In a few densely packed, carefully chosen words, Jesus spoke a powerful and life-altering reality: his disciples (us, therefore) would be in the world but not of it, in the same way he was not of it (in John 17). Every generation of believers since that prayer was prayed has had to figure out how their not-of-this-world lives were to be lived in their day, in their culture. We are not exempt from this puzzle. And given our knowledge of the 21st Century world, we see clearly that it is not a one-size-fits-all kind of figuring out.

We live in the Western World surrounded by the opulence that capitalism puts on display (and which, true confession here, we do appreciate, do we not?), with its slickly advertised lusting for more, for the best, for the latest and greatest, for what “I” deserve now. One survey estimates annual US spending on marketing and media coverage at over 500 billion dollars (just one example: the cost of a 30-second spot during a Super Bowl game in 2024 was $7 million dollars). The allure of this incessant barrage saturates us to our bone marrow and stokes our egocentric, fallen nature, rendering unbiased purchasing decisions next to impossible. Is this ‘in’ or ‘not of’?

Maybe Paul was faced with a similar conundrum in his day, when, in Romans 7, he bares his soul for us, ultimately crying out: “What an agonizing situation I am in! So, who has the power to rescue this miserable man from the unwelcome intruder of sin and death (AKA riches and narcissism?)?” Romans 7:4, TPT. Come to think of it, maybe every generation has been faced with this dilemma, regardless of the specifics. Could this be the ongoing spiritual warfare?

This same Paul will also write: “Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16,17, TPT. Could this have been his ‘battle strategy’ counteracting his struggle in Romans 7? Could he have been aware that every one of us would ‘hit the wall’ and need an exit strategy?

I think another battle plan is found in Hebrews 10:23-25, TPT: “So now wrap your heart tightly around the hope that lives within us, knowing that God always keeps his promises! Discover creative ways to encourage others and to motivate them towards acts of compassion, doing beautiful works as expressions of love. This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing. In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning.” Maybe these verses speak the essence of not-of-this-world lives. Maybe whatever else we give ourselves to, or whatever concerns or causes we take up, can be more safely included only within the practice described in these verses.  PD

ps  One final, faith-boosting reference: 

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