Why the World Cannot Receive
“The Christian faith, based upon the New Testament, teaches the complete antithesis between the Church and the world.
“The trouble with most of Christianity today is that we have tried to bridge the gulf between two opposites—the world and the Church—and have performed an illicit marriage for which there is no biblical authority. Actually, no real union between the world and the Church is possible. When the Church joins up with the world it is the true Church no longer but only a pitiful hybrid thing, an object of smiling contempt to the world and an abomination to the Lord.
“The mixture of darkness and light in which many (or should we say most?) believers walk today is not caused by any vagueness on the part of the scriptures. Nothing could be plainer than the pronouncements of the Scriptures on the Christian’s relation to the world. The confusion results from the unwillingness of professing Christians to take the Word of the Lord seriously. Christianity is so entangled with the world that millions never guess how radically they have missed the New Testament pattern. Compromise is everywhere. The world is whitewashed just enough to pass inspection by blind men posing as believers, and those same believers are everlastingly seeking to gain acceptance with the world. By mutual concessions men who call themselves Christians manage to get along with men who have for the things of God nothing but quiet contempt.
“This whole thing is spiritual in its essence. A Christian is what he is, not by theological ideology, but by the new birth. He is a Christian because of a Spirit which dwells in him. Only that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. The flesh can never be converted into spirit, no matter how many church dignitaries work on it. Confirmation, baptism, communion, confession of faith—none of these nor all of them together can turn flesh into spirit nor make a son of Adam a son of God.
“‘Because you are sons,’ wrote Paul to the Galatians, ‘God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father’ (Galatians 4:6).
“And to the Corinthians he wrote: ‘Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith; test your own selves. Don’t you know that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are reprobates? (2 Corinthians 13:5).
“And to the Romans: ‘But you are not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).
“That terrible zone of confusion so evident in the whole life of the Christian community could be cleared up in one day if the followers of Christ would begin to follow Christ instead of each other. For our Lord was very plain in His teaching about the believer and the world.
“On one occasion, after receiving unsolicited and carnal advice from sincere but unenlightened brethren, our Lord replied:
“‘My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you; but me it hates, because I testify that its deeds are evil’ (John 7:6-7).
“He identified His fleshly brethren with the world and said that they and He were of two different spirits. The world hated Him but could not hate them because it could not hate itself. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Adam’s house must remain loyal to itself or it will tear itself apart. Though the sons of the flesh may quarrel among themselves, they are at bottom one with each other. It is when the Spirit of God comes in that an alien element has entered. The Lord said to His disciples:
“‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; yet because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you’ (John 15:18-19).
“Paul explained to the Galatians the difference between the slave child and the free: ‘The child born after the flesh always persecutes the child born of the Spirit. It is the same now’ (Galatians 4:29).
“So throughout the entire New Testament a sharp line is drawn between the Church and the world. There is no middle ground. The Lord recognizes no good-natured ‘agreeing to disagree’ so that the followers of the Lamb may adopt the world’s ways and travel along the world’s path. The gulf between the true Christian and the world is as great as that which separated the rich man and Lazarus. And furthermore, it is the same gulf, that is, it is the gulf that divides the world of ransomed from the world of fallen men.
“I well know and feel deeply, how offensive such teaching as this must be to the great flock of worldlings which mills around the traditional sheepfold. I cannot hope to escape the charge of bigotry and intolerance which will undoubtedly be brought against me by the confused religionists who seek to make themselves sheep by association. But we may as well face the hard truth that men do not become Christians by associating with church people, nor by religious contact, nor by religious education; they become Christians only by an invasion of their nature by the Spirit of God in the new birth. And when they do become Christians they are immediately members of a new race, a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people...which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God (1Pet. 2:9-10).
“In the verses quoted, there has been no wish to quote out of context nor to focus attention upon one side of truth to draw it away from another. The teaching of these passages is altogether one with all New Testament truth. It is as if we dipped a cup of water from the sea. What we took out would not be all the water in the ocean, but it would be a true sample and would perfectly agree with the rest.
