According to an old fable, three peas lived in a summer garden safely within the protection of a green pod. Their world was, as far as they knew, cozy and comfortable. Suddenly during a late summer day the pod split open, and the peas found themselves, not in their previously comfortable world of green, but now in a frightening brown world.
Their responses were immediate. One pea crawled back into the pod hoping to regain the safety and comfort of the past. The second pea turned brown so it would be exactly like the new world in which it now found itself. The third pea, however, decided that what the brown world needed was a green pea, so it resolved to be the best green pea possible in that brown world.
This fable illustrates well the possible reactions of Christians to the world of sin in which we live. Bear in mind that Christians have always lived in a world darkened by sin. Recall Paul’s instructions to the Christians at Philippi: “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life (Phi. 2:15-16).
Peter on Pentecost encouraged that multitude of Jews to become Christians with these words: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40). Christians live in a world which is hostile to Christ, His teachings, and those that follow Him. Using the terminology of the fable, we live in a “brown world.” Our reaction to that world can be one of three actions—the same three reactions that we saw in the fable of the three peas. Let us take some time to examine these responses and to examine ourselves.
Isolation from the World
One reaction to the world found among those who claim to be Christians is isolation. Over the centuries, some efforts to do this have resulted in literal, physical isolation from the world. People have actually withdrawn themselves from the world to some isolated place that they might not have to confront the sinfulness of the world. This kind of thinking gave rise to monasticism. Others who have not gone to that extreme have attempted to isolate themselves by ignoring the real world. They may cancel their newspaper subscriptions and refuse to listen to the news for fear of being aware of the problems of the real world. They live in their own dream world without coming to grips with the way sin has affected others.
Though this kind of thinking has its appeal, we should realize that Christians cannot respond to the world in this way. Jesus’ prayer shows the error of His followers when they try to withdraw from the world. He prayed:
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth (John 17:15-17).
Jesus did not desire that His disciples be “taken out of the world.” Sanctification (i.e., separation from sin and devotion to the service of God) is necessary, but sanctification is not isolation. Christians must remain in the world, but not be of the world. Christians must have contact with those in the world (Mat. 28:19) and help them deal with their burdens of sin (Gal. 6:2, 10), but Christians must abstain from the sins of the world (1 The. 5:21-22). If Christians are to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mat. 5:13-16), they must be in the world and make contact with that world.
Become Like the World
A second mistake that Christians make is to become like the world. This course is the easiest one to take—just give up and give in. There are members of the church who do not want to be distinctive, to be different. Their lives after baptism are no different from the way they lived before. They have the same companions, their language is the same, they go the same places, and they enjoy the same forms of entertainment that they did before they became “Christians.” These “unconverted Christians” live just as those do who are in the world. For them it is too difficult to change; it is too much to ask of them.
Their concept of being Christians is certainly not what is taught in the Scriptures. Change in the behavior of those who became Christians was noted in the New Testament by their former companions: “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you” (1 Pet. 4:4). Paul described the sinfulness of the Corinthians before they became Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:8-11. However, it is highly significant that he said that these sins were in their past, not their present. His words were, “And such were some of you” (6:11).
Repentance requires a change of mind, which brings about a change in behavior. Conversion requires a turning around of the believer’s life. A person who is no different in behavior after baptism has neither repented nor been converted. He may have his name on some church roll, but he is not a Christian. The true Christian does not love the world, “neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15). Christians realize that the love of the world causes one to be an enemy of God (Jam. 4:4). Paul wrote, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed” (Rom. 12:2). Pure religion involves keeping oneself “unspotted from the world” (Jam. 1:27). Paul’s admonition is appropriate here: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).
Be a Christian
What this world desperately needs (and can be influenced by) is more who are willing to live the Christian life and display the love of Christ to the world. The world cannot be improved through the cowardice of those who try to isolate themselves from it in some sort of cloistered environment. Nor can the world be improved by the hypocrisy of those who claim to be Christians but whose lives deny their claims. The world can and must be influenced by those who are dedicated to the Lord and His Word enough to live the Christian life. The words of a Christian are important (Mat. 12:37), but without a life to back them up our words are worthless. Jesus spoke of the experience of some on the Day of Judgment: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (7:21). Paul described the life of the Christian, “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). The Christian life must also show a genuine concern for others. Loving our neighbors, those who have needs that we can supply, is one of the greatest commandments (Mark 12:30-31). This is Christ-like! There are those who have physical needs that Christians can supply. John wrote: But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:17-18).
However, the greatest need of all mankind is the salvation which is only in Christ—in being a Christian. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Surely, going to Bible classes and worship assemblies of the church is not enough; the church must also go in service to others. The world can be greatly influenced for good by Christians who do not hide the light of Christ within them, but who live their lives as Christians. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16).
The Christian’s life must also be committed to the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel saves, but the Gospel must be taught (John 6:45; 1 Cor. 1:21). Christians have a responsibility to teach the Gospel (that which they have come to know and have obeyed) to others by word and deed so others might also be saved. Someone has well said: “The Gospel is the currency owed to the lost by those who are saved.” Because Christians have been saved by God’s grace through the Gospel, we have a debt to pay. Paul said, “I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise” (Rom. 1:14). Paul realized the existence of that debt, and so must every Christian!
Truly, what this world of sin needs is more who are genuine Christians. May we rise to this task! “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).