Thoughts On “In But Not Of”

Among evangelical protestant Christians, one often hears and casually accepts the perceived tension between being in the world but no longer of the world. (See John 17:14f). I often relate this tension to my personal holiness: Am I too much of and not enough in? Recently, I realized that the casualness of my acceptance masks my presupposition that “in” means “with and among other people who are also in but not of.” This is error.

“In” really means “in the shit along with everyone else” and not some gnostic (see the last paragraph under Conduct for our phrase) blissful separation. Christ doesn’t call us to observe the Other from afar within its natural habitat, but to embrace the Other. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven; the only siege mentality allowed is one of solidarity with the rest of the struggling human race in whom God’s image is broken but indelible. Yeast is a small proportion of the bread with a disproportionately large positive effect, but it’s still in the bread. (SPOILER — the yeast dies.)

Today’s twist on the old “in but not of” question came when I considered again the radical, sacrificial love to which followers of Christ are called. Most often it is an inconvenient and painful love, as tonight’s class reminded me. (As a negative example consider a populous, affluent church discussed tonight, not unlike many churches of mine, that provided an adolescent foster child (read “orphan”) a “mentor” rather than parents.)

More that just pain, part of the sacrifice required by this painful love is the truth that I may sin more and more gravely as a result of the love shown. Luther’s “Sin boldly!” is often pablum for the reformed urging some form of risk taking related to Christian freedom, such as lifting another pint to the mouth. But the “in” in which we are called to exercise Christ’s love boldly may bring about real sins, awful sins that make it difficult for us to look in the mirror.

For example, the difficulties in raising an adopted foster child who had to overcome the effects of infant drug addiction (because of her mother’s drug abuse) or other neo-natal abuse or neglect may be much more severe than those involved in raising one’s natural children. As a parent of four natural children, I know how angry I can get at them sometimes. How much more angry would I get at such a foster child? Would I hit her out of anger? Would the stresses of the presence of a difficult foster baby lead me to sin against my wife more? Probably. What would it do to my relationships with my other children and their relationships with one another and the baby?

Certainly, God’s provision of sanctifying grace always goes with his commands. John 15:16-17. Sticking with my example above, I know of at least a few families, each with many foster children, for whom the risks identified above are minimal because of the grace applied as part of their calling to that ministry. But at my best, I am only semi-permeable even to the grace that empowers clear calling. Yet we are all called to deny ourselves – with a promise: Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matt. 16:24-25.

We embrace the pain because we follow in the footsteps of the one who embraced the pain unto death and rose again in power. He promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes and to banish even death. We are never beyond his comfort and healing.

We embrace the probability of greater sin in our self-centered, prideful lives because He whom we follow promises to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We are never beyond His forgiveness and cleansing.

The Pilgrims

What poor despised company
Of travelers are these
That walk in yonder narrow way
Along that rugged maze?

O, I’d rather be the least of them
That are the Lord’s alone
Than wear a royal diadem
And sit upon a throne.

Why do they then appear so mean?
And why so much despised?
Because of their rich robes unseen
The world is not apprised.

But some of them seem poor, distressed,
And lacking daily bread;
Ah! They’re of boundless wealth possessed
With heavenly manna fed.

But why keep they the narrow road
That rugged thorny maze?
Why that’s the way their leaders trod
They love and keep his ways.


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