the shape of leadership

In But Not Of

Equipping young adults to navigate the world faithfully

Kent Ingle on May 6, 2024

There’s a phrase we often hear as Christians — we need to be “in the world but not of it.” Desiring God author David Matthis attributes this phrase to being derived from John 17:16, where Christ tells His followers, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”

To be separated from the secular world, we must be different and apart from it. But being “not of the world” does not mean we shouldn’t be in it or among nonbelievers. 

Christ says the opposite. He sends us into the world as God sent Him into it (John 17:8). Matthis notes that “being ‘not of the world’ isn’t the destination in these verses but the starting place.” He argues that we’re not supposed to be fighting to get out of the world. Rather, Christ intentionally sent us into it.

When faced with the division, hatred, and difficult realities of a secular culture, it can be tempting for us (and young adults) to withdraw into our Christian spheres. We may even pray for God to remove us from the challenges of certain environments.

However, Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not that you (God) take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

Our goal should be to pray for God to protect young adults in non-Christian environments and encourage them to be the light in dark places.

But how do we do that?


Remember Who Sets Them Apart

For young adults to show Christ in the world, they must be set apart from it. Paul tells us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Christ sent us into the world, even among those who hate Him, to show His love and lead others to Him.

The word “renewal” in this passage may give us the idea that it is something we must do on our own. By our efforts to be better Christians, we can somehow be more like Christ. However, in the original Greek, the word for renewal is the noun anakainósis which means “a renewal or change of heart and life” that is “achieved by God’s power.”

This specific noun is only used one other time throughout the New Testament, in the book of Titus. It says that God saved us not because of our works but by “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

We must remind young adults Christ is the one who sanctifies them “by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Encourage them to spend time reading the Word. Remind them to invite the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself as they read and pray for Him to renew their hearts and minds through His Word.


Remember to Love Their Enemies

Christ never said being in the world would be easy. He said we would face persecution from others for believing in Him. In John 17:14, Jesus said, “the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”

Young adults may experience feeling less loved by their nonbelieving friends and family members, or not welcomed and accepted at social gatherings because of their faith. However, Christ calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” When young adults are treated differently, made fun of, or rejected by their friends and family for following Christ, the enemy isn’t their loved ones — it’s Satan.

Encourage young adults to pray in the Spirit and invite Christ into these situations. Prompt them to ask for wisdom and prayer from their church families and pray for their loved ones to encounter Christ.


Remember How Christ Saved Them

Many of us remember when we first came to Christ. We were saved because of God’s love for us, even when we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:4-5).

We must encourage young adults to remember who they were before they encountered Christ. We were all lost, just as the world is now. But God loves the lost (and searches for them) as He loves us — enough to send His Son to die on the cross so that no one would perish (Matthew 18:14).

Through Christ’s example, young adults can love those around them. Encourage them to ask Christ for help seeing the lost as He does and provide wisdom on how to best love and serve the lost.

Christ sent us into the world, even among those who hate Him, to show His love and lead others to Him. We must remind young adults to not give up hope in reaching the lost. When they encounter those who mistreat and reject them, they can respond in love and know that Christ has already overcome the world (John 16:33).
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