The idea of being different from the world is an unpleasant one, isn’t it? It means misunderstanding, criticism, ridicule, to say the least. As Christians we know the Bible sometimes says things about keeping a distance from the world. But do we realize just how important it is?
In the book of Nehemiah, the returning Jews made a few shocking discoveries before coming to a surprising, and unpopular by today’s standards, conclusion.
“Now the rest of the people—the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding— these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes.”Nehemiah 10:28-29
When faced with the truth of God’s law the people were ashamed that they had long failed to obey it (8:9-10). They renewed their commitment to be faithful and took necessary steps to begin living godly lives henceforth.
One of the actions they took to do this caught my attention: They separated themselves from the people of the land. The people of Israel, living in hopes of seeing their beloved land restored to its former glory, realized they could not remain faithful to God while living among, and associating with, people who did not love God and His law.
This important move was all too clear to the humbled Jews but unfortunately today’s Christian cares too much for the world’s opinion to even consider such a radical suggestion. We all know what the world says: “If you choose to be different you will be looked upon as out-of-date, uninformed, a conspiracy-theorist, an illiterate, a naive hillbilly, etc. And ultimately– it’s just not fashionable.”
Sadly, we’ve been taken in by so much of the world’s lies that we as Christians automatically think along these same lines. We’ve been subtly and consistently indoctrinated to suspect people who are different, even if their motives appear to be godly. What all too readily comes to our minds are descriptions such as “bible-thumper” and “legalist,” to the extent that often we are duped into ridiculing this careful separation our own beliefs demand! This is another example of a habit, or rather adopted nature, we have taken from the world, that of always being suspicious and having a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality. However, the Christian is commanded to “think no evil” toward others and to “believe all things” (1 Corinthians 13:5,7). A high calling, to be sure, but another standard we pursue by the power of God.
This concept of separating ourselves from the world in the Old Testament is reiterated in the New when Paul said to the Romans, “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” An animal that was used for sacrifice had to be pure to be acceptable to God and was thus set apart the from the rest of the flock. He said also, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). We do this by reading and obeying the Scriptures.
Do you see how it comes full circle? Paul said to be separate from the world, which you will be prompted to do when you read God’s law. The book of Nehemiah shows this in action with the Jews hearing the word of God, being made aware of the truth, and taking action to separate themselves from the influence of ungodliness.
There is no way of balancing them both, the world and God, for they are two complete opposites, each demanding complete allegiance. Jesus Himself addressed this issue when He said we cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). And Elijah too when he told the Israelites to choose whom they will serve, the Lord God or Baal (1 Kings 18:21).
So when we read God’s Word, will we listen to the prompting to come away from the world? Will we allow it to kindle an ever-growing fire to better please the God we love, to experience this better, alternate life He points us to?
There has never been a better, or more needful time to come away from the world.