Last time we discussed the concept of a Christian being in the world but not of the world. We cited the example of Paul being able to discuss literature and philosophy with educated men and still maintain his loyalty and relationship with Christ. He had the ability to become all things to all people in order to win as many as possible for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Problems arise in Christian communities about how far a Christian should go to be in the world but not of the world. Christians have strong opinions of what they think is right and wrong. Is it okay to drink alcohol? Is it okay to smoke? Is it okay to play cards? Is it okay to dance? Is it okay to listen to rock music? Is it okay for guys to have long hair? And so on. Some may think certain Christians blend in a little too much with the world around them. Some religions even set rules and regulations up, equating abstinence from these actions as righteousness.
Paul cautions about a yardstick mentality that measures righteousness in Colossians 2:16-23. “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink…” This passage does not just focus on what a person eats or drinks but on whether or not a person is bound to the Sabbath, has false humility, focuses on religious rules and so on.
Paul said, “Don’t let anyone judge you,” but I would go one step farther and say, “Do not judge anyone by these things.” Is it seeing a Christian drink alcohol, dance, or play cards that irritates us, or could it be that although they do these things they may outshine us in the truly weightier issues of being a Christian. They may even have a stronger belief that God is the answer to everyone’s problems.
When we focus on outward appearances of others it erodes away at our personal relationship with Christ. We tend to emphasize our idea of righteousness rather than God’s grace. Our opinions about such matters become more important that God’s Word. We become judgmental rather than loving. God looks on the heart. We do not know the heart of all we meet.
Some may have said about Paul, “How can he have studied pagan philosophers and been close to God?” In fact, for years and years many disciples had trouble accepting Paul’s conversion. When they accepted it they took exception to Paul wanting to offer salvation to the Gentiles. When they accepted it, they still wanted Gentiles to keep the laws and regulations they kept. They even wanted them to be circumcised (Acts 15:1-5). When the elders and apostles met to discuss this, the conclusion was, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God (Acts 15:19).”
Now this ruling didn’t mean that Gentiles shouldn’t have to repent, turn to God, believe in Christ, etc. Those are non-negotiable parts of Christianity. However the Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be considered Christians. Some staunch Christians could not accept that ruling (Acts 15:24).
How about us? What is our idea of a Christian being “in the world” but not “of the world?” Can Christians engage in the world, keep their moral compass, and still put God first in their lives? Let’s not make the mistake of judging matters that should be left to God. Remember God knows what is in a person’s heart. God looks on the heart, not outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7).