Not of This World is a phrase used by Christians to be different from the world, for some, even to separate themselves from the things of this world. Due to extremists who unassumedly promote legalism and fundamentalist ideals upon others by using slogans like these, the phrase has often gotten an unnecessarily radical understanding. During a time when there seems to be a divide between politically conservative Christians and progressive left-leaning activists, Not of This World could carry a negative tone dissuading culturally impacted people from the church. Yet, it is during these times where Christians ought to dive into living room conversations as citizens in this world. Christians are neither to be in complete separation from those that advocate for policies that are contrary to the Scirptures nor to be in complete cooperation with the sinful trends of society. Christians are called into this world as followers of a Savior who was sent to the world to save the world. This doesn’t alter a fundamental truth in the Scriptures: Christ and his followers are not of this world. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of how morally and ethically better Christians are than others. You and I know may know plenty of non-Christians who seem to behave more cordially and act as better citizens. Thus, this idea of not being of this world is hardly grounded upon the things we do that are different. Rather, it’s grounded upon something given to us that is different. This, accordingly, changes us and molds us to progressively act as aliens to this world and inhabitors of a better kingdom.
It’s Jesus who said that his kingdom is not of this world before he would die on the cross. He states in John 18:36,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
These statements reflect the counter-cultural way Jesus depicts his kingdom to be. The first thing to note from Christ’s statement is that Christ’s kingdom acts differently … counter-culturally. The word counterculture might remind us of movements witnessed by the Beat Generation and the counterculture of the 60’s. These movements suggested an overturning of the normalities of society toward a more free-thinking culture that shatters the so-called American Dream. Ironically, while liberalism has often dominated the ideas of counterculture, many of its ideas seem to be put forth as the main stream of thought in modern America. I wonder how counter-cultural liberalism can be if it is advocated for by the majority of the popullation and media bias is heavily left-leaning. Has it comes to a time when the once deemed gamut of counterculture has come to become mainstream? Regardless of where America (and the world for that matter) stands as a whole politically, the gospel message has always been and will always be something different than the thoughts of this world, especially in a time of mass secularism and postmodernism. Consequently, the phrase countercultural grace has been popularized to signify the contrary nature of Christian grace to the ways in which society and culture function. This counter-cultural grace severely alters the GPS coordinates of our journey. Along the road to holiness and set-apartness are seemingly inefficient u-turns and rocky routes through dangerous paths. Still, it is the grace of God that carries us through the straight and narrow path. Are we called upon to walk this path today? tomorrow? in 20 years? Whenever the time is and whatever difficulties lie ahead, our duty as Christians is to follow Christ and live for his glory. That involves loving our enemies and thinking less of ourselves.
The first thing we need to understand about grace is that grace is a gift. Thus, fundamentally, if Christians are set apart because of grace, we are set apart as a result of something that acted outside of us to us. Though grace is something Christians are asked of to emulate to our neighbors, it is hardly something that is innately programmed within us. It is a supernatural thing that comes by a supernatural force where the supernatural grace becomes the foundation to our knowledge of a supernatural salvation. It comes from outside in to save us from the messiness of sin that dwells in our hearts.
I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35), where a servant is forgiven of a great debt but fails to forgive another with a lesser debt. In the passage, the unforigiving servant is forgiven of a debt of 10,000 talents which is roughly equivalent to 200,000 years of labor. Plainly put, it is impossible for him to pay it off. Upon being forgiven, however, he fails to show this grace to a servant who happened to owe him 100 denarii (100 days of labor). Though this grace he is called upon to show pales in comparison to the grace he had been shown, the selfish desire of the heart prompts the unforgiving servant to look after his own. This kind of behavior is conflicting to those who understand the saving grace given by God to sinful people. Because an infinite debt is paid for, followers of Jesus Christ are called upon to give of themselves and forgive others as they have been forgiven.
