How to Be “For Culture” Without Being “Of Culture”

by May 17, 2024Christian Living, Personal Evangelism

I have heard the phrase “be in the world, not of the world” throughout my life. Though this phrase is not in the Bible, the principle is implicit throughout. It culminates in Jesus’s prayer for His disciples in John 17:15-20:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.

Jesus revealed that we are both “sent” and “sanctified,” sent into the world to be salt and light, yet sanctified (“set apart,” “made holy”) from the world system that is often opposed to the things of God.

I confess that there have been times when I have gravitated towards the extremes. Sometimes I was so removed from culture that I was not engaging with the culture. Yet there have also been times when I was so caught up in culture that I looked just like the culture, failing to reflect Christ.

How should a Christian maintain the balance between being sent, yet set apart? Here are a few principles to consider.

1. Recognize that holiness comes from spending time with the Lord, not separating ourselves from others.

When I was a young adult, I thought I had to rid my life of anything and anyone that was not Christian. That included non-Christian friends. Looking back, I see that I became judgmental and self-righteous. My life looked more like a Pharisee than Christ.

Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth.” Sanctification, the process of becoming holy or set apart, comes from where we focus our mind and heart, not from whom we avoid. Jesus modeled this by spending time alone with His Father (Mark 1:35) but also spending time with people, including those who did not know the Lord (Matthew 9:10).

The same should hold true for us. Focusing our mind on Christ allows us to operate within the culture without becoming like the culture.

2. Remember that growing closer to God includes growing closer to those who do not know Him.

Look at Jesus’s own words which reflect His heart for the unreached:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36

As I abide in His transforming presence, He renews my heart to reflect His, including His heart for those who do not know Him.

I am convinced that if I don’t come away from my time with God with a greater desire to reach people for God, I need to reevaluate my time with God.

Becoming more like Christ means loving those who don’t know Christ.

3. Rely on The Holy Spirit.

Jesus told His disciples:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17

Navigating foreign territory is challenging. You need a guide. You also need power to live a Christ-like life in a Christless world. The Holy Spirit provides both.

The Holy Spirit enables us to live for Christ, love others like Christ, and witness about Christ to those who don’t know Him. Without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

4. Reflect on God’s grace.

When we are tempted to separate ourselves from those who don’t know Christ, we need to remember the only thing that separates us from them is Christ! If Christ had not saved us, where would we be? Who would we be? Sinners deserving the wrath of God!

The reason we are sent and sanctified is not because of anything we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us. Our job is to extend to others the grace and mercy we ourselves have received by sharing the same gospel that transformed us!