By Faith Burnside
The Bible speaks frequently about believers being separate from the non-believing world, in Romans 12:2 we are told to “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
There are a number of verses throughout the Bible telling us to be holy as God is holy (Lev 11:44-45, 1 Peter 1:16, Lev 20:7), that our bodies belong to God (Rom 12:1, 1 Cor 6:19), and that we are no longer in the flesh (Gal 5:16, Rom 8:4-9, Rom 6:6). All of these verses are used to show that God intends for His children to be different than those who do not believe.
This concept is further demonstrated by God’s commands to Israel to not intermarry with other nations and to destroy the evil peoples living in the Promise Land, and of course, the command to not be unequally yoked with the unbeliever. All of these verses fairly firmly establish that God expects more from believers and wants to bring us towards holiness.
Over the centuries of Christianity, this has been practiced in various ways, from the cloistering of nuns and monks to the plain speech and dress of the Quakers, to committed abstinence from drinking and gambling. Christians have strived to separate themselves from the world in so many ways. Today, separation from the world can look very different for every person, to some it is plain dress, to some, it is not watching worldly movies or swearing, and to others, it just means not using God’s name in vain or fornicating.
Taking all of the previously mentioned verses and opinions into account, one is left with the question: what is right?
To what extent do I need to go in order to follow God and be sufficiently separated from the world? Is there a danger in being so separate that you cannot talk to the lost and be a witness? Is it okay to watch movies/read books that have ‘bad things’ in them? Are some bad things okay in movies/books but not others? Is this standard I have set up for myself just a legalism that I have attached to the Gospel?
We see through 2,000 years of church history that these questions cannot be fully answered without question, there are certain verses that can be used as a standard. While not directed to the Church specifically, the 10 commandments are good principles by which to live one's life, likewise, Psalms and Proverbs have many excellent principles about wise living.
Much of James as a wisdom book, includes rules or guidelines for living, as do most of the Epistles (1 Thess 5:8-22,).
However, in these days when our thought life is such a prominent part of our lives, I think that one of the most important verses to focus on in being separate from the world is Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
If we focus our thoughts on the things that God wants us to be focused on, we will begin to live correctly. God is more concerned about our hearts and motivations than in our self-imposed rules. As the Bible says “...for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. “ Matthew 12:34. What is in our minds and hearts manifests itself in our lives. We are told, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2
I contend that if we obey God in the renewing of our minds and take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5), the issue of separation will rectify itself, largely without the issue of legalism that so often rears its head.