Let’s Revise the Popular Phrase “In, but Not of”


by David Mathis | August 29, 2012/DesiringGod BlogPermalink

In, but not of”— if you’ve spent much time Christian circles, you’re probably familiar with this popular phraseIn the world, but not of the world. It captures a truth about Jesus’s followers. There’s a real sense in which we are “in” this world, but not “of” it.

In, but not of. Yes, yes, of course.

But might this punchy phrase be giving the wrong impression about our (co)mission in this world as Christians? The motto could seem to give the drift, We are in this world, alas, but what we really need to do is make sure that we’re not of it.

In this way of configuring things, the starting place is our unfortunate condition of being “in” this world. Sigh. And our mission, it appears, is to not be “of” it. So the force is moving away from the world. “Rats, we’re frustratingly stuck in this ole world, but let’s marshal our best energies to not be of it.” No doubt, it’s an emphasis that’s sometimes needed, but isn’t something essential being downplayed?

We do well to run stuff like this through biblical texts. And on this one in particular, we do well to turn to John 17, where Jesus uses these precise categories of “in the world” and “not of the world.” Let’s look for Jesus’s perspective on this.

Not of This World

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prays to his Father in John 17:14–19,

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Notice Jesus’ references to his disciples being “not of the world.” Verse 14: “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” And there it is again in verse 16: “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Let’s all agree it’s clear that Jesus does not want his followers to be “of the world.” Amen. He says that he himself is “not of the world,” and his disciples are “not of the world.” Here’s a good impulse in the slogan “in, but not of.”

It’s Going Somewhere

But notice that for Jesus being “not of the world” isn’t the destination in these verses but the starting place. It’s not where things are moving toward, but what they’re moving from. He is not of the world, and he begins by saying that his followers are not of the world. But it’s going somewhere. Jesus is not huddling up the team for another round of kumbaya, but so that we can run the next play and advance the ball down the field.

Enter verse 18: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” And don’t miss the surprising prayer of verse 15: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”

Sent into This World

Jesus is not asking his Father for his disciples to be taken out of the world, but he is praying for them as they are “sent into” the world. He begins with them being “not of the world” and prays for them as they are “sent into” the world.

So maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase “in, but not of” in this way: “not of, but sent into.” The beginning place is being “not of the world,” and the movement is toward being “sent into” the world. The accent falls on being sent, with a mission, to the world — not being mainly on a mission to disassociate from this world.

Crucified to the World — And Raised to It

Jesus’s assumption in John 17 is that those who have embraced him, and identified with him, are indeed not of the world. And now his summons is our sending — we are sent into the world on mission for gospel advance through disciplemaking.

Jesus’s true followers have not only been crucified to the world, but also raised to new life and sent back in to free others. We’ve been rescued from the darkness and given the Light not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back in to rescue others.

So let’s revise the popular phrase “in, but not of.” We Christians are not of this world, but sent into it. Not of, but sent into.



Change is possible!

By Jeremy Oddy

Consider reading over the quote below for encouragement.  Read each line carefully and slowly and meditate over each principle as your heart becomes full of the love of Christ in what he has done for you, doing in you, and will do for you.  And know this, he is doing the same thing in your spouse, friend, child, and anyone else who is in Christ.

Paul Tripp writes:

Change is possible because the King has come!  In all of this, God’s ultimate goal is his own glory. Christ came to restore people to the purpose they were made for: to live every aspect of their lives in worshipful, obedient submission to him.  He accomplishes this by breathing life into dead hearts so that we grasp our need for him.  He lives sinlessly, keeping the law on our behalf.  He lays down his life as a penalty for sin, so that we can be fully forgiven.  He adopts us into his family, giving us all the rights and privileges of his children.  He daily conforms us to his own image.  He enables us by his grace to do what is right.  His Spirit lives inside us, convicting of sin, illuminining truth, and giving us the power to obey.  He places us in the body of Christ where we can learn and grow.  He rules over every event for his glory and our good.  He makes us the objects of his eternal, redemptive love. The Bible calls this change redemption.  We are not only changed, we are restored to God.  This is what makes all other change possible (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand, 6-7).

Praise God!  We are a blessed people indeed!  So, we know that this is all true.  However, we can sometimes forget or not believe one or a few of these truths in our own lives.  Talk to a friend or your spouse about some of these truths that you tend to forget or not believe at times.  Ask God for help, because all of our hope is based on a Person, not on our (or someone else’s) performance or a principle.



by David Mathis | July 25, 2012

Not only does God‘s work in us (sanctification) help his work through us (mission), but it works the other way too. Engaging in God’s mission can jumpstart our sanctification as well.

In this brief video, pastor Darrin Patrick explains the importance of living the Christian life among the lost for our own sanctification. Sometimes we don’t see how much we need Jesus, he says, until we’re deeply involved with people who don’t know him. There’s something about being around broken people that helps you draw near to God.


