Why Must Christians Keep Separate from the World?
Today there are many, many millions of persons who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. However, it is one thing to claim to be a Christian and another thing actually to be a Christian. Jesus himself made this point in his Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, . . . and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:21-23.
Among the many things that differentiate genuine Christians from those who are such in name only is their keeping separate from the world. Jesus made this very emphatic on the night of his betrayal, saying to his followers: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on this account the world hates you.” He made the same point in prayer to his heavenly Father that evening, stating: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 15:18, 19; 17:16.
“No part of the world.” That means keeping separate from the world. There is no question about that. But to what was Jesus referring by the expression “the world”? Jesus made a distinction between his followers and that “world” when he said in prayer: “I make request concerning them [his disciples]; I make request, not concerning the world, but concerning those you have given me; because they are yours.” (John 17:9) By the expression “the world,” Jesus there shows that he means the wicked ungodly world, or kosmos, made up of those whom the apostle John describes as “lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 2:15-17; 5:19) Its god and ruler is Satan the Devil.
OF WHAT THE WORLD CONSISTS
Satan has organized this world into various parts or divisions. One of the foremost of these is Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, described at Revelation 17:3-6 as “the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.” She is said to be drunk with the blood of the holy ones, the witnesses of Jesus.
Also a very prominent part of Satan’s world are the political kingdoms of the earth, described by the apostle John as a beast that came up out of the sea, having seven heads and 10 horns. (Rev. 13:1) That these kingdoms are part of Satan’s world is seen by the fact that he was able to offer them to Jesus Christ if Jesus would do an act of worship to Satan.—Matt. 4:8, 9.
Satan also controls, as part of his world, a ruthlessly greedy and oppressive commercial system, referred to, at Revelation 18:11, as “traveling merchants.” This exploits the common people and endeavors to keep them in slavery, in an economic bondage, even as Babylon the Great tries to keep people in religious bondage and the governments of this world endeavor to keep people in political bondage.
Satan’s world is also corrupted by all manner of immoral practices, even as the apostle John indicates at 1 John 2:15, 16: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world.”
WHY KEEP SEPARATE FROM THE WORLD
Why are Christians commanded to keep separate from the world that is under the control of Satan? First of all, let us note what keeping separate from the world does not mean. It does not mean that we should have absolutely nothing to do with those who have the spirit of the world, who are involved in false religion, corrupt politics, or in greedy commercial or immoral enterprises. For then, as the apostle Paul reminds us, we would literally have to get out of the world. (1 Cor. 5:9, 10) Nor does keeping separate from the world mean that we may not enjoy wholesome entertainment or that we may not visit relatives or have them visit us just because they are unbelievers.
Rather, keeping separate from the world relates to the issue that had its beginning when Jehovah God foretold that there would be enmity between the seed of the woman, God’s holy organization, and the seed of the god of this world, Satan the Devil. It means keeping balance, not becoming a slave to whatever this world has to offer. It means avoiding compromise with this world. Compromise obviously would be displeasing to Jehovah God. It means ‘not walking in the counsel of the wicked ones, not standing in the way of sinners and not sitting in the seat of the ridiculers.’—Ps. 1:1.
Of interest here is the view of the world as held by the Christians of the second century C.E., as reported by the historian Cadoux in his work The Early Church and the World (1925 C.E.): “Of the state of the human race beyond the limits of the Christian Church, the writers of this period take on the whole a very black view. A large number of evil characteristics are held to apply to ‘the world’ or to ‘this age’: thus, error, darkness, blindness, drunkenness, deceit, evil, iniquity, defilement, corruption, futility, baseness, godlessness, impiety, unbelief, and blasphemy.”
We must keep separate from Satan’s world because of its godlessness and hatred for Jesus Christ. To fraternize with this world, or to become a part of it, causes us to be what? The disciple James answers: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (Jas. 4:4) Can we afford to have Jehovah God as our enemy? The apostle Paul answers that question at 1 Corinthians 10:21, 22: “You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons. Or ‘are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?”
The “cup” and the “table” of demons is found with “Babylon the Great.” She teaches lies, slanders Jehovah God and has been used by Satan to mislead the entire inhabited earth. (Rev. 12:9) So how can God’s true servants make common cause with any of the religions of this world? Jesus did not practice interfaith. He did not unite himself with any of the sects of Judaism in their opposition to the Roman yoke. Neither can there be any interfaith practiced on the part of his true followers today. They must heed the words of Isaiah 52:11: “Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch nothing unclean; get out from the midst of her, keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah.” What powerful reasons there are for Christians to keep separate from the religious part of Satan’s world!
There are also powerful reasons why God’s true servants, sincere followers of Jesus Christ, must keep separate from the political part of Satan’s world, from all nationalism and politics. Are not these also opposed to God’s kingdom? When standing before the representative of the Roman Empire, Pontius Pilate, Jesus testified: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.” (John 18:36) Since neither Jesus nor his followers were part of the political world back there, neither may Jesus’ followers be today. That the nations of the world have nothing in common with the true God can be seen from the fact that they are being gathered by the god of this world, through his inspired expressions, to the war of the great day of God the Almighty at Har– Magedon. (Rev. 16:14, 16) As the apostle Peter so well notes, Christians are aliens and temporary residents. (1 Pet. 2:11) In keeping with that fact are the words of the apostle Paul at Philippians 3:20, showing that the citizenship of Christ’s true followers is in the heavens. That is why the Christian witnesses of Jehovah do not engage in politics, nor do they buy or carry political party cards.
And since 1 John 2:15, 16 warns us against the world’s materialism and immorality, the very opposite of godly devotion, we must also stay clear of these if we would be holy as Jehovah God is holy.—1 Pet. 1:15, 16.
What does it take to keep separate from the world? The next article will answer that question.
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