What is the proper posture for a Christian to take towards the world? Should Christians retreat from the world and live in isolation? Should we look down upon the world in criticism and condemnation? Should we just go “all in” and look no different from the world at all? Or is there some other way?
As I’m sure you know, there is tension between the Christian and the world, but perhaps you haven’t considered how this tension can be resolved or whether or not there is any hope for resolution at all. Books have been written, discussions have ensued, and lines have even been drawn, but no clear answer has emerged concerning the proper posture believers should take towards the world. The tension is certainly complex, and in no way do I have it completely worked out within my own heart and mind, but I do want to offer several thoughts to help the Christian consider his or her role on this earth. Let’s start by examining the three most common postures Christians typically take towards the world, and then we’ll end by looking at an “alternate route.”
Three Common Postures Christians Take Towards the World:
First off, it is impossible for the Christian to completely retreat from the world. People have tried and failed throughout history to isolate themselves and their families from the culture around us. The only real way to retreat from this world would be to live on the moon, but even then you’d require goods from this world in order to get you there. And if you did get there you’d need the goods of this world in order to live and thrive there. The point is this: retreating from the world is not a viable option because it is impossible to escape the world in which and for which you were created. (For more on this, click here.)
Second, Christians should never assume a haughty, condemnatory posture towards the world, standing above it and peering down with a look of disgust on our faces as if we have it all together. Now this certainly does not imply that there aren’t condemnable things in the world (such as murder, rape, and injustice), but it does mean that Christians shouldn’t assume the posture of judge and jury over the world. For we don’t know the heart, nor can we examine its ways, plus we don’t have all the facts. God sees all and has all the facts, and He even knows the secret thoughts of man, making Him the only impartial judge of the world (Romans 2:6-11, 16; Jeremiah 17:10). Additionally, Christians must not forget that, like the rest of the world, we too are fallen; therefore, let us maintain a posture of humility rather than condemnation.
Third, Christians should not casually or intentionally dive head first into the world, looking no different than the world, because in Christ we are set apart. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable” (Romans 12:2). And Jesus prayed to the Father: “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” (John 17:15-16). Christians live in the world, but are called to be different than the world, not for the sake of simply being different, but to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b).
The Alternate Route:
Christians are to be set apart from the world, but not isolated from it; we are to discern the world, but not stand above it as judge; and of course we will look like our neighbors in many ways, but there will also be a distinction between us and our neighbors. While we wear many of the same clothes, eat many of the same foods, and work at many of the same jobs, believers seek to please the Lord above all. We don’t neglect, judge, or mimic our neighbor; instead we live to the glory of God and for the good of our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). This is the example we see with Jesus Christ.
Christ did not retreat from the world nor did He stand in condemnation of it (although He will one day; see Acts 17:30-31), but He lived among sinners, He dined with them, and sought their personal well- being; yet He lived in such a way that His life was markedly different. His life exemplified holiness, righteousness, love for God, and love for man. While He went out into the world, to seek and to save that which was lost, the closest intimacy that He shared was with the Father in Heaven and also with His disciples. Therefore, it is with God and with others in the church where we too will share our closest intimacy, but we must not retreat or hide as a church.
For the task of the church is not to run and hide, or to judge and govern, nor is it the task of the church to blend in. The task of the church as we relate to the world is to be the suffering servant and witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.
So let us live faithfully within this world for which we were created, seeking the good of our fellow man and stooping down low in order to serve and love our neighbor, as we strive to live in such a way that brings all glory and honor to our great God in Heaven.
For more on this topic, check out these books:
- Culture Making by Andy Crouch
- The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F.H. Henry
- The Colson Way by Owen Strachan
 Newbigin, Leslie. The Relevance of Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission. Richmond: John Knox Press. 1963.