Can you explain, “We are in the world but not of the world?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

While often quoted in Christian circles as though it were a Bible verse quoted verbatim, “We are in the world but not of the world” is actually an amalgamation of several passages of Scripture. In this study, we will carefully consider that exhortation, tracking down its pertinent verses and summarizing them for application to life.


We are “in the world.” The preposition “in” here signifies physical location, position, or status. Not yet in Heaven, we members of the Body of Christ are confined to this material and earthly existence. We must encounter lost (non-Christian) people on a daily basis. Until we enter the heavenly places, we will always be surrounded by people who do not believe or follow the Bible. They are not our enemies, though; as they are, so were we. Hence, we should attempt to reach them with the Gospel of the Grace of God. “Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Lord Jesus Christ had a special reason for not taking us to Heaven the moment we trusted Him as our personal Saviour. He has entrusted us—not angels!—with the ministry of reconciliation and the word of reconciliation. We have been left here (temporarily) to share His words with others, that they may join us when we join Him in Heaven in the ages to come.

Second Corinthians chapter 5, verses 14-21, is our “Great Commission” in this the Dispensation of the Grace of God: “[14] For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: [15] And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. [16] Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. [17] Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. [18] And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [20] Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. [21] For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

According to this passage, we are to tell lost people that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. That is, He has offered to take of care of their sin debt by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die in their place. If they are to pass from eternal death to eternal life, they must receive by faith—neither by works nor by faith and works—the merits of that finished crosswork (as we have). Once they trust Jesus Christ’s shed blood as sufficient payment for their sins, God cancels (forgives) their sin debt and imparts righteousness to them. Unless we are here to preach that glorious Message of Grace, they will know nothing about it.

The Apostle Paul talks about us Christians being “in the world” in 1 Corinthians chapter 5: “[9] I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: [10] Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.” We must go out of the world to avoid associating with idolaters, fornicators, covetous individuals, et cetera. There are no such sins in Heaven. We cannot exit this world until God calls us home to the heavenly places. In the meantime, we must come into daily contact with people who are not part of God’s family. While they are not God’s children, they can be if they choose to accept by faith His free gift of soul salvation in Jesus Christ. In order to become members of the Body of Christ, they must first realize they are lost (needing salvation). It is difficult for them to understand this, as Satan uses works-religion to cause them to believe they are “okay.” Our duty and privilege are to tell them they are in dire need of justification in Christ.

Second Corinthians chapter 4: “[3] But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: [4] In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Focus on that expression “the god [ruler] of this world.” Now, go over to Galatians 1:4: “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:….” All the systems of this world—political, economic, religious, educational, et cetera—are the expression not of God’s thoughts but rather Satan’s policy of evil. We need not wonder why corruption, deception, and injustice run rampant even now. Unless they believe on Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour, they will be on the receiving end of the wrath of a righteous, holy God! Yet, in the midst of this fallen creation, Almighty God is performing a mighty work. He does this through His people, believers in Jesus Christ, as His words work in them who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Sin is the method whereby Satan works to counter all that God wishes and does. Read 1 John 2:15-16: “[15] Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [16] For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” The evil world system operating today does so on the basis of creatures—whether angels or people—conducting themselves according to “the lust of the flesh” (“I want it!”), “the lust of the eye” (“It looks good!”), and “the pride of life” (“I deserve it!”). Adam and Eve failed in all three points (Genesis 3:6), but Jesus Christ triumphed in all three points (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). When we rely on Christ, we partake of His victory over sin! That leads us to the rest of the phrase under consideration.


We are not “of the world.” The preposition “of” here indicates spiritual origin, source, or derivation. Recalling 1 Corinthians chapter 5, Paul referenced “the fornicators of this world.” They belong to this evil world system, just as the covetous, extortioners, and idolaters mentioned in verse 10. Nothing they do reflects the Creator’s mentality or glory.

If we go over to 1 John chapter 4, we can see another example of “of the world:” “[1] Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. [2] Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: [3] And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. [4] Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. [5] They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. [6] We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” “Of the world” (verse 5) indicates false prophets or unbelievers (false religion), while “of God” (verse 6) refers to believers in Christ.

On the night of His death, Christ Jesus prayed to Father God about His apostles: “[14] I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. [15] I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:14-16). The Lord Jesus did not want His Heavenly Father to remove His disciples from the world, but rather guard them from “the evil.” As Israel’s Apostles were in the world, functioning on planet Earth in “enemy territory” (Satan’s domain), so we the Body of Christ find ourselves “trapped” here fighting against the flesh and the evil world system (as opposed to reigning in outer space, or the third heaven, for God’s glory).

First Corinthians 2:11-13 reminds us to be sure to keep our thoughts straight: “[11] For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. [13] Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

We who have trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour possess the indwelling Holy Ghost who teaches us, that the lies of the evil world system not deceive us. As we take the King James Bible and study it dispensationally on a daily basis, we are submitting to the teaching ministry of God’s Spirit. We are constantly reminded to remain separate from the world’s thinking and activities because we are to exhibit God’s thinking and activities. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). We are “of God,” are we not? Then, we need to think and act like it!

