The Danger of Living in “the World”

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“They must not live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me. If you serve their gods, you will be caught in the trap of idolatry.”

Exodus 23:33

One of the hardest things for Christians to understand as we read the Old Testament is why the Lord was so adamant about making sure no pagans remained in the Promised Land when the Israelites were fully settled there. The fact that God required all of the Canaanites and the like to be driven out of the land or killed seems terribly unfair, even morally wrong.

This is not the place to explain or defend God’s will in the matter of the Canaanites, but there is a clear lesson for us. Exodus 23:33 explains the Lord’s motivation for his instructions to Israel. The land must be free of pagans so that the Israelites will not be tempted to practice idolatry. God knew how easily his people could be induced to worship the gods of the land. This was so abhorrent that it had to be prevented at all costs. (Of course, if you know the later history of Israel, you realize that the persistence of paganism in the land did indeed draw the Israelites into pagan worship, with grave results.)

When we read Exodus 23:33 as Christians, we are reminded of the danger we face in worshiping the “gods” of our culture. Perhaps even more prevalent in our day is redefining Christian faith in a way that fits our culture, thus losing our historic, biblical distinctives. In our desire to be accepted by our non-Christian neighbors, we’re often willing, for example, to let Jesus be one fine option among many, rather than the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

But, even as we must be careful not to lose our faith by absorbing the ways of the world, we must also remember that we have been sent by Jesus into that world. Unlike Israel of old, we are not asked to live separately from the nations, but rather to live among them so that we might bear witness to them. In every sector of our lives, we have the chance to shine with the light of Christ. Indeed, this is part of our high calling.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Why do you think God required the Israelites to live apart from the gentiles, rather than living among them? How can we maintain our Christian identity and still be fully engaged in this world?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, today I remember the danger of living in this world. How easy it is for me to get sucked into the world’s mold, to be conformed to this world rather than being transformed by the renewing of my mind. Forgive me, O God, when I abandon your ways for the ways of the world. Forgive me when I live indistinctly, when those around me don’t see anything different about me.

Help me, I pray, to live in this world as your representative, but not to absorb the fallen ways of the world. By your Word and Spirit, teach me how to be “in but not of” the world. Keep me from the idolatries of this age, so that I might be fully devoted to you in all I do and say. Amen.