17:17] and believed [John 17:8] that Jesus came from the Father. Now we know God and possess the gift of eternal life [John 17:3]. On the other hand, fallen man is still controlled by the evil world system. He is by nature against God [John 8:40], cannot hear God [John 8:43] nor know God [John 7:28].  He is a slave to sin [John 8:34] and destined to die in his sin [John 8:24].   

So, we are holy, radically different from the unbeliever and we feel it. By that I mean that we sense in our inner being a real and significant gulf that exists between us and the ways and the wisdom of the world. We see this every time we watch TV or listen to a talk show or read a newspaper editorial. The values and explanations and goals expressed are radically different from ours. We see things they do not. We love things they hate. We do things they won’t. We say things they can’t.

In our alienation from the world, we are tempted to go in two directions: isolation or assimilation. Let me explain. By isolation, I mean that we tend to move toward those who are like us. We are more comfortable with our “own people.” Like the Pharisees of the New Testament, the hermits of the 13th century and the monastic orders of the Middle Ages, we have a tendency to withdraw from the “wicked world” and cluster into our own “holy huddle.” That is what John Stott was referring to above. Today Christians can busy themselves between Bible studies, small groups, Sunday Schools and worship services so that they have no opportunity for relationships with unbelievers. So, as Stott reminded us, we are able to remain uncontaminated by the sins of the unbelievers, but they remain separated from our gospel witness. In effect we are throwing them to the wolves.    

There is another direction we may take. We may move toward the other extreme of assimilation. By that I mean that we become so engrossed in the things of the world that the only difference we display is in our words. We think like the world, spend our money like the world and spend our time like the world. The only difference we display is when we visit our church on Sundays. 

In both directions, the enemy wins. Whether we separate or assimilate we are not fulfilling the task Christ gave us. There is a third option, it is penetration. John 17 is a record of Jesus prayer for his disciples who would carry on after he returned to the Father. While Jesus walked with his disciples on earth, he was constantly protecting them from the enemy’s schemes. He was always on guard, protecting his sheep from the disguises and strategies of the evil wolf. But, now, he is returning to the Father and they are vulnerable to the enemy’s continued attack. So, Jesus prays for their protection.    

I think it is interesting to note what Jesus did not pray for. He did not pray that the Father would take his disciples out of the world. If you live long enough, you will most likely have times when things are so bad that you desire that God would take you home. You are not alone. Moses, Elijah and Jonah all asked to get out. So, why didn’t Jesus pray that prayer? The answer is that the disciples had a mission to complete. “And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” [John 15:27] So, Jesus prays not that they would be taken out of the world but that they would be protected from the Evil One.

The lesson I see radiating from this passage is that we are not to separate nor assimilate, but penetrate. We need not fear being contaminated from ministry in the world in the sense that we are totally different from the inside. We have been absolutely and irreversibly changed forever by God’s grace.  Jesus declared in unambiguous language, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” [John 10:28-30] The one thing that matters in our lives is a done deal. As the words of “Amazing Grace” make so clear, “His grace has brought us safe thus far; His grace will lead us home.” We are safe and secure! The wolf cannot tear us from the Father’s grasp!

At the same time, we must be alert to the Enemy’s nefarious schemes to squeeze the uniqueness out of our witness so that we look and act no different than the unbelievers that surround us. That is the danger Paul was confronting when he penned, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” [Rom 12:2] God’s Word, known and obeyed will keep us going in the right direction, [Psalm 119:105] in the midst of a foreign and hostile environment.

The reason we are still here is that our Commander is not through with us yet. We have been deployed on a mission that has not yet been accomplished. We are soldiers, not civilians in this great battle for the souls of men. And, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer.” [2 Tim 2:4] We must daily, deliberately and prayerfully, seek to penetrate the dungeons of darkness with the glory of the gospel, regardless of the challenges we face. Let me close with words from one of my heroes, the martyr and missionary, Jim Eliot.

We are so utterly ordinary, so common place, while we profess to know a power the 20th century does not reckon with. But we are “harmless” and therefore unharmed. We are spiritual pacifists, non-militants, conscientious objectors in this battle-to-the-death with principalities and powers in high places. Meekness must be had for contact with men, but brass, outspoken boldness is required to take part in the comradeship of the Cross. We are “sideliners”- coaching and criticizing the real wrestlers while content to sit by and leave the enemies of God unchallenged. The world cannot hate us, we are too much like its own. Oh, that God would make us dangerous!