Being in the World, Not of the World

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2

One Wednesday night my Dad led bible study at my church and posed a simple and familiar question to our congregation: What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?

Physically, we cannot escape the world. Almost everything we do is dictated by our body’s ability and environment. We have to get up every morning for work or school, pay bills, plan out a future career and prepare for the next five or six decades we will spend on this earth.

But as Christians, we are expected to be “set apart” from those that surround us.

I always took this at face value. It meant things like staying away from the bar scene, abstaining from sex before marriage, and not associating with people who mock God.

That’s the direction I expected my dad, who had taught me these very things, to go with his lesson that night. I nestled down into the pew and got ready for my father’s familiar voice to solidify what I thought was the final word on what Paul had to say in his letter to the Romans.

I was a little startled when he instead began describing the night of my birth. Not knowing where he was going with this, my face reddened as the elderly people sitting near me turned and winked. I tightened up, waiting for the embarrassing anecdote he was sure to share at the expense of my ego.

To my surprise, he instead focused on himself. He described, in the best way one can, the experience of watching my mom bring new life into the world. He illustrated how a long labor makes the world feel incredibly small, that the only thing that exists is you and your wife in that room, battling nerves and excitement as your lives change forever. Then there’s a sense of calm and beauty after the storm. Staring into the face of your newborn creates a mystical, unforgettably warm experience, he explained.

His story took an odd turn as he described how weird it felt to go outside after I was born. Fresh snow was layering the ground and people were carrying on with their lives. It was perplexing to my father, whose life had just changed, to see the world carrying on as if nothing had happened. So immersed was he in his own life- changing moment that he temporarily forgot about the world right outside the delivery room.

That displacement was a result of allowing himself to slip into a world of his own. My dad’s entire focus was on my birth, my mom, and the future of his new family. Other stressors were completely tossed to the side, so being thrown back into the snowy outdoors required a bit of adjustment.

What my dad reminded our bible class that night, is that as Christians we all need moments when we are truly not of the world around us

Some days may be harder than others, nobody is perfect. If you are not used to spending this secluded time with God on a daily basis, it can certainly be intimidating. But that is the entire point of the transformation mentioned in Romans 12:2. Day by day, prayer by prayer, we are going through a transformation into something more Christ-like. Something not of this world.

I really like how C.S. Lewis penned this concept:

“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.

 Each time we sit down with God’s word, we are choosing to make ourselves less involved in our earthly world and more involved with the realm of peace His word provides. It can be a boring, lifeless experience or as joyful and life-changing as bringing a new child into the world. It is up to us.