Much has been made of this statement. You can find numerous webpages and even entire websites focused on this topic. Just Google “In the world, but not of the world” and see what comes up. (Examples here, here and here)
This, to me, is one of the central elements of a successful Christian life. If you can find the perfect balance between “in the world” (INW) and “not of the world” (NOTW) then you are at least a step ahead of everyone else in their walk with Christ. It is one thing to find the balance. It is another to actually life it. I am still in the “finding it” stage. I have so many questions about different things, individual situation, specific people, etc. I think my greatest fear is to lose the balance at all and rush toward one of the easier extremes.
Many Christians live their lives totally INW. There is no difference between them and anyone else, except they may attend church more and pray/read their Bible more. There is no lifestyle change from them to their non-Christian friends. While this allows them to a better opportunity to influence others, they forfeit all influencing ability by being exactly like everyone else. They have replaced their Christianity with a blank check to live however they like (just asking for forgiveness on Sundays).
Many other Christians live their lives completely NOTW. They have strict guidelines about everything, when and where you can eat, exactly what kinds of clothes you can wear, where you can go, etc. There is a major difference between them and non-Christians. You can recognize them from a mile away by just their physical apperance. While this allows them more influencing ability because of their differences, they lack any opportunities because of those same differences. They have replaced their Christianity with a rule book filled with do’s and don’ts.
Both INW’s and NOTW’s lack influence because everyone they surround themselves with are exactly like them. Which has become the problem with Christianity in the US. One group just accepts whatever comes down the pipe and embraces every new teaching and any philosophy. The other isolates itself from everyone else, forming small Christian sub-cultures.
To me the perfect balance, as always, lies in the life of Jesus Christ. He was in the world (he ate with sinners, harlots, tax collectors), but He was not of the world (besides the fact that He was sinless, He brought up spiritual things whenever possible). This goes along with my post about holiness the other day. To strike that perfect balance it has to be a personal exploration of what Christ has called you to do for Him. The Church must find a way to refocus itself on this balance or it will cease to be relevant in our post-modern culture.