Loving the world but not the things of the world.

Are christians to love the world or hate it? Are we to cherish or despise it? Are we to view it with indifference, detachment, and even contempt? Or are we to view it with reverence, joy, and concern? In order to live as obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, are we to be world-affirming or world-denying? Can we become holy while we are active and busy in the affairs of this world? Or is holiness impossible without a radical otherworldliness, an otherworldliness that motivates us to turn our backs resolutely on this world? What, then, ought to be a Christian’s relationship to the world? Ought it to be appreciative involvement or ought it to be condemnatory separation? Should our relationship be positive or negative—or maybe neutral?

That’s our perplexity. What ought to be a Christian’s relationship to the world in all its God-created wonder and fallen sinfulness? As we ponder this, perhaps we can gain clarifying insight by looking back on the experiences and examples of our Christian forebears. The value of history is that it can prevent us—though there is no guarantee it will—from repeating yesterday’s mistakes today. Let us look back, therefore, all the way to the church’s earliest years when devout believers were attempting to flesh out some of those New Testament texts with which we still wrestle today.

One such text is Colossians 3:1–3: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” How do you flesh out a text like that? Another such text is Galatians 5:24: “They that are Christ’s have ...

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