Do you know why the majority of American people turn up their noses at religion and refuse to have anything to do with it?
You have probably been taught most of your life that it is necessary to give up everything that is good, everything that is fun, in order to become “saved.” This is the common conception of salvation, and most people take it for granted to be true without every questioning it.
The churches paint Christianity as a morbid religion with a God who demands penance and suffering from poor helpless mortals. Life, to many professing Christians, is unhappy, un-comfortable, drab, and poverty stricken. Salvation is looked upon as the reward for enduring all this misery that the Father imposes on us.
What kind of God is it that this common teaching portrays? Is it any wonder that most people don’t want to turn to God? If people could only understand that conversion is not a matter of “just how much do I have to give up”! Jesus came that we might have life, of course, but He also came that we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Christ came to call us out of this world’s troubled conditions, to bring us a life filled with interest, with zeal, and with usefulness. He did not tell us to bend our backs under a mountain of human woe and suffering! Or to do penance and live in poverty and misery!
Conversion does not mean to cast all material things aside. Instead, conversion makes possible for the first time our intelligent use of the material creation. Jesus Christ did not say: “Throw material wealth and all physical pleasures away and seek only the Kingdom of God.” Notice what He did say: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
So it is not the giving up of these things that is so important, it is the attitude toward them! Seek first the kingdom of God, and then (secondarily in importance) shall these things be added to you! We are here to learn how to use the material world, not to abuse it. We are here to learn how to be happy and how to make others happy, too.
The only true way to happiness is set forth in God’s revelation to man, the Bible. And the very first step to finding real happiness is described by Paul in his letter to the Romans, when he said: "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" (Rom 12:2).
Notice, here is the very starting point on the way to salvation! To come out of this world! Not to be conformed to its way, but to become like God by learning and practicing His will.
Everywhere in the Bible the newly converted person is com-pared to a little baby who is completely dependent on its parents for life and protection. For the protection, then, of each newly begotten member in God’s family, the Heavenly Father intended that each of us should be “set apart” and separated from the ways of this present evil world. It keeps us from the dangerous influences that are hidden everywhere. God knows it is the only way that we can “put on the new man,” develop spiritually, change from one person to another in character (Eph. 4:24).
But does this mean that we are to absolve all contact with the outside world? How are we to come out of this world’s society and customs and still live in this world?
The process of conversion is not an easy task! Jesus said that he came to bring a sword on earth, not peace! (Matt. 10:34). The sword is the sharp two-edged cutting Word of God, His truth! This word, this sword, hurts the carnal mind. It causes discomfort to those who are following their natural desires, and who want to do what seems right to them.
And who are those usually most concerned when they discover that you have turned away from this present world? Why, it is your own family and relatives, of course! Jesus prophesied it! He said the truth would set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and that a man’s foes would be those of his own household! (Matt. 10:35-36).
That is the real meaning behind the command to come out of this world. The very purpose which God has in this command to be separate from the world is to test our strength and our faith. If other people in the outside world begin to persecute you, and berate you for your religion, would you be troubled too much? Somewhat, perhaps, but not very much. But, when your own family begins to accuse, to malign and to persecute you for your “crazy” religion, don’t you sometimes begin to weaken a little?
Yes, it is more difficult than it sounds. We may refuse to work at our jobs on the Sabbath, we may discontinue our associations with former friends insofar as those associations disobey God’s law, we may quit keeping the worldly holidays; but when it comes to the very members of our families, we sometimes begin to weaken to temptations. How much do we have to give up? Jesus said, “He that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37).
Sometimes we must give up the former fellowship, even with our own families. If we are of the world, the world will love its own. But because God has called us out of this world, it will hate us. (John 15:19).
The problem that confronts each of us, then, is how can we be separate from this world, and still have charity and love for it? Can we love other people as ourselves? We know that the carnal mind is the attitude of enmity against God’s Law, God’s Rule (Rom 8:7). The converted mind is the changed mind, of love directed away from self and toward others. “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
The true Christian attitude is one of Love and charitableness toward others. We can love others and still not fellowship with them. Love and fellowship are not the same! Many, of course, will ask: did not Christ say we are to fellowship with the unconverted when he said, “And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others”? Doesn’t this mean that we are to associate with the world, mingle with the unconverted, go out and fellowship with worldly people? It most certainly does not!
It means exactly what it says! We are to “salute,” to greet in a friendly and loving manner, all those with whom we come in contact. We are to be an example of God’s character before others, but we are not to fellowship with the world. The very purpose of the Christian calling hinges on our understanding of this principle. We are called to become co-rulers with Jesus Christ, to judge this world with Him! Yes, even to judge angels! (I Corth 6:3).
Do the judges and jurors fellowship with the ones who are awaiting trial? No.
But can we find the right balance? Can we fully understand that we must remain unspotted from the world and yet love those who are ensnared in it? Whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God! (James 4:4). So let’s realize that while we must remain in this world, we cannot be of it!