Godliness Is Possible
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 17:14a (Holman) “I have given them Your word. The world hated them, . . .”
One reason the world hates believers is, we receive and hold to God’s Word. We embrace and preach a message that condemns the evils of the world.
The world alleges it dislikes us for our pride, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, etc. If this is true, why did they crucify Jesus? Was He proud or hypocritical? Of course not. Often, believers who have been most severely persecuted were among the kindest, gentlest people Christendom ever produced.
Godly people are considered a nuisance by much of the world. Clean lives rebuke unclean lives. The world wants to remove this source of annoyance.
The church constantly faces assaults from the world on two fronts. First, antagonism. The world sometimes tries to frighten us from our faith by some threat, including violence or ridicule.
Humans, as social beings, hate to be ostracized. We want to fit in and belong. Whether it’s clothing styles, haircuts, or automobiles, we want to follow a generally accepted code.
Even when we are supposedly unconventional, we are usually only following a new convention. The hand of custom and conformity is heavy on us. The bitterness of ridicule, laughter, or sarcasm can cut us deep.
Sarcasm is not the world’s only antagonistic jab; its hatred can become organized, with groups actually attacking and persecuting the church. Such tactics began early. Cain slew Abel. Why? “Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous” (I John 3:12). Ishmael, representing those born after the flesh, mocked Isaac, who represents those born after the Spirit.
Babylon, Rome, Communism, and many others have tried to use military tactics and wholesale slaughter to decimate the ranks of believers, but praise God! Their efforts have not succeeded. Babylon is gone; believers remain. The Roman Empire disintegrated, replaced by Christendom itself. Communism failed. There are more Christians in China now than there were when the Communists took over.
God will break the back of any system that attacks believers. Anyone who touches God’s people touches the apple of His eye, and will not stand forever. They will be destroyed.
We understandably dread antagonism, whether in the form of ridicule or physical persecution, but it damages us less often than a second assault, corruption. An infection in the world always threatens to contaminate us. Even when the world cannot deter us by antagonism, it can weaken us through pollution.
Rather than try to destroy us, the world often tries instead to drag us down to its level. Its heathenism, superstitions, indifference, and loose morals are ever penetrating the church. Keeping ourselves untarnished is a constant struggle.
This assault against us is insidious, almost imperceptible, and therefore extremely dangerous. Antagonism blasts toward us, corruption seeps toward us. It lures us away from the Lord slowly. Our standards are lowered incrementally. The changes are gradual, but nevertheless fatal.
Sinbad the Sailor approached a magnetic rock rising above the surface of the peaceful Indian Sea waters. Sinbad’s ship was drawn toward it; systematically the magnetic rock pulled the bolts and clamps one by one from the ship’s side. When enough bolts and clamps were loosed, the ship collapsed, and the sleeping sailors woke to a drowning nightmare.
This pictures our predicament. Worldliness is a magnetic rock luring us individually and collectively. Its attractions are subtle, silent, and slow, but fearfully effective if we dare to forget about their power.
Under the world’s enchanting spell, bolt after bolt of good resolution, and clamp after clamp of Christian obligation, can be stealthily drawn out. In this weakened condition a sudden temptation can smite unglued believers, and in moments they wreck, their stamina stolen by an attractive self-pampering world.
John 17:14b “. . .because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world.”
“Of” here denotes “out of,” derived from it. It does not mean believers have to be socially repugnant, religiously arrogant, personally repulsive, or aggressively hostile toward nonbelievers. We shouldn’t carry a chip on our shoulders. It’s not our task to look for trouble.
We are to live in the world as people who respect others. We should be cordial, friendly, and peaceable to all others, saved or lost. We are to live in an attractive way, thereby wooing the lost to our Master.
We must at the same time be ever aware of the fact this world is not our native element. We are born here and live here, but Jesus made it clear the citizens of His kingdom are people who have been born all over again. In this re-born state, we are not of the world, not derived from it.
Our old nature is of the world, but our new nature is other-worldly. “Born again” literally means born from above. The moment of salvation is a moment of transferring citizenship. Believers are strangers and foreigners here.
The distinction between a believer and an unbeliever is not merely external, but also internal. Christians have a new nature. They are as different from the lost as a dove is from a raven, and a lamb is from a lion.
Christians are twice-born people. In our veins runs the blood of the royal family of the Universe. We are nobility, children of God, joint-heirs with Christ.
Due to this internal difference, we should be able to discern an external difference. Christians should be swimming against the stream, visibly different, easily recognizable.
Christ-followers are to act differently because we are transformed. We should be thinking of Christ’s way rather than the world’s. For us, popularity ought not determine the worth of anything. By refusing to conform to the world, we demonstrate the real meaning of Christian transformation.
A worldly person is one who does not seek to raise the standard of their generation, but who contentedly conforms to it. Christ’s disciples must never do this. We should not be content with the standards of the lost around us. We must always have a standard higher than the world’s.
“Not of the world” should be our distinguishing badge. I fear too few of us bear the marks. Too often believers cannot be distinguished from nonbelievers.
The puzzle is so bewildering that the angel Gabriel himself probably cannot tell whether some are Christians or not. Let’s judge ourselves by this test: Where do we differ from people of the world?
It is possible for us to function in the world and yet be “not of the world.” Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), an English author and statesman during the reign of Henry VIII, lived in the world, but was not of the world. His Godliness and personal devotion always distinguished him from the ungodly aristocrats he labored with. He entertained the wealthy often, and frequently invited the poor to eat with him. The more time he spent in the king’s palace, the more he resorted to cottages of the poor. When he added a new section to his house, he built a house near his own for the comfort of his aged neighbors.
He never entered a new task without prayer, trusting as he said, more to God’s grace than to his own wit. He became one of England’s most influential men. He stayed true to the end. When Henry VIII wanted to end his marriage to Catherine, More opposed him, and resigned as chancellor. He was finally charged with treason and beheaded in 1535. More proved it is possible to live for God in this world. In fact, we must.