Three Ways To Live

You might think that the Gospel is primarily the “beginning” of salvation, how we get saved. But, the Gospel is really about all of life. The Gospel is the answer to all of our sin problems.

When most of us think of the fact that God Himself has come to rescue sinners through the Person and Work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, we think primarily of the characteristic “sinner,” the person who rebels against God and His ways. We formulate the idea that there are “two ways to live.” There’s even a well-known tract by that very name.

We think of the younger brother in the parable of the Prodigal Sons, who wants things from the father but through rebellion. But as Tim Keller has helpfull pointed out over and over again, there are actually three ways to live and two ways to rebel against God:

 The older brother in the parable wants “things” from the Father but he does not rebel, he obeys. When the father welcomes back the younger brother, he points out that he has obeyed all along but never received anything from the father.

Both the younger and older brothers want the father only for what they can get from him but they show us that there are actually two ways to run from God: outright rebellion and religion.

But the Gospel cuts right through the middle of these two rebellions. Rebellion will never satisfy us and we can never earn God’s favor.

Thank God that Jesus not only lived the life we couldn’t but paid the penalty we should have, freeing us from slavery to sin, in all its forms.

If you are “in Christ,” be very encouraged!

By Jeremy Oddy

A good friend of mine recently pointed out to me an excellent article by John Piper.  I encourage you to read the whole thing here.  What I want to point out in this article is what it means to be “in Christ,” if you are a true disciple of Jesus Christ.  Piper inserted the name “Carl” in the list below.  I took out “Carl” (sorry Carl) and inserted a blank and made some minor changes, so that you can insert your name, or someone else’s name, as a way or tool to help each other remember and be amazed of what it means to be “in Christ.”

Piper writes, “Being in Christ is a stupendous reality. It is breathtaking what it means to be in Christ. United to Christ. Bound to Christ. This is the phrase in the text that changes everything.”  Piper is referring to 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18.  See the list below on what it means for you to be in Christ Jesus:

  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is given grace before the world was created. 2 Timothy 1:9: “He gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the ages began.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is chosen by God before creation. Ephesians 1:4: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is loved by God with an inseparable love. Romans 8:38–39: “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is redeemed and forgiven for all his or her sins. Ephesians 1:7: “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is justified before God and the righteousness of God in Christ is imputed to him. 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ became a new creation and a son or daughter of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Galatians 3:26: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is seated in the heavenly place even while he or she lives on earth. Ephesians 2:6: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
  • In Christ Jesus, all the promises of God are Yes for ________. 2 Corinthians 1:20: “All the promises of God find their Yes in Christ.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ is being sanctified and made holy. 1 Corinthians 1:2: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus.
  • In Christ Jesus, everything ________ really needs is supplied. Philippians 4:19: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
  • In Christ Jesus, the peace of God guards the heart and mind of ________. Philippians 4:7: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  • In Christ Jesus, ________ has eternal life. Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  • And in Christ Jesus, ________ will be raised from the dead at the coming of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” All those united to Adam in the first humanity die. All those united to Christ in the new humanity rise to live again.

If you want encouragement as a disciple of Jesus Christ, read this list with your name inserted over and over until your faith increases with this amazing truth and reality: you are in Christ!

Not Separate, But Unequal

from Kevin DeYoung by Kevin DeYoung


Every first semester theology student knows the difference between general revelation and special revelation. God reveals himself to us in two ways–by the creation we can see with our eyes and by the words written down for our hearing in Scripture. Or to put things more precisely: general revelation is God’s self-disclosure through the created world; special revelation is God’s self-disclosure through the spoken word of an apostle or prophet, or their words inscripturated in the Bible. Both means of revelation are important, and both are taught in Scripture

Though I believe everything in the previous paragraph, I confess I get nervous nowadays when Christians start talking about the “Two Books” of God’s revelation. It’s true that we know God by God’s works and God’s word. But from this it does not follow that science and the Bible are equal sources of authority. Of course, it’s a truism that “all truth is God’s truth” so that in the end there is no real conflict between the Bible and science. The same could be said for sociology or economics or horticulture or history. Whatever is true will not be contradicted by the Truth. But nothing is infallibly true like the word of God.

Some Christians are too quick to reinterpret the Bible when it seems to contradict “the clear findings of science.” We’ve misread the Bible before, they will say. To which we might respond, “Yes, and we’ve misread science too.” I’m not trying to weigh in on any particular scientific debate with this post. I sympathize with Christians who struggle to reconcile what they hear from scientists and what they see in the Bible about a particular issue. We should not be quick to dismiss these questions. It is possible to read the Bible wrongly. It is possible for the Church to miss the mark for a long time. But every Christian should agree that if the Bible teaches one thing and scientific consensus teaches something else, we will not ditch the Bible or change the Bible for science. The Two Books are not separate, but they are unequal.

