We often times talk about how Christians ought to be in the world but not of the world. This is largely drawn from John 17 where Jesus is praying for His disciples. In verse 16, Jesus speaks about how the disciples, like Himself, are not of the world. However, verse 18 speaks about how they had been sent into the world just as Jesus Himself was sent into the world.
We also need to consider the greater context of this passage. As soon as Jesus completes His prayer, He walks to the Garden of Gethsemane. This prayer comes immediately before Jesus’ execution. Therefore, being in the world meant that terrible pain was coming His way. Being in the world meant that betrayal by one of His 12 closest followers was imminent.
What if there was no ultimate justice? What if there was no ultimate joy? What if there was no ultimate purpose? What if there was no ultimate hope?
Any intellectually consistent materialist will tell you that there is no ultimate justice, joy, purpose or hope. There is nothing beyond our existence here on earth, so we essentially have to play the hand we are dealt. Even if our lives are miserable, there is no reason to hope for anything better because there is nothing to hope for.
Jesus is presenting a vision of something better. Jesus is speaking about people who are not confined to the material. We are not of the world. We are not tied to the fate of the world. Even though we might be in the world right now experiencing sometimes miserable circumstances, we have a reason to believe justice, joy, purpose and hope exist.
Our materialist friends will simply say that this is some kind of wishful thinking. We can’t cope with the hopelessness of our own existence, so we put our faith in some kind of fantasy. Essentially, our faith is our defense mechanism.
However, there is a difference here. Jesus Christ was a literal person who walked on the earth. He literally died, and He literally rose again. We put our faith in Jesus Christ, and our beliefs in these admittedly good things follow from that principle.
The ability to believe in justice, joy, purpose and hope come after my belief in Jesus Christ. He is not simply a fantasy I built up in my own mind to provide a justification for wanting these things.
They are a real response to an encounter with the real person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, when we talk about Christians being in the world but not of the world, think about the context of the passage. There are many great things about being alive, but there are challenges that we all face every day. Be grateful that Jesus promised us more. We do not have to be of the world.