“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.” John 15:19
Is it worth it? When we stick out, when we show by our actions that we are so obviously different from the world around us, we are often tempted to ask this question. When the world ridicules us for believing in our God and his word and finding all our joy in him, we might ask ourselves, is it worth it? We might look at our lonely state in this life and ask, is being a faithful servant of God worth being alone in this world? Am I really missing out on life, like they say? When a brother walks stubbornly in sin and appears to have all that heart could wish, it can be tempting to say, “Holiness is not worth it. Look at my brother; look at his happiness. He is not alone; he has many friends, and together with the world he is happy.” We might even begin to think that we are not really so different from the reprobate wicked. Our lives do not always look so dissimilar. Perhaps there is very little difference between us after all, and my antithetical fight is a vain one. Is it really worth it?
The temptation to forsake the antithetical calling that our Lord has given us is present to varying degrees in the lives of the members of the church. It can be tiring to fight against the world constantly. It can be disheartening for us to see over and over again that we have no real place in this world. In our present age, when formerly strong nations and churches tirelessly advocate the tolerance of sin, it can be difficult for our hearts, minds, and bodies to continue to fight. And so we, especially the younger soldiers in this battle of faith who have not the confidence of experience, might be tempted to ask, is it worth it? Can I go on, always fighting, never resting?
To such disheartened souls comes the comforting word of God in John 15.
First, Christ emphasizes that we as believers are not and indeed cannot truly be “of the world.” It is not a capacity that we have within our new persons as redeemed children of God. This is not to say that we do not sometimes fall into sin, but here Christ declares to us that he has chosen us “out of the world,” removing us from it, and that no one can pluck us from his hand.
He then reminds us of the antithetical relationship established between the world and the church after the fall: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed” (Gen 3:15). Enmity stands between the church, which is the body of Christ, and the world, which is the corrupt, stinking body of sin and death. In John 15:19, God calls this enmity hatred. There can exist nothing else. “What communion hath light with darkness?” we read in 2 Corinthians 6:14. Our response to the temptation to unite with the world in any way ought to be that of David in Psalm 139:21: “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee?” We must hate the wicked world, we must hate Satan, and we must hate the old man within us, for they all hate the Lord and his chosen people.
However, being the weak creatures that we are, we often falter when we see the mighty and unyielding hatred the world has for us. Fighting against the world and its subtle attacks on the church’s members, ourselves included, requires us to be diligent, always on the alert, trusting only God’s word. The temptation to be able to rest and put down our arms is a powerful one. From time to time, we even convince ourselves that there is no need to be on our guard. Sometimes we take for granted the great gift of a Protestant Reformed school and assume that there will be no temptations when we are at school, or with our Protestant Reformed friends. But when we are tempted to relax our spiritual guard, we ought to ask ourselves: does Satan ever lessen his attack on my soul? Do the wicked ever stop desiring the destruction of the people of God? Will my own sinful flesh ever rest in its efforts to pull me away from God?
No. Not in this life. And so we must always fight, never stopping, never ceasing, never letting down our guard and fooling ourselves into believing that the attack on our souls has ceased. It is our duty to fight, and one fundamentally important to our being the body of Christ and the children of God. Our highest priority may never be to have rest from the battle of faith. You may have heard the saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead;” it is the same with respect to our life here on earth. It is a life filled with war and with life-threatening conflict. We must always fight.
That sounds very difficult, doesn’t it? “Actually, it sounds impossible,” you might say. And you would be right, because it is impossible for us to fight throughout our entire lives. On our own, we are far too weak. But remember, we do not fight in our own strength. We fight with our feet firmly established on the rock that is the church’s one foundation. We fight by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. And so God provides us with strength to endure.
We make a mistake, however, if we think that by commanding his people to walk antithetically, God achieves the preservation of his church through a joyless and comfortless battle. He does not. The antithesis is far, far more. When we fight against the world through the strength that we have in Christ Jesus, we become partakers by grace of a comfort and peace that surpasses understanding. We experience the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, testifying in our hearts that we belong to Christ. “The world hateth you,” Christ says, “because I have chosen you.”
Do you see that? We should not be disheartened by the hatred of the world. We should be reassured and comforted. If the world hated Christ and tortured him and crucified him, how can we expect it to feel anything but hatred towards those who call themselves Christians? We are his body, and he abides in us. How can the haters of God not hate those through whom the light of Christ shines? When we are hated by the world, it is because we show the light of Christ shining within us. What a comfort! We are saved. We are heirs with Christ of the kingdom of heaven. The hatred of the world assures us of this our salvation!
We should not ask, then, is it worth it? But we ought to ask instead, why would I ever give this up? Why would I ever choose to join with the world? In fighting the fight of the antithesis, I come to know the surety of my salvation. In fighting the fight of the antithesis, and enduring the hatred of the world, I experience in a marvelously real and living way the great love that God has for me, a lowly sinner. He preserves me, and he gives to me all the wondrous peace of Christ, my Lord and Savior, by whose blood I am made clean and in whose strength I stand.
“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” ( John 17:25–26).