How Can We Teach Teens to Be ‘In the World but Not of It?'
“Christians are to bein the world but not of the world,” Katie heard her youth pastor say. “What does that even mean?” Katie thought to herself. “Am I supposed to give up my phone? Do I only need Christian friends? Do I have to just have to squelch my desire to support myself or be successful?
Seriously, what does that mean?”
The “in not of” principle is something almost anyone who has spent time in church has heard, but many, like Katie, may not actually understand what it means, or are unsure how to explain it to someone else.
So, let’s look at this “in not of” concept Biblically, and then show how to apply it to the modern world of teenagers.
What Is the Biblical Foundation of ‘In the World but Not of It?’
Several Bible verses give a foundation to the “in not of” principle. Consider these four verses:
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.
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
The first two verses show that once we receive Christ, we are no longer “of” this world, but are also not taken out of it. From the last two verses, we see the warning that being of the world, or belonging to it and loving it, make us enemies with God.
Now that we have a foundation, we can build on it, but how do we explain this in practice to teenagers?
Do Not Conform to the Patterns of This World
Romans 12:2 gives us a good way to discuss this concept in a practical sense. The first part of the verse states, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
A good way to explain the “in not of” principle to teenagers is to go through a few patterns of this world.
Take romantic relationships for example, which is a common favorite with the teenage girls I mentor. The current worldly pattern for teenage relationships goes something like this:
-Talk or direct message through text or social media
-Get to know each other, and in an alarming number of cases, send nude or semi-nude photos
-Go on a date
-Continue to date and maybe commit to being boyfriend/girlfriend
-Begin sexual relationship (depending on age)
-Break up when the feelings fade
Adhering to this pattern when it comes to romantic relationships would be considered being of the world. A teenager would be doing what the world is doing, following its pattern and participating in its sinful ways.
After this discussion, I would explain how we are “in” the world, because we too, if it is in God’s will, will be in romantic relationships. Dating relationships are not bad in and of themselves, and one day can eventually lead to marriage, which is ordained and blessed by God.
However, we are not “of” the world, because since we are followers of Christ, we adhere to a different pattern.
In the Christian pattern, we do not send nudes, we abstain from sex before marriage, and we are directed to be in a relationship with a Christian so we have the same foundation and the same ultimate end goal or glorifying God with the relationship.
Therefore, teenagers are “in” the world because they will have romantic relationships, but not “of” it because they do not follow the world’s pattern.
How to Not Succumb to the World’s Pattern of Media
It is no secret that teenagers can be completely absorbed by media in general and especially social media. Much of their interactions center around various apps filled with likes, comments, and snaps.
A common pattern with social media and teenagers today is racking up as many likes as possible and keeping Snapchat streaks alive. Teens set up their own persona to give off the impression they want others to see, which could vary wildly from their actual lives.
When it comes to Christian teens, we must teach them how to recognize this pattern and show them how to set up a different one.
For example, they need to have an understanding that social media should not control their lives or get to the point where it negatively affects their mental health. They should not spend hours a day on it or change themselves to get likes.
Students are technically “in” world because they are on social media, but they do not have to be “of” it by following its self-promoting pattern.
How to Not Be Fooled By the World’s Pattern of Success
Most everyone wants to be successful. This is measured in different ways, but virtually no one enters their teen years thinking, “I would like to be as unsuccessful as possible.”
The world shows teenagers that the number of social media followers or subscribers, whether it be on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube is a sign of success. It gains you influence, sponsored posts, and a protective “tribe.”
Beyond this, our world shows success to be professional athletes, celebrities, movie stars, and wealthy CEOs. Their pattern involves getting money and power, no matter the cost, or what morals one must compromise.
It should also be noted that being wealthy is not bad. Doctors make good money, but they are also serving others in their jobs and I know many that volunteer time at free clinics.
According to 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…”. Making money is not bad, but desiring it more than God and loving all it can bring at the cost of relationships is not good.
We need to show students that we adhere to a different pattern of success, which is a pattern of service. Jesus was ultimately a servant, and we should follow that example. We should use the gifts and talents God gave us to serve and provide for our families and others.
In this case, teenagers are in the world because they will obviously have to have jobs and money. They will need to support themselves and their future families. But they are not “of” it because they are not viewing money, fame, or worldly success as the main goal of life.
How to Not Fall Into the World’s Pattern of Tolerance
The true concept of “tolerance” has been hijacked by our culture and is being peddled to teens as, in my own words, “An unquestionable acceptance of someone’s life choices as long as they are not hurting you.”
Because of this, teenagers are being made to believe that anyone who voices concern or disagreement with someone else’s life choices it is a (to use a common buzzword) “bigot.”
Tolerance is a worldly pattern that many strictly adhere to, but it is completely unbiblical. Jesus tells us in John 15:12 (NIV), “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” We are called to love people, not simply to tolerate them and everything they do. We need to demonstrate and teach a pattern of love.
It is loving to tell someone that is using drugs, even if it’s “only on the weekends” that it could destroy their lives. It is loving to tell people the truth. It is loving to tell people that Jesus Christ died on a cross so they don’t have to be a slave to sin anymore.
Love is a far cry from tolerance.
We need to show teenagers to be “in” the world by recognizing that tolerance is seen as a virtue; and show them to not be “of” it by exchanging love for tolerance.
Many of us know the pitfalls of following the world, and sin, bring and it is pertinent to address this concept with teenagers to help them stay far from the path that leads to destruction.
Hopefully by explaining worldly patterns to teens, and showing them how Christ calls us to live differently in these situations, we can help them understand the concept of being 'in the world but not of it.'
Sarah Garrett is a passionate educator and the founder of Transformed4More.com. She has a calling on her life to share God’s truth to teenagers to help them lived transformed lives for Jesus Christ. She is the author of So, You Think You’re Ready to Date? a 40-day devotional for teenage girls to learn how to set a Biblical foundation for romantic relationships.
Photo Credit: ©Thinkstock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund