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Coming Up for Air: How to Be "In the World but Not of the World"

  • Rick Sorensen
  • Updated Jun 24, 2022
Coming Up for Air: How to Be "In the World but Not of the World"

It’s fair to say that it’s almost impossible to be a Christian for any length of time without hearing the expression that Christians are to be, “In the World but Not of the World.” While we as Christians may nod our heads in agreement to this declaration that seems to have an emphasis on separating ourselves from the world’s unrighteousness (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), it may be just as easy for us to shake our heads in confusion as we try to understand how it’s possible to not be of a world that we are born into. What can help us make sense of it all is to take a look at the context of the verse where this expression originated, and, funny as it may sound, to pay a visit to your local aquarium to learn about a very special animal.

This expression, “In the World but Not of the World” is a paraphrase taken from a prayer of none other than Jesus himself in John 17:13-19:

“I am coming to you (the Father) now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 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, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Juanma Velasquez

woman smiling, in the world but not of the world

Safety as We Spread the Gospel

The point we should not miss is that this prayer is about the safety of His followers as they live and spread the Gospel in a fallen world. For starters, how you live and spread the gospel is accomplished based on many different personal factors; abilities and disabilities, location, giftings and talents, finances, and many other areas of consideration. We may pass out tracts at the local courthouse like Ray Comfort, travel across the globe speaking to tens of millions of people like Billy Graham, or reach out to the disabled community like Joni Eareckson Tada. No matter the method, we are all called to share the love of Christ in hopes to regenerate spirits by the power of his sacrifice and resurrection.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Anthony Metcalfe

dolphin with head sticking out of water, be in the world but not of the world

"We still feel the pull of our worldly flesh..."

The frustrating part of this is that while we are now ambassadors for heaven and its unlimited joy, we are still tempted, whether inwardly or outwardly, to partake of that which is sinful. We still feel the pull of our worldly flesh that seeks to hinder our spiritual growth and influence. What Christ is asking in his prayer is for his followers to live as ambassadors of heaven that are guarded by the Word of truth. In order for us to do this, we must know the Word. To know it, we must put aside time daily to read it, study it, and seek the Lord in prayer about what we read and how to apply it to our lives. The manner in which we accomplish this, in spite of our everyday temptations, can be made a little clearer by changing our perspective on the importance of our daily time with the Lord. I can think of no better way to explain this importance than by using examples from my favorite aquatic mammal, the dolphin.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Damian Patkowski

underwater, in the world but not of the world

What Dolphins Can Show Us

Most of us learn from a young age that while our planet is called Earth, it is mostly made up of water. This is nothing all that surprising to anyone who has seen a map of the world. But what comes as a shock is when we receive the revelation that there are animals that, while they live in the water, they breathe air just like us! Of these animals, the dolphin is my favorite since it was the name of my favorite childhood football team, the Miami Dolphins. While I’ve not kept up with the football team since Dan Marino retired, I continue to use dolphins to explain the idea of being in the world, but not of it.

I believe the dolphin gives three wonderful analogies to do this if we compare their need for oxygen as creatures living in the water, and our need for the word of truth as Christians living in a fallen world. I like to separate them into three sections: Birth, Voluntary Breathing, and their fascinating style of sleep called, Unihemispheric Slow-Wave Sleep.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Krystian Tambur

man in black jacket against sunset background, in the world but not of the world

1. Birth

Even though dolphins are born in the water, they cannot get the oxygen they need from the water the way fish and other sea creatures are able to. They can only stay underwater for a maximum of about 15 minutes before they need to surface for oxygen. At birth, they must hurry to the surface to take their first breath, and this will continue throughout the rest of their lives if they wish to remain alive and have children of their own.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Jakob Owens

man in orange shirt praying in church pews, in the world but not of it

"We need our daily relationship with God to help us renew our minds and help share what we find with those around us."

We, while having been born on the earth, have been born-again by our death and resurrection in Christ. The spirit inside us has come alive in the regeneration and requires nourishment that only comes from God. Even though we partake of the world around us by very physical means: what we eat, where we work, and how we live; our true life is the spiritual man inside of this physical shell. We need our daily relationship with God to help us renew our minds and help share what we find with those around us. While it's not uncommon to use the things of this world to help people understand God, we should be careful to not only let God be revealed by this filter. Just as a dolphin cannot filter the oxygen from the water, neither should we try to filter the truth without the word of truth. We have the Word of God and direct access to the throne of the Lord where we can read His truths and spend time in His presence. Accessing this is done by taking time during the day to rise above it all and be rejuvenated by the Spirit of the Lord. This has to be a voluntary action and is discussed in the next section.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Samuel Martins

2. Voluntary Breathing

2. Voluntary Breathing

Dolphins do not have the ability to breathe involuntarily like humans. This means they have to voluntarily choose when to breath, and that only happens when they surface. It’s a life or death choice for them to constantly head to the surface to receive the life-giving oxygen their bodies need to remain alive.

Humans breathe both voluntary and involuntary, which gives us the ability to breathe while we are unconscious. What we do not have is the ability to take in the goodness of God through studying the Bible, praying, and worshiping involuntarily. We have to voluntarily go before the throne of God to maintain a connection to the power that prevents the world and all of its deception from suffocating the truth that we are called to live and share. Yes, it’s true we did nothing to earn our salvation, but we are called on by God to seek Him out (Acts 17:27) It’s as important to us as oxygen!

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Daniel Spase

dolphins in ocean, in the world but not of it

3. Unihemispheric Slow-Wave Sleep

Dolphins have an unusual style of sleep called, unihemispheric slow-wave sleep where only half of their brain shuts down while the other half monitors its breathing and surroundings. It’s really an amazing built-in mechanism where if the right half of the brain sleeps, then the left half of the brain remains alert. Even the right eye, which is connected to the left half of the brain, will stay open to monitor what’s going on. Also, the brain switches so that both sides can receive the rest that it needs to function properly.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Peter Fogden

"...we should never find ourselves asleep to the commands of God..."

"...we should never find ourselves asleep to the commands of God..."

While we do not have this amazing gift, it's a reminder to all Christians that we should be on the watch to maintain a connection with the Father as we live in a world that seeks to suffocate our strength and testimony at the first sign of sinful indulgence. The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” While we should sleep about 8 hours every night (or every day for those of you who work night shifts), we should never find ourselves asleep to the commands of God in His Word or to the convicting and comforting power of the Holy Spirit within us (John 16:8, John 14:26).

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Tanja Heffner

two women looking at townscape from pasture, in the world but not of the world

"We are born-again as the children of God, living in this world as heavenly ambassadors of Christ."

I pray that these three characteristics of the dolphin are a fun and exciting reminder that we have to be careful about letting ourselves go on autopilot as we go about our day-to-day routine. As the Bible says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42). We are born-again as the children of God, living in this world as heavenly ambassadors of Christ. We have to voluntarily go to a place of prayer to be filled with his overflowing love and power while we are here, and we have to always stay alert and connected to the spiritual power and love that comforts us, convicts us, and carries us through enemy territory as we spread His message of truth and salvation.

Richard Lee Sorensen is a happily married father of 7. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology – Christian Counseling from Liberty University and is a Certified Professional Life Coach from Light University. He helps people overcome the often emotionally overwhelming process of decluttering at Declutter Planning, and writes a blog with his oldest daughters at Fiction and Fatherhood.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Kura Tregenza