Getting the Accent Right: "Not of . . . But Sent Into"
“In. . . but not of” — are you familiar with this popular phrase? It captures a truth about Jesus’ followers. We are “in” this world, but not “of” it.
“In. . . but not of.” Yes, yes, of course.
But might this pithy slogan give the wrong impression about our (co)mission in this world as Christians? You see, the motto seems to give the drift, We are in this world, alas, but we need to make sure that we’re not of it. In this scheme, the starting place is our unfortunate condition of being “in” this world. Sigh. And our mission, it appears, is to not be “of” it. The force is moving away from the world. “Shucks, we’re frustratingly stuck in this ole world, but let’s marshal our best energies to not be of it.” It’s an emphasis that’s sometimes needed.
But we’d 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 is using these “in” and “not of” categories. So what’s Jesus’ sentiment on the whole thing?
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.
Not of This World
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.”
So let’s all agree that it is clearly the case that Jesus does not want his followers to be “of the world.” Amen. He says that he himself is “not of the world,” and he says that his disciples are “not of the world.” Here’s a good impulse in the slogan “in. . . but not of.”
Where It’s Headed
But notice for Jesus how being “not of the world” isn’t the destination in these verses but the starting place. It’s not what things are moving toward, but what they’re moving from. He is not of the world, and he begins with saying that his followers are not of the world. But Jesus is headed somewhere.
Enter verse 18: “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
And don’t miss the (possibly) 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
The assumption is that those who have embraced Jesus and identified with him are indeed not of the world. And now the summons is our sending — we are sent into the world on mission for gospel advance through disciplemaking.
Jesus’ followers have not only been crucified to the world, but also raised to new life and sent back into it to free others.
May God be pleased to make our not-of-this-world churches to be more and more communities also sent into this world.
Other Sent posts from David Mathis: