Separation (Part 1)
This study follows on from the study on “The World in the Bible”. Having seen how God feels about the world we will have a desire to separate from it so that we can be pleasing to Him. This is when we begin to feel very keenly the need for the help of the Holy Spirit and His power because we soon find that the world’s ethos is entrenched in all that we do. This is also when we meet difficult situations as other ridicule us for placing God above our old pleasures. This study looks at why we should be separated to God.
Why do we need to be separate?
Having seen that we live in a world that is characteristically set against honouring God we have to consider what the Bible says about what this means for us as Christians in our daily lives. The Lord Jesus says quite clearly, when praying to the Father about us, that his followers “are not of the world, as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). He did not ask for us to be removed from the world (i.e. earth) because we are to tell the good news to the whole world (i.e. it’s people) so that many more might be saved. “As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). A Christian now belongs to a heavenly kingdom and so we have been sent into the world of which we are no longer part so that we might witness to what is righteous and proclaim God’ way of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Jesus asked that we should be preserved from falling into evil. “I do not demand that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them out of evil. They are not of the world, as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16). He knew He was sending his followers into a world that is full of evil that would try and dislodge their faith and destroy their testimony so He asked that the Father would keep them from falling under its influence. His desire was that His people would be united with Him while on earth, just as they will be when they reach heaven. Christians cannot be united with Christ and be in the world because the Lord Jesus is no longer in the world. A Christian’s desire is to be with Christ and so the world that rejected Him, gave Him no honour and put Him on a cross has no attractiveness any longer. “And I am no longer in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name which thou hast given me, that they may be one as we” (John 17:11).
The purpose of this Christian unity with the Lord Jesus in heaven is that we might be an effective witness of the righteousness, holiness and love of the Lord Jesus. He says that He desires for Christians “that they may be all one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). If we are true to the Lord Jesus, then people will see that we are different. This in itself will become a witness that the Lord Jesus, having so evidently changed our lives, must have been sent from God.
“For this cause, even as by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death; and thus death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until law sin was in the world; but sin is not put to account when there is no law” (Romans 5:12-13).
We have already seen that the world is characterised by sin. Mankind has rebelled against God and rejected Him as the king over their lives. The ultimate act of this rebellion was the rejection of God’s Son by nailing Him to a cross of wood so that He would die. In this act of apparent weakness and defeat the Lord Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin and the punishment for our sins. He broke the power of death and rose from amongst the dead. The world is still characterised by sin and this is why the only way of salvation is repentance. God gave the Law to some who said that they would do whatever God said yet the Law exposed the sinfulness of man the gap that existed between God and Man.
“But far be it from me to boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Paul says that he has died (or been crucified) to the world and it to him. He has no more interest in the world and finds greatest pleasure in telling others about the Lord Jesus.
We have seen already that Christians are different from the world that surrounds them. “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world, that he may put to shame the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world, that he may put to shame the strong things; and the ignoble things of the world, and the despised, has God chosen, and things that are not, that he may annul the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). The world thinks little of a true Christian but this exposes how different God and mankind really are. The world thinks the opposite of God in so many cases. As a Christian we need to recognise this. “We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which have been freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). We are not the same as others in the world. We are different because we have God’s Spirit in us. If we are living in God’s presence then it will be obvious to others that we are different and, as we have noted already, they won’t like it.
Separation in the Old Testament
Separation from the world is not a new thing. God chose Israel as a special people through which He would make known His name upon the earth. “For thou hast separated them from among all peoples of the earth, to be thine inheritance, as thou spokest through Moses thy servant, when thou broughtest our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord Jehovah” (1 Kings 8:53).