The aforementioned parable was given as an illustration to answer Peter’s question to Jesus about forgiveness.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Christ’s use of seventy-seven refers back to a statement made by Lamech in Genesis 4:23-24 when he says, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-seven fold.” As Cain’s revenge being sevenfold came after the murdering of his own brother Abel, Lamech’s statement shows an overwhelming desire to seek revenge on those who do him harm. Even if one hurts him in a non-fatal fashion, Lamech’s desire is to pay him back seventy-seven fold. Then, if Jesus calls upon Peter to forgive his brother who sinned against him seventy-seven fold, this points to an overwhelming desire to minister grace to those who wrong him. This counter-cultural statement goes against any form of logic in human societies.
Lex talionis is the Latin for “the law of retailation.” The principle of eye for an eye captures the idea of lex talionis. This is, in fact, a logical principle and one found in Scripture. Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21 all point to the statements correlated to lex talionis in the Scriptures of the Old Testament law. Furthermore, it is God who mandates the idea of lex talionis after the Flood. Genesis 9:6 reads, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The preservation of man’s image warrants death by way of penalty for the murderer–eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, life for a life.
Think with me here. This life principle is hardly one that is uncommon in this world we live in. “You scratch my back, I scratch yours.” “What have you done for me lately?” “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” These are statements that elaborate upon this idea that one should get what he or she gives. Life operates upon this balance beam where one is never losing too much. The question to be asked is this: Am I living life on this balance beam, where I avoid being brought down into the negative? Christ’s statements to Peter, then, seem especially strange considering protection lex talionis seems to give societies from an outbreak of too much evil. My professor in seminary David VanDrunen elaborated upon a couple verses in Matthew 5:38-39 that read,
You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. but if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Here, he turned my attention to Jesus reversing this well-known principle for Christians. Believers are to turn the other cheek when slapped, which is a reversal of lex talionis. The proper thing would be to give a slap back, but the gospel of grace tells us that the God of wrath gave the ultimate slap on Christ’s cheek. That was the slap of eternal condemnation that you and I who believe in Christ deserved. Thus, the grace we receive as believers changes the way we view our neighbors. It changes the way we view those who have wronged us, because Jesus, whom we have wronged, took upon himself the slap that you and I were supposed to incur. This is the gospel of grace that propels us to love our enemies. It is truly counter-cultural for all ages and calls upon believers in Jesus Christ to become more and more like him, turning the other cheek when we are offended.
How is this relevant to our time today? As noted before, society and culture could become progressively hostile towards churches and followers of Jesus Christ. Though it may be embedded in our human nature to pay back what pain has been inflicted upon us, our King beckons us to take up the cross and follow him as those who have received grace that is not of this world. Now is especially not the time for us to wave our Pharisaic flags at those who outwardly perform deeds contrary to the laws in Scripture. The gospel calls for a changed heart. Though many of us might be in practice of possessing restrained hearts that tell us what we should not do, the gospel causes us to go forth and change the way we think and actively minister grace into other people’s lives. The culture of grace ought to promote kindness and gentleness amidst being firm in our orthodox views of Scripture.
One thing I repeatedly remind myself and others around me is how much gossiping resembles the Devil. Satan is called the great accuser in Revelation 12 and is shown to point at Joshua’s dirty rags in Zechariah 3. His main role as an accuser is to point at the sin in our lives to convince God of our unworthiness before him. Essentially, that is our posture towards others when we gossip about them. Our gossip seeks to change the opinion and stance of the person we are speaking to of the one we gossip of when we partake in such heinous acts. As those spared from false accusations made by the Devil by the robe of righteousness given to us by Christ, it is our responsibility to shine grace upon others who have wronged us. It is never our duty to speak ill of others who are opposed to our line of thought, but we are called as followers of Christ to show grace as we were shown grace. In an age where all kinds of acts contrary to the law of God are permissible in the public, Christians are to combat this by exemplifying the love of Christ, for vengeance belongs to God alone. May our daily meditations upon his Word, our weekly reminders through preaching of the Word, the fellowship of the saints, and the Spirit’s activity in our lives pour forth to bless the lives of others who curse the name of Christ. Even in the smallest moments in our days, may we seek to live for his glory and combat our temptation to succumb to sin. Fight the good fight.