The Belgic Confession provides a standard definition of general and special revelation.

We know him [God] by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since the universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are a letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God; his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.

Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own. (Article 2)

Notice that the difference between general and special revelation. The former gives us a sense of God’s power and divine nature so that we are left without excuse. The latter reveals God “more openly” so that we might be saved. The doctrine of general and special revelation was never meant to make the Bible bow to science. The heavens declare the glory of God, but the law of the Lord is perfect and the testimony of the Lord is sure (Psalm 19:1; 7). Jesus can illustrate with the lilies of the field, but “it is written” can conquer the devil.

I am not for a moment arguing for obscurantism when it comes to the hard questions of faith and science. Pastors who haven’t had a science class since the tenth grade are often too quick to dismiss the tough issues raised by geology, biology, and genetics. What I am saying is that the Christian must believe everything the Bible teaches no matter who says it can’t be so. General revelation can show us there is a God and convict those who don’t worship him rightly. But special revelation speaks more clearly, more openly, and more authoritatively. Let’s be open to correcting errant interpretations or traditions, but let us never change a jot or tittle of the Good Book because the book of nature seems to suggest we should. Let God be true though every one were a liar (Rom. 3:4).

For more reading on the interplay between faith and science, you may want to check out: Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress and Science and Faith by C. John Collins.

On Being Better Bereans


A couple weeks ago, Trevin Wax posted a short list of urban legends frequently heard from the pulpit. These aren’t doctrinal mistakes per se. They are mistakes in interpretation, especially when it comes to appropriate background information and extra-biblical sources. Some of the myths are real whoppers (e.g., NASA has discovered a missing day), but others are repeated in study Bibles and commentaries (e.g., Gehenna was a burning trash dump). I admit I’ve repeated the last example many times. And while Trevin didn’t give a lot of information to counter that claim, the article he linked tomakes a lot of sense. Maybe the “trash heap” illustration was too good to be true.

So how can we be better Bereans? Most Christians are eager to receive the word, especially when we get new insights and background information, but how many go the extra step and examine the Scripture to see if the new nugget is actually true (Acts 17:11)? Here are a few things to keep in mind when we hear an exciting new teaching or connection:

1. Be wary of anyone who claims to have uncovered the real meaning from the Greek or Hebrew. We have so many good English translations, put together by the best scholars. If your pastor or favorite author comes up with stuff they never did, be concerned.

2. Ask yourself, “how do I know this is so?” True, we all take a lot on faith, trusting the books we read and the people we listen to. But if you come across a new insight you’ve never heard, examine what primary source evidence there is for this new claim. You may think the Bible says a lot about Lucifer, but it may be really be from John Milton.

3. Beware of parallelomania! This is where a lot of Christians get into trouble. They are over-eager to make connections between the Bible and the Roman world. Yes, background information is helpful. But some popular teachers find connections everywhere. Do we really know that Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” was meant to be an assault on the worship of Pan near Caesarea Philippi? Often a possible connection is too good to pass up as preaching fodder. The results are predictable: the teacher presents amazing new background information and the people are amazed at the insights they’ve never heard before. Preachers, resist the temptation to put preaching points before exegesis and historical accuracy.

4. Be careful not to overcompensate. With all the good historical work N.T. Wright has done on the gospels, I often feel  he is too quick to find political implications in familiar stories and too quick to make the narrative fit a return-from-exile theme. Many Christians have the habit of reading the Bible as a timeless book of ancient wisdom. That’s not right, but there’s an opposite danger, and that’s trying to make every story a subversive attempt to undermine Caesar.

5. Be concerned when you start to feel like you can’t possibly understand the Bible without multiple degrees. It does take skill to interpret many parts of the Bible, and background information can help. But if all the exciting things you’re learning fall in the category of “insights from ancient languages” or “insights from ancient culture” you could be heading down the wrong path.

6. Be extremely cautious when using Jewish sources. Christians love to hear about Jewish background. They love to learn what words or phrases really mean. But we must be careful. I use Jewish background on occasion. Just this week I preached on the Last Supper and talked about the Passover ritual. But I’m always cautious to do so. Consider:

a) Most of our “Jewish background” comes from the Mishna and Talmud which are centuries after the New Testament. Some of what they record was present in the first century, but it’s hard to be certain.

b) Whether we are using sources from Second Temple Judaism or from the Mishna, we shouldn’t be confident in our ability to recreate the Jewish world. That world was diverse and there is a lot we don’t know.

c) Don’t assume Jewish practices today reflect Jesus’ world. And don’t read back into the Old Testament what we first hear about centuries after Christ.

7. Realize that we all make mistakes. We hear things and read things that we later find out aren’t true. Be open to correction and ready to admit when you make a mistake. The goal is simply to know the Bible better. What have Bereans got to lose?