Salvation does not relieve us from our obligations as citizens in this world, but it frees us from the sinful influences of the world and enables us to have victory over temptation. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul assures us that Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of God and the Father” (Galatians 1:4).
Separated from sin
God cannot agree with nor have fellowship with morally impure and debased motives. He has no pleasure in those living ungodly lives. The saints bring Him joy. Therefore, His people need to be separate and remain free from the polluting influences of the world.
This truth is mirrored in the Old Testament concept of separation to conserve purity. The Israelites were God’s special people. They were not allowed to mix and mingle with the heathens. They were forbidden to marry anyone belonging to the other nations inhabiting Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). Exodus 23:32-33 expressly says: “You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” When the Israelites transgressed this law, the consequences were always severe.
After coming back from the Babylonian captivity, Ezra lamented the condition of the people of Israel because they had not kept themselves separate from the nations around them and had intermarried with them. He initiated a reform in all of Judea and Jerusalem. He commanded them to confess their sins and to separate themselves from the inhabitants of the land and from their foreign wives. The fear of the Lord came upon the whole congregation of the people of Israel, and they obeyed Ezra.
This concept of separation is not only for the Old Testament people of God. We also find it clearly taught in the New Testament. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we read: “Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Our separation from the world
Our separation from the world is not to be a physical or geographical reality, but a separation in the Spirit. We are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). At work or in our daily lives, we will come into contact and interact with non-believers. Yet we are to have no agreement or part with their worldly attitudes or sinful strivings. A true child of God, walking in the light, does not have a judgmental, legalistic spirit. Christ has set us free from such. But a true child of God will have no desire to take part in anything ungodly or sinful, nor to fellowship with the follies of this world. Only when someone is starting to backslide or beginning to grow lukewarm will the desire to engage with worldly pleasures and enjoy its follies begin to surface again.
In the past, there has often been an emphasis on the physical separation from the world. That is the reason monasteries and nunneries came into being. But experience has shown that physical separation does not mean our spirits have been freed from the sinful things of the world. Under certain circumstances, it may well be wise to completely withdraw from certain people in order not to be influenced by their evil ways. But in such a situation, one should prayerfully consider if that is what God really wants. Give heed to the leading of His Spirit.
Christ our example
In regard to the way we should deal with sinners and the world, Christ has given us the best example to follow. Of His disciples, He said: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). But was He not called a friend of sinners? Yes, He was often found among sinful people who were in need of salvation. When He was invited to the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, He accepted the invitation. From John, we learn that this wedding was celebrated according to the custom prevalent in the East.
How do you imagine that Christ acted at this festival? Do you think He participated in godless talk and jesting? Can you even for a moment imagine that He participated in excessive drinking or any other sinful activities? No way! I can only imagine that He behaved in the most honorable manner among the family members and friends of Levi and Zacchaeus when He was invited to dine with them. He did not seek fellowship with sinners because He was looking for entertainment, but because He was seeking to save the lost. Remember how His disciples were astonished when He conversed with the woman from Samaria? He spoke to her about the living water of Life. He wanted her to drink of that water so that her soul would thirst no more.
Repeatedly, we see Him speaking to and helping those who were in need, teaching them the way of truth that leads to holiness. It was His burden for the lost that led Him to seek the sheep of the house of Israel that had gone astray. Christ did not withdraw from human fellowship.
Our relationship to those around us
We can learn much from the way Jesus interacted with the people around Him. We should not withdraw our fellowship from sinners, but, at the same time, we should not participate in their sinful activities. Our goal should be to win them for the truth so that they too would live lives which are undefiled and holy. In order to achieve this, we need to keep ourselves from evil and from the things they engage in which are impure.
You may think that a sinner will not look down on you if you participate with him or her in their worldly ways. Yet that is not true. If we compromise our testimony and our standard of holiness by participating in some questionable activity, then our positive influence will be lost.
Our hope to save lost souls is dependent not only on the gospel that we wish to proclaim but also on our Christian walk. In order to reach people, we must fellowship with them and try to win them to Christ by living a holy life and sharing Christ’s teaching with them. If you are not able to be with sinners without being influenced by their worldly ways, then you are either not a steadfast Christian or else you are very weak. Take the Lord Jesus as your example. Pray for God’s guidance. In that way, you can withstand the negative influence of the world and also be a blessing for the people around you.