The Church Versus The World
By Don Ruhl
What has the greatest influence on the world? Our economy? Our military? Our culture? The weather? None of those things has the influence that the salt of the earth and the light of the world have. The church is the most significant thing on the earth, but only when the church acts as the church and not when it tries to emulate the world.
The Church and the World Are Enemies
This may seem like an obvious point, but sometimes it seems that Christians do not realize this truth. They live worldly and they urge the church to be worldly, trying to convince us that we will not attract people until we say and do what pleases the world. James 4.4 presents a strong rebuke to Christians who are seeking the friendship of the world,
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Pause for a moment and meditate on James’s language! Christians who seek to be friends of the world, he calls adulterers and adulteresses! He says further that if you befriend the world you are at enmity with God! The problem is not that Christians live in the world, but that the world lives in many Christians.
First John 2.15–17 gives an outright command not to love the world, and who is daring enough, actually foolish enough, to say that we ought to be like the world after reading this passage?
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
The Church Is Not to Accommodate the World, But the Church Is to Change the World
Colossians 2.8 presents the philosophy of the world as a dangerous thing, that it will ruin us spiritually and not help us,
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Why should we consult the world about what is best for the church?
In Second Peter 2.20, Peter made an interesting reference to the world that should really catch our attention, and if we do, we will see that the world cannot help us, but it can be our ruin,
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.”
The world is polluted and a Christian—and the church too—can become entangled in those pollutions of the world. Then what happens? We become like a bird that someone has tied a string to its leg, and it tries to fly away, but the person quickly pulls it back. The bird tries to fight for its freedom, but eventually dies from the struggle.
When a Christian or a church becomes worldly it is like, “An eagle, flying over a valley of ice, [that] discovered a carcass, upon which it descended, and feasted so long, that its wings became frozen to the ice. In vain it struggled to mount upward: a vivid emblem of worldly desires” (6000 Sermon Illustrations, p. 186).
How many churches have been snuffed out by persecution as opposed to how many have been snuffed out by worldliness? Persecution actually helps the church grow, as can be seen in the Book of Acts, and in church history, because persecution is the church and the world at battle with one another.
Many churches go the way of Laodicea (Rev 3.14–22), becoming complacent through worldliness, because in that case the church has compromised with the world.
Jesus taught in Matthew 5.13–16 that Christians influence the world instead of seeking to be influenced by the world,
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
The way some Christians live and the way that some Christians want the church to operate you would think that Jesus had said to the world, “You are the salt of the church…You are the light of the church.” However, Jesus taught, “The church’s business is not to catch the spirit of the age but to correct it” (Sourcebook for Speakers, p. 87).
Why should the world become like us, if we are the same as the world? The people of the world, who do become a part of us, do so because they want to get away from the world. The world has been a bad place for them and they believe that they have found a refuge from the world in the church. So, yes, the church will be very different from the world. Yet it is not uncommon to find Christians who believe that the more worldly a church becomes the more evangelistic it will become. It is true that the numbers in that congregation may swell, but has real spiritual growth taken place?
Do Not Be Conformed to This World – Romans 12.1, 2
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
The Holy Spirit commands us not to be conformed to this world. Instead, we are to be transformed by renewing our minds. Rather than becoming more like the world, we cross from the form of the world into the form of the will of God. We become as different from the world as a butterfly is from a caterpillar.
When entomologists wanted to label the radical process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly they chose a Greek word, as science, medicine, and technology often do, that would be a new English word to describe the tremendous change that occurs. The new English word was metamorphosis, which comes from the Greek word metamorphoo, a form of which appears in Romans 12.2. This Greek word is a compound of two words meaning to change form. Thus “transformed” is a good word for translating this Greek word in Romans 12, but consider two other times in the Scripture in which this word is used and perhaps you will see the intended meaning of this word.
Matthew 17.1–3 records the great change that Jesus experienced in the flesh,
“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, brought them up on a high mountain by themselves, and was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.”
This is commonly known as the transfiguration, or we could call it the metamorphosis of Jesus. He changed from one form into another, from appearing merely as a man to appearing like the sun. Is there much of a difference in appearance between a man and the sun? The change was even more than this, because not only was it Jesus, but Moses and Elijah appeared also.
Second Corinthians 3.18 shows that we change, but not necessarily outward, rather inwardly,
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
We are changed from our image into the image of Jesus Christ. Is Jesus different than us? Is there a difference in character?
With these two examples you should be able to see that Romans 12 is showing how different we ought to be from the world rather than trying to be like the world.
There Are Many Calls For the Church to Be Worldly
We are told that we must be worldly in the worship services to attract the world. We are told that we must teach and preach things that the world finds acceptable. After what we have seen from the Scriptures, why would anyone in his right mind advocate that the more worldly the church becomes the better it is? It is a proverb of ashes to try to make the church like the world.