Return to Sermons | Home

“You Do Not Belong to the World”
John 15:18-25


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost—October 18, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today’s meditation is based on the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading: “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”

Since the earliest days of Christianity, the followers of Christ have wrestled with the question of how they should relate to this world while they are waiting to be taken to the next world.  Some Christians have gone to the extreme of what is called asceticism, from the Greek word for harsh: withdrawing from the world, living a very austere life, shunning anything in this world that would bring happiness, joy, pleasure, or comfort.  Some early Christian ascetics went out alone into the desert to live as hermits.  The most famous was named Simon, who for 37 years lived alone atop an isolated pillar of rock from where he never came down.

Martin Luther comments about his ascetic life as a monk, “I made a great effort to live according to the requirements of the monastic rule. . . I tormented my flesh . . . and tortured myself with fasting . . . lying on hard beds . . . keeping silent, wearing coarse clothes, having my head shaved, locked in a cell, and living unmarried.”

In a few weeks we will celebrate Thanksgiving, but you may not know the reason why the Pilgrims came to North America in the first place.  They were Christian ascetics, who wanted to withdraw from the world, to the isolated New World, and establish here a pure society, which is why they were also called Puritans.   Still today, there are Christian ascetic groups that try in various ways to withdraw from the world.

While over the centuries some Christians have gone to the one extreme of asceticism, others have gone to the complete opposite extreme of what is called hedonism.  Asceticism comes from the Greek word for harsh, and hedonism comes from the Greek word for pleasure.  Christian hedonists teach that because our sins are all forgiven anyway, there are no longer any limits on how we should live, or what we may do.  In fact, if God loves forgiving sins, aren’t we actually doing him a favor by giving him lots to forgive?

The false doctrine of hedonism was already infiltrating Christianity at the time of the New Testament.  In 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul quotes disapprovingly the cynical motto of the hedonists: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  In Romans, he addresses the false doctrine of the hedonists by asking, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  And then he answers, “Certainly not!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  The Apostle Peter sums up why hedonism is wrong: “Do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”

There has recently been a modern manifestation of the false doctrine of hedonism infiltrating the Christian Church, as several denominations have actually given official approval to a sinful way of life.   It seems that Peter is specifically describing this heresy which is plaguing many modern denominations when he writes, “They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way . . . of wickedness. . .  by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people . . .  they promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.”  In Colossians, Paul warns against what is happening in these denominations, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.”

How should the followers of Christ relate to this world while they are waiting to be taken to the next world?  The right answer is not found in either extreme, asceticism or hedonism.  The right answer is found in the words of Christ himself in today’s Gospel Reading: “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”

Apart from Christ, we do all belong to the world.  For, Paul says in Galatians, “Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”  That’s how all of us were born into this world, a prisoner of sin.

The Greek word for “redemption” literally means “to buy back from slavery.”  That’s what God’s Son, Jesus, did for you.  Paul puts it this way in Romans, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

“You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”  Your sins are all forgiven, because Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the sacrifice of atonement which redeems you, buys you back, from sin to salvation.  As Revelation says, “With your blood you purchased men for God . . .  he loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.”

“You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”  How should you as a follower of Christ relate to this world while you are waiting to be taken to the next world?  The same night Jesus spoke the words of today’s Gospel Reading he prayed to his heavenly Father about his followers: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Jesus says the answer is not asceticism: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world.”  He does not want his followers withdrawing from the world.  In the Sermon on the Mount he puts it this way, “You are the salt of the earth. . . You are the light of the world. . .  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

The answer is not asceticism, withdrawing from the world.  Because, just as salt does no good if remains in the salt shaker, Jesus wants his followers in the world, seasoning and preserving the world with his Gospel.  Just as light does no good if it is hidden under a basket, Jesus wants his followers in the world, enlightening the world with his Gospel.

“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

While we are waiting in this world to be taken to the next world, the formula for Christ’s followers is the middle way, between the extremes of asceticism and hedonism.  It can be summed up as, “In the world, but not of the world.”  On the one hand, not withdrawing from the world; but, on the other hand, as the Apostle James says, “Keeping oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In the world, serving Christ in your calling as a husband, wife, parent, child.  In the world, serving Christ by serving your fellow man in your occupation.  In the world, witnessing for Christ in your life.  In the world, as the salt of the world, letting the light of Christ in you shine.

In the world, but not of the world.  Paul puts it this way in Philippians, “ without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life.” 

“You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”  Jesus’ choosing you out of the world will come to final fulfillment when you depart this world for the next world.  As Paul says in Philippians, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

Until then, live in the world, but not of the world.  “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.”

Amen.

  Return to Top | Return to Sermons | Home | Email Pastor Vogts