Jesus and Separation


"Separation" can be a loaded word in Christianity. Like many words, people disagree about exactly what it means--and how it should be applied.

For some, separation means isolationism. 

It means staying away from everything and everyone that could possibly deter you from the holiness of God. I think the people who ascribe to this interpretation have mostly good intentions. They are zealous, hard-working people, but there is a drawback.

This type of isolationism views sin as an outside influence that is present in a certain place or within certain people, but not others. It fails to recognize that sin arises first and foremost from within you and I. Isolating myself from people, places, and sinful influences does not help me with the sin that originates in my own heart!

For some, separation is too harsh and difficult.

These folks are typically the more gentle, empathetic Christians that try to relate to the people they have been called to minister to. They reach out to sinners in need, as Jesus did, but they skip the part of about calling those people out of their sin. They find separation harsh, archaic, and hurtful.

The only problem is that separation is necessary.

II Corinthians 6:17 Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch not the unclean thing, and I [God] will receive you.

For those who realize these two extremes are both wrong, there is a need for wisdom. 

I am dissatisfied with both extremist interpretations of separation, but I know separation is Biblical. 

Let's take a look at an interesting situation in the Bible:

Luke 9:49 And John answered and said, "Master [Jesus], we saw one [person] casting out devils in your name, and we forbade him [told him to stop], because he follows not with us."

John was trying to show Jesus that he was good at separation. He saw some people that didn't walk in his circles. They didn't go to his synagogue. They weren't dressed exactly like him, and they may have had a different taste in music. Their lingual accent was probably dissimilar from his. He saw them as outsiders.

Yet there they were, claiming to be followers of Jesus. How dare they! How ridiculous to think that people that are different in form and fashion can push for the same cause! It's absurd! Or is it?

Luke 9:50 And Jesus said unto him [John], "Forbid them not, for he that is not against us is for us."

Wait, what?

Did Jesus just make Christian work inclusive? 

Did he just say that those folks that were in another denomination could still be on the same team?

God cares less about how you feel and more about reaching the world. You might feel upset or frustrated with a particular group of Christians because they disagree with you. You might not like "how they roll", but God doesn't value your opinion as much as you think He does. 

God is not ready to divide up His church into tiny little useless pieces that become even more useless because they spend all their time arguing and devouring each other. Remember what Jesus said! Calm down. If they're not actively hindering you from spreading the Gospel, don't put them on your black list.

If we aren't supposed to separate from people that disagree with us, then who are we supposed to separate from?

Who did Jesus separate from?

The well-dressed, well-educated, wealthy, upper class, religious doctors and lawyers of that time.

Sound familiar?

Not all of them were bad news. And Jesus never tried to get rid of them--He ministered to them. They got jealous and eventually lead the conspiracy to kill him. 

Yep, church folk killed Jesus.

John 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Jesus spent much of His ministry eating with and talking to thieves, prostitutes, tax collectors, fisherman, carpenters, beggars, and other common, sinful people; and he caught flack for it! He didn't act like the other self-absorbed, self-righteous aristocrats in the religious crowd. He acted like he actually cared about people!

So Christians should hang out with non-Christian people?

Yes and no.

Yes, Christians should talk to non-Christians frequently to share their faith in Christ and love for God. They should be ready to give them answers for why they operate their lives so differently from the status quo.

No, you should not allow yourself to engage in their sinful behavior and become entrapped in it.

If you wish to treat someone with a bacterial or viral infection, the best method is for you to remain uninfected. 

Medical professionals expose themselves to very sick people on a regular basis. They put themselves at risk to help others, but not without precaution! They wear protective clothing and equipment. They wash their hands frequently. They learn sterile technique. They get vaccinated against known pathogens. They prepare themselves and behave wisely because they know there is very real danger of getting infected.

Sin is not so different. Christians should minister to people that are deep in the trenches of sin, but all the while being careful they do not become deceived themselves. Sin is subtle and pernicious. It can creep into our hearts quietly like a cancer.

Conclusion:

As much as I would like to lay out a clear-cut, black-and-white recipe for how you ought to be separated as a Christian, I cannot. I think those that understand the issue realize that every situation is unique. Every Christian is different. It depends on where you are at in your Christian walk and how appropriate you are as a person to reach that sinner. Like many aspects of Christianity, separation can only be masterfully balanced by a person who is wise in the Word of God and humble enough to submit to God's will over their own. 

It's not about you and your personal standards. It's about God and the people of this world He died to save.

Image credit:
Cartoon of Jesus with woman from http://listverse.com/2013/06/15/10-misconceptions-about-jesus/

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