“The difficulty we modern Christians face is not misunderstanding the Bible, but persuading our untamed hearts to accept its plain instructions. Our problem is to get the consent of our world-loving minds to make Jesus Lord in fact as well as in word. For it is one thing to say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and quite another thing to obey the Lord’s commandments. We may sing, ‘Crown Him Lord of All,’ and rejoice in the tones of the loud-sounding organ and the deep melody of harmonious voices, but still we have done nothing until we have left the world and set our faces toward the city of God in hard practical reality. When faith becomes obedience, then it is true faith indeed.
“The world’s spirit is strong, and it clings to us as close as the smell of smoke to our garments. It can change its face to suit any circumstance and so deceive many a simple Christian whose senses are not exercised to discern good and evil. It can play at religion with every appearance of sincerity. It can have fits of conscience (particularly during Lent) and even confess its evil ways in the public press. It will praise religion and fawn on the Church for its goals. It will contribute to charitable causes and promote campaigns to furnish clothing for the poor. Only let Christ keep His distance and never assert His Lordship over it. This it will positively not endure. And toward the true Spirit of Christ it will show only antagonism. The world’s press will seldom give a child of God a fair deal. If the facts compel a favorable report, the tone is apt to be condescending and ironic. The note of contempt sounds through.
“Both the sons of this world and the sons of God have been baptized into a spirit, but the spirit of the world and the Spirit, which dwells in the hearts of twice-born men are as far apart as heaven and hell. Not only are they the complete opposite of each other, but they are sharply antagonistic to each other as well. To a son of earth, the things of the Spirit are either ridiculous, in which case he is amused, or they are meaningless, in which case he is bored.
“‘But the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14).
“In the first epistle of John, two words are used over and over, the words ‘they’ and ‘ye,’ and they designate two wholly different worlds. ‘They’ refers to the men and women of Adam’s fallen world; ‘ye’ refers to the chosen ones who have left all to follow Christ. The apostle does not pay homage to the little god ‘Tolerance’ (the worship of which has become in America a kind of secondary surface religion); he is bluntly intolerant. He knows that tolerance may be merely another name for indifference.
“It takes a vigorous faith to accept the teaching of the man John. It is so much easier to blur the lines of separation and so offend no one. Pious generalities and the use of ‘we’ to mean both Christians and unbelievers are much safer. The fatherhood of God can be stretched to include everyone from Jack-the-Ripper to Daniel the Prophet. Thus no one is offended and everyone feels quite snug and ready for heaven. But the man who laid his ear on Jesus’ breast was not so easily deceived. He drew a line to divide the race of men into two camps, to separate the saved from the lost; those who shall rise to eternal reward, from them that shall sink to final despair. On one side are ‘they’ that know not God; on the other ‘ye,’ and between the two is a moral gulf too wide for any man to cross.
“Here is the way John states it: ‘You are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world; therefore they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. We are of God, he that knows God listens to us; he that is not of God does not listen to us. This is how we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error’ (1 John 4:4-6).
“Such language as this is too plain to confuse anyone who honestly wants to know the truth. Our problem is not one of understanding, I repeat, but of faith and obedience. The question is not a theological one, ‘What does this teach?’ It is a moral one, ‘Am I willing to accept this and abide by its consequences?’ Can I endure the cold stare? Have I the courage to stand up to the slashing attack of the ‘liberal’? Dare I invite the hate of men who will be affronted by my attitude? Have I independence of mind sufficient to challenge the opinions of popular religion and go along with an apostle? Or briefly, can I bring myself to take up the cross with its blood and its reproach?
“The Christian is called to separation from the world, but we must be sure we know what we mean (or more important, what God means) by the world. We are likely to make it mean something external only and thus miss its real meaning. The theater, liquor, gambling—these are not the world; they are merely an external manifestation of the world. Our warfare is not against merely an external manifestation of the world. Our warfare is not against mere worldly ways, but against the spirit of the world. For man, whether he is saved or lost, is essentially spirit.
