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Questions and Answers: “In The World” Or “of The World” – What’s The Difference?
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Polly: Hi, George, how’s it going?
George: Great! I’ve been working at a part-time job, you know, and I’ve got some money saved up and the evening off, so I’m going to have some fun tonight!
Pol: What are you doing? Going to the game?
Geo: No, I’m going to that new movie that’s just out. Everybody’s talking about it; thought I’d best get in on it before I’m the only one who hasn’t seen it!
Pol: Mm-hmm. Um, George, you won’t be the only one who hasn’t seen it; I haven’t. And I’m not going to, either.
Geo: Why on earth not?
Pol: Maybe no reason on earth — although I have to say that doing something just because “everybody” else has done it, without even considering whether it suits your own tastes or situation, seems a questionable motive even from a purely worldly perspective— but I’ve got a Heavenly reason. I don’t think that film espouses ideas that are suitable for a follower of Jesus to go see, from what I’ve heard about it. Do you think Jesus would have gone to see it, George?
Geo: Well, I hadn’t thought about it … I mean, Jesus was God and all that … but still, even He lived on the earth and was criticized for “eating with publicans and sinners” (Mark 2:16, Luke 15:2). Surely, Polly, you don’t think God expects us to completely separate ourselves from the world we live in? It would be impossible, anyway.
Pol: I don’t think God expects us to “separate” ourselves from the world in an unlivable sense, although I strongly believe He does require a complete separation in another sense. We are supposed to be “in the world” (John 17:11) but not “of the world” (John 17:16).
Geo: I’ve heard that line before, but I’ll admit I’m not sure what it means. How can you live in the world — and not just dwell in it, but be born into it, have it be part of who you are as a human being attached to a certain country, time and culture — and not be of it, in a sense?
Pol: Well, we’re all born “of” it, without meaning to be, if that’s what you mean. That’s what original sin means, and why even little children who may have never done anything really “wrong” yet still need Christ’s redemption. Everybody has to be redeemed from the curse of this world due to Adam and Eve’s Fall.
Geo: Now, wait a minute, Polly … You don’t really think that the Fall destroyed everything good about God’s creation, completely changed everything from “very good” (Genesis 1:31) to total evil, do you? If that were the case, it would hardly be worthwhile to redeem it. And the devil doesn’t have the power to corrupt God’s good gifts anywhere close to a complete extent. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I … mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness… badness cannot even succeed in being bad in the same way that goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”1
Pol: I completely agree, George. Certainly I don’t think the world is entirely evil. God made it for good, and its original goodness still remains intact to the point that it is perfectly possible to live as a follower of Jesus in it. We should remember, however, that as a result of the Fall, all human beings are sinners and will only want to be a follower of Jesus in response to God’s call. God may use the goodness of creation as part of that process, as people recognize that Someone must have been behind it all. Many people have been led to God that way, including C.S. Lewis himself. There are lots of wonderful, God-given adventures and pleasures and opportunities in the world.
Geo: So, what’s the problem with enjoying them?
Pol: Nothing! Nothing is wrong with enjoying the world “to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). As Lewis stated, “The badness consists in pursuing [good things] by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much.”2 The world has been, not destroyed, but “spoiled” by badness, as you said, since the Fall. Lewis pointed out that “Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present the Prince of this World”3 — the Bible says so in John 14:30. And that is the sense in which we, as followers of Christ, cannot any longer be “of the world.” We can’t follow the old human fallenness that follows the devil in using God’s good creation for evil purposes, including dismissively thinking or saying, “I can do without God.” We can’t, and such an attitude is a sinful denial of God. And it’s basic worldliness: we are trying to make use of God’s world without acknowledging Him as its Creator. It’s stealing and pride and idolatry and blasphemy, and that leads to all the other evils in the world — including the ones promoted by that movie you’re going to watch, I’m sorry to say.
Geo: I think you’re right in everything you’ve just said, Polly — except for one thing. I’m not going to go see that movie. I think I’ll go to the game instead: that’s a basic God-given good pleasure.
Pol: Great. Our youth group from church is going, and I was just about to invite you to come along with us before we got started on this conversation!
Ask your children: What do you think about Polly’s answers to George’s questions? Do you have any other questions of your own that this dialogue has brought up for you? Challenge them to think up more responses they could give, if someone asked them a question like George’s.
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 50th Anniversary ed. (London: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2002), p. 44.
3 Ibid., p. 47