by Kimberley Minch
If you have ever been part of a youth group growing up, you know that there are certain phrases that are said over and over again:
“Leave room for the Holy Spirit!” (Translation: guys and girls should not be getting cozy.)
“Don’t make purple!” (Translation: girls are pink and guys are blue, so don’t mix ‘em!)
One of these commonly used phrases is “We are in the world, but not of the world,” quoted to mean that, while we do live in this world, we as Christians are called to live distinctively different lives than the rest of the world. This was especially stressed to me and my fellow students as we were preparing to go off to college. I was given the same advice again and again: read your Bible, join a Christian group on campus, and try to stay away from the students who would be “bad influences” (the ones who drink, smoke, or hook up).
During my first semester of college, I quickly realized that following this advice would be much harder than I thought. Because of my architecture major, I was in the design studio most of the day, every day. Most of my classmates weren’t Christians and were the very people I was taught to avoid. I became discouraged and wondered if I was in the wrong major, or even at the wrong school.
As I became better friends with my classmates, my faith frequently became the topic of conversation. They started asking me questions, sometimes very hard questions, about my faith and Christianity in general. Because of these questions, I was able to really think about what I believed, and form ideas on issues that I hadn’t really taken time to consider before. I also learned a lot about sharing my faith, as I was able to witness to many of my classmates. Through all of this, my non-Christian classmates really helped me to mature in my faith.
If I had originally followed the advice to stay away from students who were “bad influences,” then I wouldn’t have experienced this growth.
I think that this use of the phrase “In the world, but not of the world” is a case of a verse that has strayed from its original meaning. It seems to mean “Well, we’re stuck in this world, but I guess now we just have to make sure we’re not of this world.” While we sometimes need to separate ourselves from the world for a time, being separate from the world is not our actual mission as Christians. The phrase “In the world, but not of the world” comes from John 17:14-19, when Jesus is praying to his Father the night before his crucifixion.
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
It is clear that Jesus does not want his followers to be of the world, yet they are in the world, so the desire to use the “in, but not of” slogan is good, but it takes it out of context and creates the opposite effect of what was intended. We are in the world, not of it, but we are also sent into the world. That is where the emphasis should be. We are put in this world to spread God’s love and make disciples of Jesus. When we focus on not being of the world, and teach students to focus on not being of the world, we can miss our calling to be sent into the world. If we choose to separate ourselves, we can’t spread God’s love.
Kimberley Minch is a third-year student at Northeastern University majoring in Architecture and minoring in Songwriting. She also leads a Bible study and plays on the worship team for a Christian fellowship at school. In between traveling the world this next year for school and work, you can find her searching for the perfect color swatch and feeding homemade cookies to whoever will eat them.
Kimberley is a member of by design’s WeConnect Leadership Team. Read more about WeConnect!