We will not dwell here on their failure to live up to that commission. However, God gave then a number of things to do that would keep them from being tainted with the thoughts and practices of the wicked peoples who were in the land of Canaan already. “And I have said unto you, Ye shall possess their land, and I will give it unto you for a possession; a land flowing with milk and honey: I am Jehovah your God, who have separated you from the peoples. And ye shall make a separation between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean fowl and the clean, and ye shall not make yourselves an abomination by beast, or by fowl, or by anything that creepeth on the ground which I have separated for you, declaring it as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me; for I Jehovah am holy, and have separated you from the peoples to be mine” (Leviticus 20:24-26). It was when they failed to do this that they engaged in idolatry and lost the blessings that God had promised them if they kept His Law.
Aaron, Moses’ brother, was separated from others so that he would be only for the service of God: “And Aaron was separated, that he should be hallowed as most holy, he and his sons for ever, to offer before Jehovah, to do service to him, and to bless in his name for ever” (1 Chronicles 23:13). This shows that we, as a “kingly priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), are to be separate to enable us to serve Him effectively.
Then, when some of the Israelites returned to the land of Judah after seventy years they had had to spend in captivity for the sins of their people they had to make sure their lives were in accordance with God’s Law. “And now make confession to Jehovah the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure, and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the foreign wives” (Ezra 10:11). “And it came to pass, when they heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude” (Nehemiah 13:3). They had seen what awful sin and subsequent judgement had resulted from the influence of mixing with the idolatrous peoples of the land and so they had to separate themselves so that they could be a holy nation.
Separation today: Why should we be separate from the World?
Firstly, because we have died with Christ. Peter describes the great promises of God “Through which he has given to us the greatest and precious promises, that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). “What then shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far be the thought. We who have died to sin, how shall we still live in it? Are you ignorant that we, as many as have been baptised unto Christ Jesus, have been baptised unto his death?” (Romans 6:1-3). We have realised the terrible nature and consequence of our sins. We have begged God for mercy and it has been granted to us because Jesus has borne the punishment for us. We have been given the divine nature so that we should have God’s spirit. How could we then, having seen the greatness of the sacrifice made to redeem us from such an horrendous burden, go back to living in the sins that so condemned us.
Secondly, because we are now children of God: “See what love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God. For this reason the world knows us not, because it knew him not” (1 John 3:1). Having become God’s children, we are to have the same spirit and desires as our heavenly Father even as we are now identified with Him. “What agreement of God's temple with idols? for ye are the living God's temple; according as God has said, I will dwell among them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be to me a people. Wherefore come out from the midst of them, and be separated, saith the Lord, and touch not what is unclean, and I will receive you; and I will be to you for a Father, and ye shall be to me for sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (1 Corinthians 6:16-18).
Thirdly, because we will judge the world: “Do ye not then know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy of the smallest judgments?” (1 Corinthians 6:2). How can we live in the world’s things when we have recognised the evil of it and will one day be with Christ as it is judged, judging it with Him as worthy of destruction.
Fourthly, being friendly with the world means joining with the enemies of God: “Adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore is minded to be the friend of the world is constituted enemy of God” (James 4:4). We are either with God and against the world or with the world and going against God. No Christian would ever desire to stand against God in anything.
Fifthly, the world is full of deceivers: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh—this is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 1:7). These deceivers may claim to be anything, even fellow Christians, but it will be obvious what they are by what they think of the Lord Jesus. If they deny that Jesus is God’s Son and our Lord and Saviour then they are not of Christ and we must be separate from them, appealing to them to be saved.
