Frowning, I rifled through the clothes hanging in my closet. Despite the many things I had to choose from, nothing felt quite “right” for the occasion. My husband and I were preparing for an event with a group of people that often stirred up my insecurities. On the surface they seemed so flawless to me with their fashionable clothes, successful careers and beautiful homes. Any time I was around them I felt like an outsider pretending that I belonged.
After choosing an outfit that seemed marginally acceptable, I sat down to work on Day 5 in Kelly Minter’s What Love Is Bible study. Conviction pricked at my heart as I read: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NIV)
I thought about the people I’d be seeing in a few hours. Most of them had achieved great success from a worldly perspective, yet they knew nothing of God. They had no clue about what it meant to live for what lasts. I felt convicted realizing I’d been so busy preparing my clothes to fit in with them that I’d forgotten to prepare my heart so that God could use me to impact them.
Navigating the divide between worldiness and godliness is tricky for followers of Jesus. How do we interpret Scriptures that condemn worldly thinking when we have to interact with people who embrace it every day? I think there are three main ways Christians respond to this.
The Covert Christian
There is a contingent of believers that engages easily with non-believers in worldly situations. Sometimes they become so adept at fitting in, no one would ever know they held different beliefs than the rest of the crowd. Their reasons for doing this are varied—some are insecure and afraid to stand out, others don’t want to be labeled or judged, still others want to remain culturally relevant to show the world that Christians aren’t a bunch of weirdos. Some aren’t confident in their knowledge of Scripture or their ability to defend their faith and decide it’s just easier to stay quiet. And some just want to have fun and ignore deeper issues. (Most of my knowledge with this category comes from first hand experience.)
There is an appropriate time and place to be subtle in our faith. Developing a relationship over time and letting a person see Jesus in your life can be a powerful and effective witness. However, many covert Christians never reach this point because they’ve become so adept at blending in, no one sees anything different in them. For the “covert” approach to work effectively, it’s important to pray for the people in the worldly circles you frequent. If you’ve compartmentalized your faith and it only shows with your Christian friends, your unbelieving friends are missing out. Pray and look for opportunities to influence your worldly friends and acquaintances more than they are influencing you.
The Holy Huddler
Another contingent of believers chooses to remove themselves from the world and its influences as much as possible. They prefer to create a bubble of comfort that insulates them from anything they see as a threat to their faith. They spend time with only Christians doing Christian activities. They keep their kids away from any exposure to the outside world or people with views that differ from theirs.
While the Bible does call us to be “set apart, ” there is a problem when we take this mentality to an extreme. Our lives should look different when we follow Jesus, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid anyone who doesn’t know him. On the contrary, we should be seeking opportunities to influence them. John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in Scripture, tells us that God loved the world so much he sent his only son to save it. If God was willing to do this, then we need to follow his example by reaching out to the world. Holy huddles can be comfortable places to find rejuvenation when the world makes us weary, but we aren’t meant to remain in them indefinitely.
The Intentional Influencer
A Christian with this mindset has a healthy balance between pursuing godliness and impacting the world. They are growing deep in Christian relationships and continually being sharpened and challenged so they can engage the world effectively. They look at their involvements in secular activities as opportunities to develop relationships with non-believers, with the ultimate goal of showing them God’s love and leading them toward a relationship with him. Intentional influencers know they need to work in concert with other believers so they can use their different gifts to impact a community. They realize they need others to pray with them strategically and to partner with them for greater impact in the world.
Intentional influencers are living proof of Jesus’ prayer for all believers: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23, NIV)
A Final Thought
Depending on circumstances, you may cycle through each of these perspectives at different times in your life. If one of the descriptions made you squirm with discomfort, take some time to pray and ask God how to respond. Let him know you’re open to his perspective and that you’re willing to change with his help.
For some great examples of what it looks like to live a life of impact and influence for God, click on the link and listen to “God is On the Move” by 7enventh Time Down.
*This blog was inspired by Week 2 in Kelly Minter’s study on 1,2 & 3 John entitled What Love Is (Lifeway Press, 2014).