“The world, in the New Testament meaning of the word, is simply unregenerate human nature wherever it is found, whether in a tavern or in a church. Whatever springs out of, is built upon or receives support from fallen human nature is the world, whether it is morally wicked or morally respectable.
“The ancient Pharisees, in spite of their zealous devotion to religion, were of the very essence of the world. The spiritual principles upon which they built their system were drawn not from above but from below. They employed against Jesus the tactics of men. They bribed men to tell lies in defense of truth. To defend God, they acted like devils. To support the Bible, they defied the teachings of the Bible. They scuttled religion to save religion. They gave rein to blind hate in the name of the religion of love. There we see the world in all of its grim defiance of God. So fierce was this spirit that it never rested till it had put to death the Son of God Himself. The spirit of the Pharisees was actively and maliciously hostile to the Spirit of Jesus as each was a kind of distillation of the two worlds from whence they came.
“Those present-day teachers who place the Sermon on the Mount in some other dispensation than this and so release the Church from its teachings little realize the evil they do. For the Sermon on the Mount gives in brief the characteristics of the kingdom of renewed men. The blessed poor who mourn for their sins and thirst after righteousness are true sons of the kingdom. In meekness they show mercy to their enemies; with guileless candor they gaze upon God; surrounded by persecutors they bless and curse not. In modesty they hide their good deeds. They go out of their way to agree with their adversaries and forgive those who sin against them. They serve God in secret in the depth of their hearts and wait with patience for His open reward. They freely surrender their earthly goods rather than use violence to protect them. They lay up treasures in heaven. They avoid praise and wait for the day of final reckoning to learn who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“If this is a fairly accurate view of things, what can we say then when Christian men vie with one another for place and position? What can we answer when we see them hungrily seeking for praise and honor? How can we excuse the passion for publicity, which is so glaringly evident among Christian leaders? What about political ambition in Church circles? What about the fevered palm that is stretched out for more and bigger ‘love offerings’? What about the shameless egotism among Christians? How can we explain the gross man worship that habitually blows up one and another popular leader to the size of colossus? What about the obsequious hand kissing of moneyed men by those purporting to be sound preachers of the gospel?
“There is only one answer to these questions; it is simply that in these manifestations we see the world and nothing but the world. No passionate profession of love for ‘souls’ can change evil into good. These are the very sins that crucified Jesus.
“It is true also that the grosser manifestations of fallen human nature are part of the kingdom of this world. Organized amusements with their emphasis upon shallow pleasure, the great empires built upon vicious and unnatural habits, unrestrained abuse of normal appetites, the artificial world called ‘high society’—these are all of the world. They are all part of that which is flesh, which builds upon flesh and must perish with the flesh. And from these things the Christian must flee. All these he must put behind him and in them he must have no part. Against them he must stand quietly but firmly without compromise and without fear.
“So whether the world presents itself in its uglier aspects or in its subtler and more refined forms, we must recognize it for what it is and repudiate it bluntly. We must do this if we would walk with God in our generation as Enoch did in his. A clean break with the world is imperative.
“‘You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know not that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Whoever therefore, that is a friend of the world is the enemy of God’ (James 4:4).
“‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world’ (1 John 2:15-16).
“These words of God are not before us for our consideration; they are there for our obedience and we have no right to claim the title of Christian unless we follow them.
“For myself, I fear any kind of religious stir among Christians that does not lead to repentance and result in a sharp separation of the believer from the world. I am suspicious of any organized revival effort that is forced to play down the hard terms of the kingdom. No matter how attractive the movement may appear, if it is not founded in righteousness and nurtured in humility it is not of God. If it exploits the flesh, it is a religious fraud and should not have the support of any God-fearing Christian. Only that is of God, which honors the Spirit and prospers at the expense of the human ego. ‘That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord’ (1Cor. 1:31).”