But make no mistake: the world itself remains systemically and fundamentally at enmity with God. Its political systems are in the grip of Satan, who is called “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). The world’s values are corrupt (2 Peter 1:4). The whole world is full of lust and evil pride (1 John 2:16). Its dogmas are full of lies (Col. 2:8). Its very best philosophies are sheer folly (1 Cor. 3:19). This world is fallen, hopelessly corrupt, and slated for judgment (1 John 2:17).
We do, of course, share God’s compassionate love (and a true empathy) for people who are enslaved by the passions and pleasures that dominate this world (Col. 3:3). The spiritual battle we wage against the world consists of tearing down strongholds of earthly ideologies in order to liberate people from their captivity (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
But believers are commanded not to love the world itself or the lusts and the pride that dominate all the world’s systems (1 John 2:15). In fact, true holiness starts with a refusal to conform our thinking to this world’s values or ideas (Rom. 12:2). Christians must strive to be different. We don’t belong to this world. “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). One of the hallmarks of true faith is a confession that we are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). And one of the traits of our faithfulness is that we don’t accommodate to the world. Although we are in the world, we are not to be of the world.
Perhaps you have heard that saying many times. It echoes Jesus’ prayer for His people in John 17:14–16:
“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.” (Emphasis added)
This does not mean, of course, that Christians should wear some external costume that sets us apart, like the Pharisees’ broad phylacteries. It means we should be different in character, thoughts, and actions—holy and Christlike, in a world that hated (and still hates) Christ and His righteousness.
Jesus said believers are the salt of the earth. Salt in that culture was used for more than flavor enhancement. It was the best preservative for curing meats. Its antibacterial properties also made it useful in the treatment of wounds. Believers are supposed to have a similar influence in the world. True holiness exemplified by a faithful church has that effect—counteracting the corruptions of evil in the world.
Jesus also said we are the light of the world. When the church proclaims the truth of God’s Word, we radiate the true light that dispels spiritual darkness.
But when believers imitate the world or embrace worldly values, the saltiness is lost and the light is hidden. Let us strive to be distinctive in this world of darkness and corruption. After all, we “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” and our singular calling is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).