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The Battle with the World

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 15, 2024 12:01 am

The Battle with the World

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 15, 2024 12:01 am

God commands His people not to be conformed to this fallen world, but that isn't a calling to isolate ourselves from secular society. Today, R.C. Sproul presents what it really means to be a Christian nonconformist.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from evil.

That's a fine line to walk. The world is a threatening place for someone to make a spiritual pilgrimage, but it is the only place we can have a spiritual pilgrimage, and it happens to be the arena of redemption. John tells us, do not love the world or the things in the world, and Jesus prays that we wouldn't be taken out of the world, but that we would be kept from evil, from the evil one. This is the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind, as each week we are walking through R.C. Sproul's series on pleasing God.

You can own this series on DVD and have lifetime access to the messages and the study guide in the free Ligonier app when you give a gift of any amount at So how are you and I to understand the world and our relationship to it? Christians have answered these important questions incorrectly throughout church history.

So here's Dr. Sproul to bring clarity as he shares some of the ways not to tackle our battle with the world. In this session we're going to consider the Christians struggle with what the New Testament calls the world. Now obviously the term world in the New Testament is used in more than one way. In some cases the term world simply refers to this planet.

There's nothing pejorative, nothing negative about the term when it's used in that way. It's simply a geographical location. This place is distinguished from Mars or Jupiter or the heavens above. But also the term world is used in the New Testament to refer to the fallen sphere of this planet to a kind of standpoint or perspective that is anti-God, that is more man-centered than God-centered. Let me read a brief portion from the Gospel according to Saint John to see how Jesus makes this kind of distinction with respect to the world.

I'm going to pick it up in John chapter 17 verse 12. Now I am no more in the world but these are in the world and I come to thee. Here you see world clearly refers to this place doesn't it? He said I'm about to depart from this location from the world but now Father I'm praying for my friends and my disciples who are going to stay behind here active in this world. He goes on to say Holy Father keep through thine own name those whom you have given me that they may be one as we are and while I was with them in the world I kept them in thy name and those that you gave me I have kept and none of them is lost but the Son of Perdition that the Scripture might be fulfilled and now I come to you that these things that I speak in the world that they might have joy fulfilled in themselves I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Now do you see how the term world is beginning to take on that slightly different nuance to refer not simply to geographical location but to one's standpoint or perspective with regard to the things of God. The world is that sphere or that group of people that has no affection for the things of God. The world exists in this regard in antithesis and opposition and tension over against the kingdom of God and so he says I pray not that you should take them out of the world but that you should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world so sanctify them through your truth thy word is truth.

That is a loaded statement isn't it? Jesus said I'm not asking father that you take them out of the world. Oh how I wish we would listen to the prayer of Christ at that point because in every generation of Christian history there is always that pull and that tug within the Christian community to so disassociate ourselves from anything that smacks of this world that we withdraw into isolation in order to keep ourselves pure. If we would only read the gospel according to Saint Luke for in Luke's gospel we see a motif that is hammered home again and again by Luke in terms of the teaching of Jesus over against once again the Pharisees. One of the doctrines that emerged among the Pharisees was this doctrine salvation by segregation. Remember one of the things that the Pharisees became so incensed about with Jesus was that Jesus in their opinion contaminated himself by spending time with publicans and tax collectors and sinners.

The things that the Pharisees wouldn't go near. I remember once walking down the street in conversation with a friend of mine who was an Anglican priest and he was rather proud of his consecration into the priesthood and we were in the streets of Philadelphia and this little boy came, he was selling newspapers or something, it was kind of like a street urchin, he was filthy dirty. You know he had ice cream or something all over his face and his shirt was dirty and he had tattered clothes on and he came on and he grabbed the hold of the priest's sleeve and began to tug at it saying mister, mister and you know he was trying to sell him a magazine or something and suddenly the priest turned around and threw the boy's hand off his hand and said how dare you touch the arm of a priest of God.

I wanted to stop right there and look at my friend the priest and say how dare you act as if the arm of a priest were untouchable by a human being. I mean Jesus would have embraced that boy on the street. He would never buy in to this idea of so radical separation from the world that one sort of manifests a spirit of contempt. Jesus said I don't ask that you take them out of the world. Jesus was not starting a new community of Essenes. Do you remember the Essenes whose work was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls? These were people who drew apart from civilization to live in total isolation so that they could keep themselves pure for the coming of the Messiah and while they're hiding down there in the caves along the Dead Sea the Messiah came and they missed Him.

