Conflict, active conflict, with ‘the world’ is, Biblically, inevitable. And not only inevitable, but a vital stage in our redemptive process. We must come out from the world and only then can we be received by God (2 Cor. 6:17). The act of baptism is a saving of ourselves not only from our sins, but also from " this untoward generation" in which we once lived (Acts 2:40). Without holiness (separation), no man will finally see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). The Lord died in order to separate us out of this world, as a new people and nation that lives under His leadership rather than that of the world (Tit. 2:14 cp. Ex. 19:5). This is how important it is. The Hebrew word frequently translated ‘cut off’ throughout the Law is the same translated ‘to make / cut a covenant’. Covenant relationship with God involves a severing, a separation from the world and the flesh. James puts it as plainly as could be: friendship with the world means you are an enemy of God. Nobody, not even an atheist, would say he hated God. But this is how God sees our friendship with the world. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent are by their very nature in opposition to each other. There is an essential opposition between a man and a snake; there’s no third road of compromise between the two. The subsequent necessity for ‘Separation from the world’ can become such a familiar cry that it loses meaning, and takes on a negative overtone; and it has to be said that it has all too often been associated with tokenistic separation rather than the separation God seeks. We must also be aware that it’s all to easy to be separate from the world in ways which are just convenient to us. We may not like, e.g. the café culture, or cinemas; we may not be good at personal relationships... and so we can justify all this as ‘separation from the world’, whereas in fact our hearts are not separated unto the things of God. Yet the early believers were separated from the world in a radical sense. Tertullian mentioned that the Christians were referred to as a “third race”, after the Romans and Greeks [the first] and the Jews [the second]. They were recognized for what they were- another nation.
‘Holiness’ means both to be separated from and separated unto. Separation isn’t only something negative; it’s more essentially something positive. We are separated from this world because we are separated unto the things of God’s Kingdom; the separation from is a natural, unpretended outcome of our involvement in the things of God’s Kingdom. It’s not part of a cross which the believer must reluctantly, sacrificially bare. Like all spiritual growth, it is unaffected; the number of hours spent watching t.v. goes down (to zero?) naturally; the friendships with the world naturally frizzle out, the way we dress, the things we hope for and talk about... all these things will alter in their own time. Israel were brought out from Egypt through the Red Sea (cp. baptism) that they might be brought in to the land of promise (Dt. 6:23). Abraham was told “Get thee out...” of Ur; and obediently “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan: and into the land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:1,5). This must be the pattern of our lives, until finally at the Lord’s return we are again called to go out to meet the bridegroom; and we will go in with Him to the marriage (Mt. 25:6,10). The New Testament preachers urged men to turn “from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God” (Acts 26:18); from wickedness to God, to the Lord (Acts 3:26; 15:19; 26:20; 9:35; 11:21). In Nehemiah’s time, the people “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters…they clave to their brethren” (Neh. 10:28,29). Close fellowship with one’s brethren arises from having gone out from the surrounding world, unto the things of God’s word. That, at least, was the theory. In reality, those exiles who returned found this separation very difficult. In fact, the account of Judah’s separation from the surrounding peoples reads similar to that of the purges from idolatory during the reign of the kings. They separated / purged, and then, within a few years, we read of them doing so again. Initially, the exiles separated from the peoples of the land (Ezra 6:21); by 9:1 they are in need of separating again; and by 10:11 likewise; then they separate (10:16), only to need another call to separation by the time of Neh. 9:2; 13:3. They obviously found it extremely difficult to be separated from the surrounding world unto God’s law (Neh. 10:28).
This separation from the world unto the things of God is brought out in the way Ps. 45:10.16 alludes to the Mosaic laws about a Gentile woman forgetting her father’s house. Indeed the Psalm appears to have relevance to Solomon’s marriage to a Gentile [and note the allusions to Joseph’s marriage to a Gentile]: “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house [this is the ‘separation from’ the world]…instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, which thou mayest make princes in all the earth [land- of Israel]”. The emotional pain of separation from her father’s world would be offset by her bringing forth Godly children within the hope of Israel
FOOTNOTE: Submission To Authorities In Romans 13
We must remember that the Romans 13 passage about submission to human authority was written before Nero's persecution of Christians. It seems to be written on the assumption that justice is being done by officialdom. Romans seems to have been written around AD60. The background situation in Rome, to which Paul was speaking, needs to be understood if we are to understand Paul in his context. In AD58 there were major revolts in Rome against the taxation system (as recorded in Tacitus, Annals 13.50,51). Jews were exempt from paying some taxes (they were allowed to pay them to the temple in Jerusalem); and Roman citizens also were exempt. There was therefore a huge amount of resentment from the Gentile, non-Roman citizen population who had to pay heavy taxes (1). It could well be that some of the Roman Christians were tempted to share in this unrest; and Paul is instead urging them to obey those who had the rule over them, in the sense of paying their taxes, rendering tribute to whom tribute was due. Ben Witherington, one of academic scholarship's most well known and learned students of Paul, significantly doesn't see in the Romans 13 passage any suggestion that Christians should therefore bear arms, as this would contradict Paul's teaching about non-violent response to evil in the same section of Romans; rather does he understand the teaching about submission to authorities as being specifically in this taxation context (2).
(1) Tacitus, Historiae 5.5.1, Josephus, Antiquities Of The Jews 16.45,160-161; references in Ben Witherington, The Paul Quest (Leicester: I.V.P., 1998) p. 180.
(2) Ben Witherington, The Paul Quest (Leicester: I.V.P., 1998) pp. 178-184. He comments that "most ancient persons [took] it for granted that governing authorities have their authority from God" (p. 181). When Paul writes this to the Romans, he could well be quoting a well known maxim- and thus using it in order to persuade the Roman Christians to pay their taxes.
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