Saturday, September 12, 2015

Separating From the World

2Co 6:16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 2Co 6:17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 2Co 6:18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."

2 Cor. 6:14-18 is one of the great passages on Christian separation in the Bible.  I find the last part quoted above to be especially interesting as he quotes from the OT and uses Israel as an illustration of Christian separation.  This has caused no small amount of confusion in the church when it comes to how we conduct ourselves in the world. 

In verse 16 he reminds us of how the Tabernacle was always in the middle of the camp.  Since this was where the Lord’s presence was manifested it becomes a type of how the Holy Spirit dwells within God’s people today but in the individual, not outwardly in a nation.  Israel’s biggest failure was to let the surrounding nations tempt them to worship their gods.  This in turn caused them to live for themselves and become just as ungodly as everyone else. The false gods that lured them always had two things in common, gross sexual immorality and trusting in them for physical needs.  Their spirit is alive and well today.  The primary way they were to separate from the nations was not so much in location but in influence.

As he moves on into verse 17 he adds to not touch any unclean thing and in so doing they will be accepted by the Lord.  This is where we really have to be careful in how to apply this.  Clearly Israel was to go away from the Gentiles and live by themselves within the boundaries of Canaan.  It has always been a temptation for many saints to read the OT and try to work out their faith by trying to live under the OC conditions.  I was recently reading of a statement made by an early New England preacher of the 1600s that made no bones about the fact that he believed the church was to live under the same covenant as the Jews did and follow the same laws.  But they lived physically as a type of how we are to live spiritually because they were a physical people, we are a spiritual people.

The context that I believe Paul is referring to is that they were to keep themselves pure and not be contaminated by the paganism of the Gentiles.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had missed this point by thinking that by not handling something with their hands they were keeping themselves pure; by not touching Gentiles they were being clean.  But sin doesn’t enter us by touching something with our body.  It comes into us by believing a lie.  Adam and Eve let sin into their hearts before they ever touched a piece of fruit by listening to the lies of Satan.

Israel was never told to have nothing to do with Gentiles; they were to be a light unto the Gentiles.  But they used the Law to put distance between themselves and the Gentiles and to see themselves as better than the Gentiles and so missed the gospel.  Many today look at the lost as just sinful people that will only contaminate their holiness and that as Christians they are clean and respectable and so they should have nothing to do with the lost or at least stay as far away from them as possible.  But this only leads us away from the people we are to minister to, not away from the worldliness. 

Jesus understood this when he prayed for our sanctification in Joh 17:15  I do not sk that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. Joh 17:16  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Joh 17:17  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. Joh 17:18  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. Joh 17:19  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  Unlike Israel of old, he doesn’t tell us to separate ourselves from lost people per se but keep ourselves from the influence of the evil one.  

In short, the unclean things that we are to keep separated from are not so much lost people but anything that stops you from worship, service and having a clear conscience.  Don’t touch anything that takes your heart away from the Lord.  And so in 7:1 we find out that we have the same promises when we give our heart fully to Christ, 2Co 7:1  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

3 comments:

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  3. Nathan,
    Very edifying post. I would add Paul's sobering verses in 1 Cor.5:9-10-"9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." Sobering in that Paul is speaking of not associating with members of our own congregations who continue in sexual sin-indeed to judge them and remove them if necessary. Since under the OC such persons were to be stoned to death, God took this very seriously. Paul's comments reveal that under the New Covenant God still takes this very seriously.

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