What in the World?

I awoke early Friday morning. As some of you know, this is not necessarily uncommon for me. I have believed for some time that Isaiah 50:4 has application to us—including that part of the verse that asserts “You awaken me morning by morning.” So when I wake up in the early hours (or the middle of the night) I commonly ask: “Lord, is that you? Do you have something I need to hear? . . . If not, can I go back to sleep?” (just being honest there). On Friday morning something came to me, perhaps based in my recent re-read of some words from Eugene Peterson on “The Jesus Way vs. the American way” or a sermon excerpt I heard a few days ago about Christians retreating from the culture. What I “heard” in those early morning hours was a composite of some simple, but often confused, statements of Jesus. What I heard was, In it, not of it. What does that mean?

Before I get too far down this road I want to acknowledge that “In it, not of it” are nowhere recorded as the precise words of Jesus. Oh, He definitely says “You are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” And He also prays specifically for the Apostles and “those who will believe on me because of their word” (that includes us—me and you), that we will be “kept in the world” and “not that [we] be taken out of the world,” but protected from the evil one (read in John 15:19 & 17:14-19). Hence my characterization of “In it, not of it” as a composite of some statements of Jesus. But, again I ask, what do the words mean? Perhaps more pointedly, what does “In it, not of it” mean to you?

 As I pondered what these words mean for me, some of my thoughts went to some ways of the world I want to avoid. For example, how do I regard power, fame, and position? What about materialism and consumerism? But Papa repeatedly redirected my thoughts. If I’m hearing Him corrembrandtRETURNrectly, He wants me to think of “In it, not of it” as not primarily avoiding things, but rather as a reality to be lived—a reality I too easily forget (especially if I fall into comparison [an approach definitely “of” the world]). “In it” speaks to the place I am to inhabit (or maybe infiltrate)—in, among, with—be a true friend to other people. Yet “not of,” not with the same motives, methods, or means common to the world. This is how Jesus lived. He was “a friend [and frequent companion] of [notorious] sinners,” expressed anger at self-righteous religious folk, and “was no respecter of persons”—He got His approval and sense of worth from His Father, not from people. To live “In it, not of it” we need Him to make our new birth and Papa’s love reality in our experience. It is already true, for He says that we “are not of this world just as I am not of this world.” But we need Jesus to make this real to us.

To say “forgive them” to Papa as they pounded in the nails was certainly an “In it, not of it” act. In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Philip Yancey says (after 70 pages) that he is ready to “attempt something like a definition of grace in relation to God. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more—no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciations, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less—no amount of racism or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.”

Think about that. Wrestle with it. Talk with Papa about it!

You might need to pause here to listen, but don’t stop here! For we are also told to be “gracing one-another just as God in Christ has graced us.” Consider one further statement from Yancey and hear it in the context of “In it, not of it.”

“The world runs by ungrace. . . .”

Think on “Father, forgive them.” Read Yancey’s attempt at “something like a definition” again. Think about people in your life, how you act toward them.

Papa, we open ourselves, our hearts, minds, and spirits to you.
Have Your Way in me.

 Allow the Spirit of Jesus, Who lives in you, to move you to live just as Jesus lived.  . . .  In it, not of it.

John