The concept of being in the world but not of it has been interpreted in different ways. There are those who believe that you need to physically move away from society and put yourself in a monastery or some other isolated place in order not to be of this world. I don't believe that this is biblical even though some people may temporarily go to an isolated place for prayer.
The biblical alternative is found in 2 Peter 1:4, which speaks of "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." Lust is what makes us participants in the corrupting influences of the world. Lust is a form of desire, which makes us believe that our happiness or contentment depends upon acquiring a certain thing. It could be a person or any material object. The world presents us with many false promises of happiness. Our primary source of peace and contentment should be from God.
Lust presents us with substitutes for God, but the problem is that we never get enough of what we are seeking in order to bring us to a place of satisfaction. Because of this, it often turns into an addiction, and we compulsively keep pursuing the object with the hope of eventually being content with what we acquire, but it never quite happens. This is why the Bible refers to lusts as deceitful. Humans are naturally prone to this deceit because of our fallen human nature. The deceitfulness of lust is one of the effects of this. It is a manifestation of the law of sin; and it is what keeps us inordinately attached to this world wherever we are. We don't leave our sin nature behind when we go elsewhere. It always tags along. This is why changing location is not the answer for removing lust.
The Spirit of Christ contains the ingredients for dealing with it. It provides us with the fruit of the Spirit. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control; against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:22-23). Lust is what corrupts us. Temperance is the specific fruit of the Spirit that gives us the strength to overcome it. Temperance is what separates us from the things of the world to the extent that we are able to use them moderately and discriminately. This is why the New Testament Christians continued to live in society and could still be called saints.
When we surrender ourselves to Christ in order to receive His Spirit, we are also surrendering our hope of finding happiness elsewhere. His Spirit contains the fruits of our happiness and contentment while we are in this world. Many of us have come to the Lord because of our dissatisfaction with the false promises that the world had presented for us up to that time. We were tired of being jerked around by our habits, compulsions and addictions. We were tired of always being worried and angry.
We need to give up on our own strength in order to be strengthened by the Lord. He died to strengthen us from our human weakness. "That He would give you, according to the riches of His glory, power to be strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16). If He came only for our sin actions, we would still be without strength. Ungodliness equals strengthlessness. "While we were yet weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:9). The world says the opposite. Without the Spirit, our own will power and thought power leave us powerless over lust. If they were enough, Christ could have stayed home.
Paul describes our human weakness, the law of sin, in Romans 7:14-8:2. He says that we do the things that we don't want to do and don't do the things we should. We are all created equal in this respect. This is the sin nature we are all born with. It is our human weakness. Freedom in Christ consists of freedom from the weakness and oppression that is in our minds from the law of sin. Our own energy can't overcome the law of sin. The energy that results from surrender and the Spirit of Christ does.
The best Scripture I have found for surrendering to the Lord is in 1 Peter 5:5-7: "Likewise you younger ones, submit yourselves to the elders. Yes, all of you be submissive one to another and clothe yourselves with humility, because 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares for you."
James 4:6-10 says something similar. We rest our minds in Him. We present a place for Him to fill when we cast all of our care on Him. This is how biblical spirituality works.
There were a number of other Scripture verses which became important for me. I call them the total-surrender Scriptures. They are as follows:
- Proverbs 3:5-8 says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your body, and strength to your bones." Surrender also provides us with God's direction and guidance.
- Philippians 4:5-7 says to "let everyone come to know your gentleness. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with gratitude, make your requests known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will protect your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Unconditional trust in God provides us with a peace that we can never arrive at on our own.
- Isaiah 26:3-4 says: "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord we have an everlasting rock." Trusting in the Lord also provides a strength that is beyond ourselves.
- Psalm 55:22 says "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be moved." There is a permanence to what God does for. This is why Paul could say that his contentment was dependent upon the Lord and was not dependent upon the outward circumstances of his life (see Phil. 4:11-13).
Christ is the answer.
You can download Peter Aiello's book, Hidden Treasure by visiting his web site: hiddentreasure.website.