So, we have to live as God’s children in an evil world that does not value the Lord Jesus. We have been given tremendous promises and a wonderful hope of seeing Christ. “And every one that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). We know the holiness, righteousness and glory of God because it condemned us in our sins. We have found His love to be even capable of saving us when we repented. Therefore, our desire is to be more like Him so that we can please Him and so we desire to be as pure as possible and not allow the world’s influence to get into our lives to deflect us from God. However, God may have to pass us through discipline to help us to see and remove things from our lives that have come in from the world. “But being judged, we are disciplined of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). We might be disciplined but it is for our good so that we might be free from the world which will soon come under God’s judgement. “But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Separation in ‘the Church’
From the scriptures already mentioned we can see the necessity for Christians and the Church to be separate from the world. It would be nice if the line to be drawn was as simple as that. However, in the epistles that were written later on in the New Testament we find warnings about things that were happening within the Church and even an instruction to separate from iniquity that had been found amongst Christians. Paul warned the elders from Ephesus “Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own. For I know this, that there will come in amongst you after my departure grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them. Wherefore watch” (Acts 20:28-31). There were people from within the Church who would become prominent and gather a following after their own teaching and not promoting Christ. Likewise, John warned us saying “Little children, it is the last hour, and, according as ye have heard that antichrist comes, even now there have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour. They went out from among us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have surely remained with us, but that they might be made manifest that none are of us” (1 John 2:18-19). He goes on to say that we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit to enable us to discern between those promoting the Lord Jesus and those promoting themselves or their own form of teaching. Then Jude says “I have been obliged to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) indicating that Christians have to defend the true faith from what Satan would try to get added to it. John even warns the elect lady in his second epistle “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, they who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in flesh—this is the deceiver and the antichrist … If any one come to you and bring not this doctrine [of the Father and the Son], do not receive him into the house, and greet him not; for he who greets him partakes in his wicked works” (2 John 1:7 and 10-11).
So we are to be on our guard and watching, lest Satan is able to lead us or other Christians away from the Lord Jesus and the faith which was delivered once to the saints that has no need of amendment or anything added to it. Some of the warnings given to us are:
“And every spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ come in flesh is not of God: and this is that power of the antichrist, of which ye have heard that it comes, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).
“And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge” (1 Corinthians 14:29). Paul shows that we need to test everything that is said to the church to ensure that it really is of God.
“See that there be no one who shall lead you away as a prey through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the teaching of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, if they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
“If ye have died with Christ from the elements of the world, why as if alive in the world do ye subject yourselves to ordinances?” (Colossians 2:20). We are not to fall back on rules and traditions for that promotes the pride of mankind and not the glory of God in having saved us by mercy through His love alone.
“Lay hands quickly on no man, nor partake in others' sins. Keep thyself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). In other words, don’t approve anyone for service or fellowship quickly until you know that they are definitely committed to the Lord Jesus and saved by Him.
Then, we come to one final type of separation found in 2 Timothy. Paul warns Timothy that two men had led astray a large number of Christians in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He encourages Timothy by saying that those who had been led astray were not lost and that their actions did not mean that they weren’t saved. “Yet the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, The Lord knows those that are his; and, Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity” (2 Timothy 2:19). Yet, he says that if the followers of these men would not listen to the appeals of those who were true to Christ then they would have to separate from them so that they could continue to worship God with pure hearts. Describing Christendom as a great house he says that there are many vessels and utensils but not all of them are honouring God. “But in a great house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also wooden and earthen; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If therefore one shall have purified himself from these, in separating himself from them, he shall be a vessel to honour, sanctified, serviceable to the Master, prepared for every good work. But youthful lusts flee, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:20-22).
Separation within the Church has always been hard. Essentially, we must always be on our guard to ensure that we are free to honour God and Him alone. We cannot just relax and let down our guard simply because we are surrounded by Christians. We must watch and be ready to refute the attempts of Satan to bring the attitudes of the world system into our thinking or practice. We should seek to be a “vessel to honour” and find others who call on the name of the Lord with a pure heart. There are many that call on the name of the Lord, but not necessarily with a pure heart. However, if we ever have to leave a group of Christians because of some unjudged and unrepentant iniquity Paul goes on to say, “And a bondman of the Lord ought not to contend, but be gentle towards all; apt to teach; forbearing; in meekness setting right those who oppose, if God perhaps may sometime give them repentance to acknowledgment of the truth, and that they may awake up out of the snare of the devil, who are taken by him, for his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). In other words, we shouldn’t cut them off in a harsh way but rather, while not accepting what is wrong, we should continue to show love to them and appeal to them to set things right in meekness and patience.