Separation from the world

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by Shaun Willcock

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17)

Throughout the Scriptures, the people of God are commanded to live separate from the world and its ways. This doctrine – the doctrine of Separation – is one of the most hated in all the Bible. Not only the openly unbelieving, but also the professing ‘believers’ loathe it. A professing ‘believer’ is one who claims to be a believer, but is a believer in his profession only: he is claiming to be something he is not. He calls himself a Christian, but is as much a part of the world, and a lover of it, as any avowed infidel. Christendom (I do not say ‘Christianity’) is full of such hypocrites: ‘They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate’ (Tit. 1:16).

They are people who draw nigh to the Lord with their mouths, and honour him with their lips, but their hearts are far from him (Matt. 15:7,8).

Such people often use the same language as the true citizens of Zion; they often pray in a biblical manner, sing with great fervour, and zealously speak to men about the Saviour; they often diligently and faithfully attend the services of a local church, and are well-versed in many scriptural truths; but they deny the Lord God by their works, unwilling and indeed unable to live lives that are separate from the world.

The true child of God is commanded to come out from among the things of the world, and to be separate. Why? It is because ‘the friendship of the world is enmity with God’; and ‘whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God’ (Jas. 4:4). The world is God's enemy! ‘The whole world lieth in wickedness’ (1 Jn. 5:19). When God draws a sinner to salvation in Jesus Christ, that soul is no longer of the world. Jesus said, in prayer to his Father, that his disciples were ‘not of the world’ (Jn. 17:16); ‘and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world’ (vs.14). Ah! here we find why the doctrine of Separation from the world is so despised by those who are only professing ‘believers’, not true ones. Those who are truly ‘not of the world’ are hated by the world! And no mere professor of religion can bear to be hated by the world – for he is a part of the world! As Jesus said, ‘If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you’ (Jn. 15:19). The true child of God has been chosen OUT of the world, and the Spirit of God teaches him to hate the things of the world; but as he hates the world, so the world hates him.

No wonder the vast numbers of professing ‘believers’ hate this doctrine of Separation! Only he who is alive in Christ can love it, and seek to obey it.

In the Old Testament, the Lord said to his people, ‘And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine’ (Lev. 20:26); and, ‘I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people’ (vs.24). And in the New Testament, the same truth is taught: ‘Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing’ (2 Cor. 6:17); ‘Come out of her, my people’ (Rev. 18:4); etc. The popular teaching today is that Christians are just like everyone else: they are free to enjoy the same pleasures, dress in the same fashion, and do all the things that everyone else does. Preachers are at pains to assure their hearers that ‘being a Christian does not mean that you have to give up your favourite pastimes’; that life does not change all that much. All that being a Christian means is that your sins are forgiven, you’re not on your way to hell, and you will be going to a church on Sundays and contributing some of your money to it. And even the hour or two you spend in the service is ‘fun’ too: for the emphasis these days is all too often on entertainment in the services, with bands, dancing, and showbiz personalities, and emotional ‘highs’.

What a perversion of the Word of God! BE YE SEPARATE, saith the Lord! Christians are called to a life of holiness. The Bible is clear: ‘have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them’ (Eph. 5:11). And vs.8 declares, ‘For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.’ As ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 Jn. 1:5), so his children are to walk as children of light, glorifying him. ‘If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie’ (1 Jn. 1:6). Reader, do you understand this? This verse condemns the professing ‘believer’, who says he is a child of God, but whose life is a life of darkness.

As 1 Pet. 2:9 says, ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ He who obeys not the command to be separate, gives no evidence that he is a child of God.
But let us examine this doctrine more closely. Are Christians to go out of the world physically, moving to some deserted island, or establishing monastic communities. Is this what separation means?

Not at all. If to be separate from the world meant that Christians had to literally remove their bodily presence from the vicinity of unbelievers, they would have to leave this planet (1 Cor. 5:10)! It is not only impossible, it would be contrary to the will of God. For Christians are to ‘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’ (Phil. 2:15). And the Lord Jesus specifically prayed to the Father: ‘I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil’ (Jn. 17:15). Christians are ‘in the midst’ of the world, not out of it. They are out of it spiritually, not physically. Christ prayed that the Father would keep the saints from the evil of the world, not remove them bodily from it. What glory would it be to God, if, at the moment of conversion, his saints were removed from the planet? But when, in the very midst of a crooked and perverse nation, the saints ‘love not the world, neither the things that are in the world’ (1 Jn. 2:15), this brings glory to God. When, surrounded on all sides by the ungodly, and by evil and temptation, the believer has no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reproves them, this is one of the greatest testimonies to the work of the grace of God in the salvation of a sinner. The time is yet to come when, at the resurrection, the saints will ‘meet the Lord in the air’ (1 Thess. 4:17), and be with him forever; but until then, we are called to be in the world, and yet not of it.

Christians, on a daily basis, are surrounded by evil. As they go about the everyday affairs of life, they are, like just Lot, ‘vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds’ (2 Pet. 2:7,8). Though they are tempted, and tempted sorely at times, their desire is to please their Lord. Oh, how often they fail to live separate from the world! Too often, they fall. But they long to please the Lord, and it grieves them when they grieve him. Those who profess to know the Lord, but who live in harmony with the world, do not know him, regardless of their profession. They fill the places of worship of Protestantism, but their lives are a stench to the Lord.

