We Are in the World, But Not Of It

“To the temporary residents of the dispersion,” Peter writes. What is, in my Bible, translated “dispersed” is more properly a noun: the dispersion, or the diaspora. The English Standard Version renders it “those who are elect exiles.” In this first-century world Peter was writing to Jewish communities planted throughout the Greek-speaking and Greek-encultured Roman Empire.

They formed a significant number of the total Jewish population worldwide but were distinct from Jews within Judea in many important ways. In the earliest days of the church, as Paul spearheaded missionary work throughout the empire, the diaspora communities were fertile ground for the gospel.

The diaspora Jews (like anyone from a minority culture) already had some practice doing the Christian thing: In the world but not of it.

“Now I am no longer in the world,” Jesus prayed,

“but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are … I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:11, 15–16; NKJV)

We are in the world, affecting it and being affected by it. When the world mourns so do we; when a virus sweeps the globe, we get sick. When we are ordered to lock down and quarantine, we must weigh these orders with everyone else and love our neighbor as best we can.

But though we are in the world, we are not of it. This world is not our source, our origin, for we have been born again by the Spirit of God. Like Jesus, we are from heaven and not merely from earth. Nor is this earth, as it currently exists, our final destination. Like Father Abraham, we look for a city that has foundations, whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11:10).

When the world around us shakes, it is imperative for us to remember where we came from and where we are going.

A virulent and deadly illness is sweeping the globe.

We are in the world, but not of it.

The economy is temporarily collapsing and we face a certain recession, a possible depression.

We are in the world, but not of it.

We are losing our jobs, losing our instant access to commodities, losing the ability to cross town to be with people we love.

We are in the world, but not of it.

Ecology and economy: We live within these systems, contribute to them, and rely upon them, and yet we also transcend them.

We live in a kingdom that is crumbling, yet our roots go down into heavenly foundations in the city of God, a community that cannot be shaken and will be, one day, fully revealed as the cosmos are purified and transformed and we take our place in a new heavens and a new earth.

In the meantime we already carry the culture of the kingdom that cannot be shaken. In our music and our art, our conversations and our work, our families and our households, our preaching and our sanctuaries, our hearts and our minds, our reading and our research, our laughter and our tears—we are stamped and filled with heaven.

So we mourn but do not lose hope.

In the world but not of it.

We are called to love our neighbors with generosity and hope, refusing to draw back out of fear.

In the world but not of it.

We give, bless, and risk because our foundations are not from here, and they are not shaking.

Above all, we worship and we pray. We stay anchored. We draw on the resources of heaven, available to us.


This post is an excerpt from To the Temporary Residents in a Time of Coronavirus, Seeking an Eternal Weight of Glory, available in digital, paperback, and hardcover formats from Amazon and anywhere else you buy books online. (Find the hardcover edition here.)


Photo by Havilah Galaxy on Unsplash







3 responses to “We Are in the World, But Not Of It”

  1. William Tuck Avatar

    Rachael said “” Like Jesus we are From Heaven and not merely from earth “” I have a question for aneyone? ( I realize Rachel is to busy to answer questions) I carefully read John 17. Can someone give me a Scripture from the Bible that says we were in Heaven before we came here? I have always believed what Rachael said but I have never found a Scripture that says that.

    1. Rachel Avatar

      Hi Bill! Actually, I am sometimes able to answer questions on the blog :). I don’t actually believe we had a preexistence in heaven before being created in our mother’s womb. As far as I can see in Scripture, our lives began at the moment of conception here on earth. However, in John 3 Jesus speaks of the new birth as being “born from above,” that is, we are born again through the Holy Spirit who comes from heaven, and thus our new life has its source in heaven. Paul uses similar language when he says that we are raised with Christ and seated with him in heaven (Eph 2:6, Col 3:1-3).

      So when I say we are “from heaven,” it’s not that we originated there at some point before our earthly existence, but rather that in and through Jesus, we presently draw our life from heaven, or more specifically, from God who is seated in heaven and who is our ultimate Source of life. I hope that’s helpful, and clearer!

      1. Bill L. Tuck Avatar

        Thank You Rachael! Your comment was very Helpful. I am going to Pray about it and see if I need to correct my view on it?

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