THE GOSPEL MESSAGE OF SEPARATION
Most of the Christian church at large considers any serious effort to promote a separated life as legalism. The reality of legalism cannot be denied by any thinking Christian yet at the same time it must be admitted that the differences between legalism and spiritual separation are discernible. What Christ and the apostles taught on separation cannot be dismissed as legalism. The doctrine of separation is not something separate from the gospel. It is in fact an integral part of the gospel. Rather than being legalism true separation is the good news that Christ has liberated us from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Theologically the practice of separation is rooted in the word sanctify. The great gospel doctrine of sanctification means the believer is to be separated unto God and separated from sin. Only those who separate themselves to God will have the disposition to separate themselves from sin and evil in all forms. Those redeemed by Christ have been called to walk in Holiness. The reality of trying to live a holy life in an ungodly world soon brings the honest heart to the altar of full consecration to God. As the inner life is transformed by the holiness of Christ, the walk, the worship and the work of the Christian undergo a radical change.
The natural outcome of consecration is the desire to bring one's lifestyle into conformity with the inner separation and compliance with the will of God. Since separation is part and parcel of sanctification it is redemptive in nature. The desire to separate must come from a pure heart. This process then is not optional. The Holy Spirit will press the new believer into such a course of action if he will obey.
Separation can not be dismissed as rules of behavior imposed by the church on its members. Rather than rules and regulations, separation would better be defined as a transformed attitude toward the flesh and this present evil world. It entails a holy determination to break with the world system. One is then able to live in the world while being independent of its precepts and influences.
The implications of such a doctrine are far reaching. Christ and His apostles understood separation to be foundational to Christian discipleship. The neglect of this truth can only bring spiritual disaster to individual believers and subsequently to the church. The high priestly prayer of Jesus found in the seventeenth chapter of John is the fountainhead of this teaching in the New Testament. Jesus used the word "world" seventeen times in His prayer. It is obvious that He saw more in the word than just the planet earth. Jesus used the term 'world" to describe how unregenerate men behave, think, and interact with each other. When Jesus presented His prayer petitions to
the Father He prefaced them by saying He was not of the world nor were those He had saved of the world. (John 17:14). Our Lord asked the Father to help believers overcome the world and bear a credible testimony to that condemned system. The divine order is simple; salvation takes us out of the world, sanctification takes the world out of us, and the Savior sends us back into the world as a demonstration and testimony of His holiness.
True separation calls for a radical change of lifestyle. It is the inner transformation of the heart by the Holy Spirit and the will to separate from all that displeases God that makes this new life possible. When holiness is internalized it will soon manifest itself externally in the walk of the Christian.
The secret of biblical separation is the cross of Christ. Jesus taught, 'if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24) The way of the cross is diametrically opposed to the way of the world. All who sincerely embrace it find themselves liberated from the attraction of this present evil world. Paul puts it graphically, "But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world." (Galatians 6:14) The believer who is experientially crucified to the world will not be constantly struggling with issues of worldliness. Each encounter
with worldly issues is settled on the basis of full surrender to Christ. No matter the cost, the child of God walks in the way laid out by the Word of God. It is this kind of biblical separation that makes the Christian's testimony credible before the watching world.
When professing Christians dress like the world, play like the world, manage money like the world, raise their families like the world, have the same goals as the world, take in the entertainment of the world, have throw away marriages like the world, are materialistic and greedy like the world, self-centered and individualistic like the world it will take more than a trip once a week to church to cure their problems. If only they would search the scriptures and find the rich benefits that flow from being separated unto God.
Those who take seriously the scriptural call of nonconformity to the world are often characterized as narrow, unfulfilled, cranky people trying to get to heaven by their good works. We have all known some people like that but they were the exceptions. But the real product is found among those happy souls who find nonconformity a privilege rather than a burden. They meet their worldly neighbors with love and a caring spirit. Their homes are an oasis of peace and quietness where godliness and simplicity is the style. The distractions of television, loud music, and the incessant propaganda of the media are not to be found among them. The songs of Zion, earnest prayer and
teaching from the Word of God are the daily agenda in such humble homes. These people are easy to live with. No greater joy can be found than walking in the plain way of the Calvary road.
Even the Old Testament teaches the necessity of separation. God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees to follow Him as a pilgrim. He left his home, his family, his business, and his culture to follow God into the unknown. For the rest of his life the patriarch lived in tents and moved from place to place with confidence in God. He lived and worked in the midst of a pagan culture from which he kept himself and his family separate so as to live for God. Just as this ancient man of God was called out of the wicked city of Ur to walk with God so we are called out of the world to walk in holiness. Paul said of Christ, "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver
us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father." (Galatians 1:4) Paul instructed young Titus to teach, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." (Titus 2:11-12) The soul that walks with God can not feel at home in this present world. As a stranger and a pilgrim the Christian is fully aware that he lives in alien territory and needs every means of grace to master his journey home. The Levitical law taught Israel the importance of spatial separation from all that God declared to be unclean.
They were to avoid the Gentiles, certain animals, foods and many other restrictions. To ignore these laws of separation made an Israelite unclean so that he was barred from worship and approach to Jehovah God.
The Levitical separation was from the law and differs greatly from separation in the New Testament. Christian separation comes from grace. It is different in nature and kind from the Old Testament. Separation for the Christian is not spatial but moral and spiritual. Such a state of grace is not automatic but comes to us by obedience and spiritual growth. Believers are accountable to heed the call of the Spirit to a separated life. "Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you." (11 Corinthians 6:17) To take this stand requires definite choices and a firm resolve of the will. This process
is fed by constant prayer and study of the Word of God. We must be alert for the world system is ever inventing new enticements to snare us. Robert E. Coleman in his book, “The Mind of the Master” says, 'Those who follow Him live by the ethic of this higher government. They form a new community, however imperfectly realized now, within the existing culture of the world. In this way their lives separately and together demonstrate the true character of holiness. Like a city set on a hill, they expose the falsity of the world around them (Matthew 5:14).' (Coleman page 89, Fleming H. Revell publisher, 1977)
The separated life is not an add-on but a central truth in the good news Jesus brought to the world.
Keith M. Bailey