No matter the age or dispensation, every person is either in Adam (default) or in Christ (believer). The words “in Christ” in 2 Corinthians 5:17 are a redemptive term: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” People in Adam (unrighteous) go to Hell, whereas people in Christ (righteous) go to Heaven. Consider the two federal heads in Romans chapter 5—Christ (God’s people share His identity) and Adam (everyone else). Whatever God has told mankind to believe in a particular dispensation, individual people have been expected to believe it so God can credit him or her for righteousness and put him or her in Christ. Our Gospel Message is 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Christ dying for our sins, being buried, and being raised again the third day. If faith in this Good News justifies us, should we not then behave as justified people? Of course!

Go now to John 15:19, Jesus’ words to His followers: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” By birth and from birth, every human is a sinner, a rebel against God’s purpose and plan; the sin nature is passed down from father to child, going all the way back to Adam. As King David wrote in Psalm 51, “Behold, I was shapen in inquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (verse 5). However, believers—those who trust Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour—God spiritually circumcises them. He cuts them off from that Adamic identity (Colossians 2:11-13; see Israel’s spiritual circumcision in Romans 2:28-29). As Jesus said, His believers were not “of the world;” they were now separated from the evil world system, sin’s dominion, Satan’s captivity. Christ then chose His believers “out of the world” to serve Him—neither their identity nor their function brought Satan glory anymore. They were no longer sinners bound for the torments of Hell, no longer enemies of God, and no longer contrary to God’s will for them. What is true of them is now true of us Christians.

Remember Jesus said in John chapter 15 that He had taken His disciples out of the world; therefore, they were no longer of the world. Their origin or association was not the sinful world system but now God’s kingdom and purpose. Again, while not spoken to us the Church the Body of Christ, but rather Israel’s believing remnant, we can still see the parallel with us. Our behavior should not match the course of this world because we are no longer in Adam. If we have trusted Jesus Christ alone as our personal Saviour, we are members of the Church the Body of Christ. We are part of God’s family now (Galatians 3:26). We are no longer children of the Devil (John 8:44). Our identity in Christ no longer matches the identity of lost people of the world. Thus, our behavior should reflect our new position in Christ. If ever we find ourselves blending in with the world with our words and/or our activities, we are living inconsistently with our Christian identity.

When Scripture says we are not of the world, it means we are not in the default position. We have moved from Adam (sin) to Christ (righteousness). The people of the world are still in Adam, cooperating with the evil world system or arrangement that Satan guides today. Remember, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 talks about Satan being “the god of this world” and Galatians 1:4 says this “present evil world.” While we live in this world, we do not have to act like this world. If we are willing, God’s Holy Spirit will bring to life the life of Christ in us. We simply believe in our heart Pauline verses such as the following, and the Holy Spirit will work in us to make them a reality in our own life.

Ephesians 4:17-24: “[17] This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, [18] Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: [19] Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. [20] But ye have not so learned Christ; [21] If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: [22] That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; [23] And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; [24] And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

Philippians 1:9-11: “[9] And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; [10] That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. [11] Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 2:14-16: “[14] Do all things without murmurings and disputings: [15] That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; [16] Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”

Philippians 3:20-21: “[20] For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: [21] Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”

Colossians 1:9-13: “[9] For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; [10] That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; [11] Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; [12] Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: [13] Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:….”

Colossians 3:1-4: “[1] If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. [2] Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. [3] For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. [4] When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”

Titus 2:11-14: “[11] For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, [12] Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; [13] Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; [14] Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”


The verse that reads closest to the phrase in question, is John 15:19: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” Jesus Christ was speaking to His disciples in the upper room on the night of His arrest, just hours before His crucifixion. As you can see, the Lord Jesus was comforting His followers, telling them of their future troubles and how He would see them through them. They were “in enemy territory,” and they would suffer for it at the hands of sinful men cooperating with Satan! While not spoken to us (the Church the Body of Christ), but rather Israel’s believing remnant (the Little Flock), we can still see the parallel with us.

While we are physically alive, we are bound to Earth. We cannot go to Heaven until Father God is ready for us. Indeed, we are “in the world”—part of human society, physical citizens of planet Earth. However, we are notof the world” because God took us spiritually from the evil world system. We are no longer under Satan’s control or destined for Hell and the Lake of Fire. Our position in Adam is gone forever, since our position in Christ replaced it the moment we believed the Gospel of the Grace of God. If we are saints positionally, then we should be saints practically. Let lost people think and act like lost people—people acting like they are headed for Hell (after all, that is who they are and where they are going!). Christians should think and act like Christians—people acting like they are headed for Heaven (after all, that is who we are and where we are going!).

Also see:
» Is grace a “license to sin?”
» How do we not live after the flesh if we live in bodies of flesh?
» Is “excellent” a King James mistranslation in Philippians 1:10?
» Once Christians fall into gross sin, will God use them again?
» Does “once saved, always saved” entitle us to abuse God’s grace?

» What are “evil communications” in 1 Corinthians 15:33?
» Why do some Christians persistently behave like lost people?
» Does God see us Christians as sinners?