They were so busy keeping themselves out of the world. Jesus said I don't ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from evil. That is that you preserve them while they are living out their faith and living out their life in the midst of the world. I think that's consistent with what the Apostle Paul teaches in his grand climax in the practical application of the book of Romans after this expansive development of heavy doctrine in theology.

You remember how he begins the 12th chapter where he said I beseech you therefore my brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice holy and acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service and then what does he say? And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Let's take a look at those two words conformity and transformation. We see the same root in both of them the word form which refers to structure or system and the only difference really that we find in these words is with the prefix, right? The prefix con means what?

chili con carne means beans with meat, right? So that con here means with so that to conform is literally to be with it to be a part of the leading acceptable structures of the current world system. Well what is it that we're being drawn to conformity? The Germans have a word for it. You know how the Germanic languages they'll just take two good concrete nouns and just squash them together and make one word out of them and get the word zeitgeist.

You've all heard the word geist I'm sure in the English language because you've heard of poltergeists and poltergeists are kind of ghosties that go bump in the night. Well zeit is the German word for time and geist is the German word for spirit and so this compact word zeitgeist means literally the spirit of the times or the spirit of the age and what the Germans mean by the zeitgeist is basically this what's in right now? What is fashionable?

What is acceptable? What is it that we do? Now in the 19th century a man became very important not only as a literary figure in Germany but as a philosopher and he emerged as one of the most important critics of his own generation and his name was Frederick Nietzsche and you know that Nietzsche is famous for his declaration of the death of God and for his advocacy of what he called biological heroism by which he would seek for the construction of a super race and Hitler ran with that and took it to an extreme but Nietzsche complained of the decadence of 19th century Europe and in that complaint said that basically the vast majority of people live what he called by the dictates of a herd morality. That is Nietzsche's criticism was this, he said for the most part people are like sheep and they just follow uncritically and without any courage whatever is expected from them in their contemporary situation. In other words they become slaves to the zeitgeist or the spirit of the age and that's why he called for Superman, the ├╝bermensch he said the ├╝bermensch will be known as a person who will leave the herd and dare to think for himself. In other words the Superman of Nietzsche would be the ultimate non-conformist. Now at least that much the New Testament has in common with Nietzsche's nihilism both call us to a kind of non-conformity it's not the same kind of non-conformity I hasten to add but Paul says do not be conformed to this world. Now if ever there was a passage of Scripture distorted by Christians that's it because we look at that and we only read half of the passage and we say oh well what God wants from us is if we're going to be really righteous we're going to be known for our non-conformity. Do you realize on the one hand how difficult it is to be a non-conformist as I've already indicated we're so pulled to acceptance by the group and so on on the other hand you realize how easy it is to be a non-conformist of a kind. What happens with Christians is they say well we're going to show the world that we're different by refusing to participate in the world's worldliness which means we won't dance and we won't wear makeup and we won't go to movies and we won't play cards I remember when I went to my first job to teach Christian college I was hired to teach the Bible and before the school opened they had a picnic on the beach and some students pulled out a deck of cards and started playing bridge and the dean came over and confiscated the cards and that was my initiation to discover to my horror that the only card game that this group of Christians were allowed to play was Rook the Christian card game. I said Rook I said Rook I quit playing Rook when I was eight and I said what are they going to do when they find out that their Bible professor plays in duplicate bridge tournaments. It never occurred to me that there was anything spiritual or unspiritual about contract bridge.

Imagine it. Absolutely incredible that that kind of thing emerges in a subculture. But what happens is we look around and we see things that people in the secular world do and we want to make sure that we don't appear anyway like secular people so we set up these artificial forms of nonconformity.

Ladies and gentlemen the kingdom of God has nothing to do with Rook. Those are superficial types of nonconformity. If you want to be a nonconformist in the biblical sense be somebody whose word can be trusted.

Be somebody who will do what's right even if it costs them money. That's different. It's not that if everybody in the world is wearing white hats we start to wear red ones. That's not the nonconformity that the New Testament is talking about. But we read the rest of the verse and we see that we are not simply to be nonconformists for nonconformity's sake but we are to be transformed. And here the prefix means everything.

To be transformed means to go over, above, beyond the structures of the present world. When I first became a Christian the fellow that led me to Christ made a statement to me in the first two weeks. I said what does it mean to you to be a Christian? He says what it means to me to be a Christian is that I'm going to outwork you, I'm going to out fight you and I'm going to out love you.