Christians should have nothing more to do with the world than what is necessary for life. There can be no fellowship, communion, concord, part, or agreement with the world. This is the clear meaning of this portion of God's Word: ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty’ (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Believers and unbelievers cannot be unequally yoked together. That is attempting to wed righteousness with unrighteousness, light with darkness, Christ with Belial. There is NO common ground between these opposites. Christ was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’, and as he was, the believer is to be (Heb. 7:26). John Newton put it this way: ‘though the providence of God hath given us callings and relations to fill up (in which we cannot be too exact), yet we are not of the world, but belong to another community, and act from other principles, by other rules, and to other ends, than the generality of those about us. I have observed, that the world will often leave professors in quiet possession of their notions and sentiments, and places of worship, provided they will not be too stiff in the matter of conformity with their more general customs and amusements.’ And further: ‘In our way of little life in the country, serious people often complain of the snares they meet with from worldly people, and yet they must mix with them to get a livelihood. I advise them, if they can, to do their business with the world as they do it in the rain. If their business calls them abroad, they will not leave it undone for fear of being a little wet; but then, when it is done, they presently seek shelter, and will not stand in the rain for pleasure: so providential and necessary calls of duty, that lead us into the world, will not hurt us, if we find the spirit of the world unpleasant, and are glad to retire from it, and keep out of it as much as our relative duties will permit’ (Letters of John Newton, Letter 30. Banner of Truth Trust).

We have business to do in this world. We are in it, we have to live, we have to use certain things in the world. We have to eat and have clothing, and to have these things we have to work; and this means that we have to mingle with the people of the world. Furthermore, the Lord has said, ‘Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matt. 5:14-16). We are to preach Christ to the lost, and we are to live Christ-like lives before them. We are to ‘go out into the streets and lanes’, and ‘into the highways and hedges’, bearing the glad tidings of salvation (Lk. 14:21,23). But the proclamation of the Gospel to the lost does not necessitate participation with them in their sinful deeds! That verse in 1 Cor. 9 is much abused in our day: ‘I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some’ (vs.22). >From all sides we hear the cry: ‘We have to be like them to win them.’ Thus we find so-called ‘Christian workers’ dressing like the world, listening to the world’s music, watching the world’s movies. We find professing ‘believers’ drinking socially with their unconverted neighbours and business associates (‘everything in moderation,’ they say). And why? All because of that heresy that says, ‘We have to be like them to win them.’ That is not the meaning of 1 Cor. 9:22 at all, and anyone who ‘rightly divides the Word’ will know that. Paul meant not that he joined the people of the world in their sinful practices, but that he became like them in harmless matters, when he knew that to do so would advance the cause of the Gospel. This verse no more teaches that Christians have to participate in evil, worldly things in order to gain the lost, than any other verse does. The real witness is when one who has become a ‘new creature’ in Christ forsakes the world and the things of the world, separates himself from it, has no fellowship with it, and lives a holy life before the Lord and before men. As in everything, the Lord Jesus Christ is the believer’s great example. How blameless was his life! How gracious his words! How innocent his conduct! He was in the world, but not of it. And that is how his disciples are to be.
Those who claim that Christians have to be like the world, in order to preach Christ to the world, do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God. For Scripture says, emphatically, ‘And be not conformed to this world’ (Rom. 12:2); and the power of God is that which saves, not the will of man (Psa. 110:3). Despite the fact that the man who lives a separated, holy life unto God is an oddity to the world, and despite the fact that those who conform to the world appear to have more success in ‘witnessing’ and ‘evangelism’, the standard is not to be lowered for the sake of ‘reaching the lost’. Multitudes are ‘won’ to what is called ‘Christianity’ by those who join hands with the world in the name of ‘evangelism’, but such ‘Christianity’ is a farce, a mockery, and bears no resemblance to the Christianity of the Bible; and the ‘converts’ of such ‘evangelism’ are not Christians. It matters not that many, even most, will look upon one who seeks to live a life of separation from the world as a madman, a ‘fanatic’, an absurdity; it matters only that the Christian glorifies his Lord. Salvation is not in the power of man, and believers do not have to ‘meet the world half-way’ for their message to be acceptable to the lost. High as the standard is, great as the cost is, those whom the Lord has elected unto salvation will be saved in God’s appointed time, for salvation is of the Lord, and not by the will of man.
The Christian is to please God, and not men. And if, in pleasing God, he offends man; if, in pleasing God, he is mocked and ridiculed by man; yet he will rejoice in that great day that, like Enoch, ‘he had this testimony, that he pleased God’ (Heb. 11:5).

‘Wherefore COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM, AND BE YE SEPARATE, saith the Lord’ (2 Cor. 6:17).

Shaun Willcock is a minister of the Gospel. He lives in South Africa and runs Bible Based Ministries. For other pamphlets (which may be downloaded and printed), as well as details about his books, audio messages, news articles, etc., please visit the Bible Based Ministries website, or write to the address below. If you would like to be on Bible Based Ministries’ electronic mailing list, please send your details.

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