By Scott Diekmann
Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. You’ve heard it before. St. John tells us (John 17:9, 1 John 2:15). Your pastor has proclaimed it. Perhaps even your parents have preached it to you. And now you’re going to hear it again. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? In but not of the world. So really, how is this supposed to work? It means something like this: In this life you need to get involved in the grimy details of the lives of the people around you, whether they’re believers or unbelievers, while at the same time avoiding the temptations of a world soaked in sin.
So, does being in the world mean you have to post Bible verses or Luther quotes on your Facebook page? Nope. Hand out blankets to the homeless guy living under the viaduct? No—although both of these things are good things to do. It means helping the people God has placed around you at that moment–your friends, the nerd crowding you on the bus, the drama queen crying in the hallway. In the world may even mean befriending someone you might not normally hang with. God calls you to be His hands in unexpected ways. Going on that mission trip and studying well for the big test are equally worthy endeavors in His eyes. So are sharing your lunch and sharing your faith. These all are ways to serve your neighbor through your vocations. And even though your good works are tainted by your sin, Christ makes them holy. His work on the Cross declares your good works righteous.
Being in but not of the world can be a tough balancing act. It’s like having to manage both sides of a teeter totter. I think back to when my mom used to tell me before I left the house on Friday night to “have fun, but not too much fun.” My dutiful response was, of course, “Okay, Mom.” That still annoys me. Did I really need to hear that every time? Well, in actuality, I did.
Not being of the world doesn’t mean you’ve got to hide in your room, playing Halo or watching your favorite DVD by yourself. Go out, have fun and be in the world. But know “when to say when.” If you get into a situation that would cause you to sin, it’s time to hit the brakes. This might be something as seemingly harmless as failing to defend someone’s reputation, or as serious as committing a sexual sin. They are both sins in God’s eyes.
Now before I get all pious sounding I’ll have to confess that this hasn’t always worked out so well for me, and consequently for those whom I should have helped. In the in vs. of battle, there have been numerous times when “of” won. I think there was even a time or two when the person for whom I was trying to be the example turned out to be the example for me. Then what? What happens when we foul up big time?
When we fall off the in vs. of teeter totter, the sudden impact with terra firma is like the Law smacking us on our backside, pointing out our sin, and driving us to repentance. The Law’s job is to direct us to Christ, whose perfect works are our only hope. Then the Gospel speaks its healing word, “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven.” In Christ, we are forgiven and are set free. Our Baptism means we are already rescued from the world. Now we can be a blessing to those around us–not because we have to, but because we are free to, declaring what Jesus has done for us in word, tweet, and deed.
Scott Diekmann’s vocations include Christian, dad, son, husband, airline pilot, chocolate lover, and citizen of Puyallup, Washington. Email Scott at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.