If you’ve been in church for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “in the world, but not of it”. It comes from John 17:14-15 when Jesus, giving his final teaching to his disciples before going to the cross, paints a picture of what it looks like to represent him in the world after he leaves them. Jesus’ desire for his followers has always been quite simple, represent me well to those who don’t know me.
Every disciple of Jesus who diligently seeks to follow Christ, can stumble in their journey in two major ways.
First, we can adopt the values of the world around us and adapt our life that reflects no distinction between a citizen of heaven and a citizen of this world.
The second danger is that followers of Jesus can make is to isolate themselves so much from those far from God that they’ve lost all opportunities to share the good news with people who need it the most.
This is challenging enough for those of us who have been following Jesus for decades, so how do we help our children navigate these waters? We want them to own their faith and take seriously the call of Jesus, yet we also want them to be influencers for their generation.
It’s vital to remember that this tension never goes away, and it shouldn’t.
The command of Jesus to be salt (in the world) AND light (not of the world) should not be
sacrificed on the altar of comfort and convenience. It’s easy to isolate my children from the world so that they never have any interaction with those who have a different value system or beliefs. Likewise, it’s easy to ignore my children’s heart and attitude and never confront the world’s assault on their values.
Here are three small activities that you can do to help your children be distinct from the world, yet love the world that God loves.
Address their loves more than behavior.
To be “of” the world is not a behavioral problem. It’s a problem of the heart and soul. You can’t change your child’s heart, but you can address the deeper issues of their heart by how they behave. The gospel is not about behavior modification, but a new heart. Loving the things of the world will manifest itself in a myriad of ways, we, as parents, need to remember not to simply try to change the manifested behavior, but confront the idols and values of the heart. A good way to do this is to keep asking them “Why” questions. Most kids, especially, teenagers don’t reflect and realize the motivations for their decisions. It’s our job to get to the root system of their hearts.
Share your story and stories.
Your life is a template for how your children will intact with the world. If you isolate from non-Christians, then your children will as well. It’s important for your children to know your grace story. How did God rescue you? This will help them to see the power of the gospel. Then, share the regular ways you stand for truth or you share grace with your friends, co-workers, and neighbors. They need to know that the Kingdom of God is greater than the kingdom of this world.
Look for teachable moments.
There will times when you are out at a restaurant or ball game and you see the world's “system” on display through the life choices of those around you. Look for these moments to teach them how you interpret the world around you. Explain to them why you showed grace to the person at the check out line that treated you rudely. God gives every single one of us opportunities every single day to be in the world, but not to be of it. Use these moments to help shape the values and expectations for your children.
None of us have learned how to live out John 17:14-15 perfectly. Yet, we have this joy to shape the next generation to be the disciples of Jesus in our home. May God help us to model what we believe and share what we know with our children.
Ben is a parent of three CCS students, as well as the Pastor of Multiplication at LIFE Fellowship in Cornelius NC. The only other interesting thing about Ben is that he’s always on the constant lookout for a better shot of espresso. If you have any suggestions, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org