And that's when he understood that to be a Christian meant a call to excellence, a call to excellence that went beyond the standards of what was acceptable in the world. Most Christians today take their ethical guidance from what's legal or what's accepted in the rest of the world. Or we want to have the civil magistrates enforce the Christian ethic. Say wait a minute, the Christian ethic's the same no matter what the Supreme Court does or what the Supreme Court says.

I don't march to that drumbeat. We have a Lord who gives us our ethic and His commandments. He said obey my commandments.

That's our responsibility. To be transformed people, to get our call not from what everybody else is doing but from what we're called to be doing as children of Christ. That's different, isn't it, from simple conformity to the standards of this world. But the nonconformity principle, as I said, can be so trivialized that the freshness and the life that is found in the Christian ethic becomes smothered and camouflaged and eclipsed beneath all the stuff. And so we begin to perpetuate our own, as I said, sub cultural standards that have little or nothing to do with Christianity.

And we fail to hear the prayer of Jesus, I ask not that you take them out of the world. Not too long ago I received a telephone call from the headmaster of a Christian Academy, a high school. And he said, Dr. Sproul, I don't know what to do. He said, I have a terrible problem here in the school.

And I said, what? He said, well we're trying to have a Christian education here in this high school. And so this year in our senior English program we've had selected readings from Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway in our course on American literature. And when some of the parents found out that their kids were reading Steinbeck and Hemingway, they went bananas.

And they have protested to the board now and they want us to get those books out of the school. Now the question I have, Dr. Sproul, is this, how can I teach a course in American literature without teaching Hemingway and Steinbeck? I said, that's an easy question to answer. You can't.

You simply can't. Any attempt to educate people in American literature that would eliminate Steinbeck and Hemingway is simply dishonest. But that's what was expected by the parents and members of the board, that Christian education means all you ever do is study Christians. I had a president of a Christian college say to me not too long ago, he said, we've come to this place now that we have a Christian who has this option. He either gets a Christian education or a good education. And he didn't say it cynically.

He said it tragically. And yet when you look at the giants of the Christian faith, St. Paul, Calvin, Luther, Edwards read their writings, see how versed they were in the great literature of the world. But they weren't seduced by it. When my son was 12 years old, he was reading Thomas Huxley, but with my supervision because I was committed to his education from a Christian perspective, from a Christian worldview. But he had to understand the world. And I had people say to me, but doesn't the Bible say beware of vain philosophy?

It does say that. But how in the world can you beware of something unless you're first aware of it? I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from evil.

That's a fine line to walk. The world is a threatening place for someone to make a spiritual pilgrimage. But it is the only place we can have a spiritual pilgrimage. And it happens to be the arena of redemption, the place where we are called to live, to function, and to minister. Let me just close with this, that Luther also said that there tends to be a pattern in Christian experiences.

He examined the lives of the great spiritual heroes of the past, beginning with the Apostle Paul and going through Augustine and so on. He says, at conversion, when a person is converted to Christianity, the contrast between the world and the things of Christ becomes so dramatic that people quit the world. And they go through a period where they absolutely withdraw from the world, like Paul went to Arabia. And it's almost, Luther said, it's almost necessary for us to go through that stage in our Christian development where we're totally world-denying so that we can become rooted and grounded in the spiritual things and get our roots down deep. And Luther says, but we don't reach maturity as Christians until we are able once again to embrace the world. He didn't mean by that to fall back into worldliness. What he meant by that is to come back into the world and see it as God sees it and to love it as God loves it and to learn from it even where God's truth can come through it. So that's just the first of the three mortal struggles that we have with the world, the flesh, and the devil. We'll look at the other two in our subsequent lectures.

That was R.C. Sproul on the Christian's battle with the world. Thanks for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. If you'd like daily reminders of each day's episode of Renewing Your Mind, simply enter your email at slash email and we'll send you a link to listen every morning. Pleasing God, this series that you heard a message from today, was recorded to help Christians grow in holiness and be better prepared for our lifelong journey of sanctification. You can request this series on DVD and have access in the free Ligonier app when you give a donation of any amount at or by clicking the link in the podcast show notes. You'll also receive lifetime digital access to the study guide, so this series could work well for your Bible study or small group or even as part of your family worship or homeschool. Request your copy today at and remember that this offer ends at midnight. Next time, R.C. Sproul will address another battle we must face, our battle with the flesh. That's next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-15 02:58:18 / 2024-06-15 03:06:51 / 9

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