Christians have always, to one extent or another, felt like fish out of water. And this should come as no surprise. After all, the systems of the world gravitate away from Christ rather than towards him.
A Scottish Baptist minister named Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) stated: "Society is not of God, and the institutions of every nation upon earth have still in them much of the evil one. Christian people are set down in the midst of these, and the antagonism is perennial.”
The Apostle John clearly understood this ever-present dynamic. He wrote, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
God is of course always sovereign over all things. Nevertheless, Satan controls those who are outside of Christ’s Kingdom, and he works strategically to consume the hearts and minds of young people.
Martin Luther offered this warning 500 years ago: “I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of Hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth.”
America has a unique history in this regard. Angela Kamrath writes: “American schools began with the Puritans in the 1600s to insure Bible literacy. As expected, the Bible was the core of learning in schools. The New England Primer, the first reader in America, included Bible truths, stories, poems, hymns and prayers.”
Our adversary, the devil, always schemes to infiltrate and dominate individual hearts, as well as the various institutions of the world.
The Apostle Paul discipled believers with truth “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). These schemes are aimed at keeping people from knowing the Lord, while also tempting Christians to compromise their allegiance to Christ and His Word.
When Jesus said, “God so loved the world,” (John 3:16) he was referring to the people of the world. “For Christ died for sins once for all…” (1 Peter 3:18)
But when John wrote about “the world” in 1 John 2:15-17, he was referring to the lusts, temptations, pride and evil cravings of man, along with the systems of the world which of course have no use for the Gospel or Christianity.
John wrote, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
The world often celebrates and takes pride in behavior that is opposed to the Kingdom of God. Why does this celebration of sin take place so consistently? Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Meanwhile, followers of Christ resonate with these words from the Apostle Paul: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Taking pride in the cross is a far cry from taking pride in sin. And the only way to know what is sinful is to turn to God’s Word.
Scripture declares: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
One reason the world rejects biblical doctrine is because Scripture excludes unrepentant sinners from the kingdom of God. You see, the world wants to decide who gets into Heaven, while at the same time promoting ungodly ideas, unrighteous behavior and universalism. In other words, the world wants to have its cake and eat it too.
This is why Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). What did the Prince of Peace mean by this perplexing statement?
Jesus was simply revealing that He came to usher in a kingdom and beliefs that are incompatible with the ways of the world. Christ drives a sword through any idea or relationship that stands in the way of Christian discipleship. This sword is not a physical weapon, but rather, spiritual truth.
For example, the Gospel divides people into believers and unbelievers. In addition, “The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Right and wrong are determined by God’s Word, rather than by one’s feelings.
Christians are called to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs the love of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the truth of the Gospel. The witness, compassion and humble service of Spirit-filled Christians helps unbelievers come to know the One who defeated sin, death and the devil by his victory on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you will often feel out of step with the world. But don’t despair. God did not create us and redeem us so that we could pursue the cravings, lusts and temptations of the world. We have been given a higher calling.
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
As followers of Christ, we are in the world but not of the world. And until we arrive in Heaven, we will often continue to feel like fish out of water.
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.