A Call to Consecration
“Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you…”—2 Corinthians 6:17
I am sure that a minister never appears in so forbidding a form, especially to young people, as he does when he comes to deal with this subject of separation, and with the relationship of the Christian to the world in which we live, and many folks are almost ready to account him an enemy of their happiness, and call him a kind of promoter of gloom and misery. Immediately they will put up all sorts of defenses, and there springs to their minds a torrent of ideas to refute every argument from the pulpit such as, for instance, “Narrowness! Legalism! Why shouldn’t I? What’s the harm in it?” etc. Now before any of you withdraw into a bomb-proof shelter, I would show you the spirit of Paul when he wrote these words to the church at Corinth, for at this point in the letter he suddenly breaks into this passionate appeal to separate themselves from every worldly entanglement. They simply must maintain the fundamental opposition which exists between the Christian way of life and the world. The two are as irreconcilable—and Paul uses some tremendously graphic contrasts—as light and darkness, God and the devil, faith and unbelief. He well knew that the Christians lived daily in heathen surroundings, and were in grave danger of falling prey to the spirit of the world around them.
This appeal immediately follows the most wonderful outpouring of love from the heart of the apostle that you would find anywhere in the New Testament, so much so that he almost seems to apologize for it. “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged” (v. 11). In other words, we’ve told you about our life and how we live it in the opening part of this chapter. We have spoken to you about conditions that we bear patiently, characteristics that we reveal daily, contrasts that we accept gladly, for Jesus’ sake and for your sake. We have opened our heart to you completely, not to boast of our spirituality, but to show you that we love you and long for God’s best in your lives. “Ye are not straightened in us, but ye are straightened in your own affections” (v. 12). In other words, there is no coldness in our hearts toward you; we love you. “I beg of you as my children,” Paul says, “don’t be cold in your response! Don’t be suspicious of our motives! Let your heart be as wide open to the message of the Word as ours is to you.”
It is in that very same spirit that I would minister to you in the things of the Lord, as one member of God’s family to others. As one member of a family would warn another member of the family of the things that are likely to throw him off-center in relation to his service for God, so I would speak to you in His name, and ask that you, too, today might be enlarged. Don’t hide behind some shelter as we come to think of this great subject. Come prepared to receive everything that God has for you in His Son, Who purchased you at Calvary. Come as believers, persuaded that there is an experience of fullness of blessing in Christ if we are prepared to walk God’s way.
A text like this, if it is to be understood aright, has to be seen in a far wider context than in its local meaning ot the Corinthian church, or even in the immediate situation surrounding us today. If you use these verses simply as an argument for negative approach to almost anything, resulting in a Christian shutting himself away in a nice little corner all his own labelled “separated,” you do a gross injustice to the whole teaching of the Word of God. I want you to see the greatness and dignity of this text, and therefore to see the greatness and dignity of the Christian life, and you will see something of its urgent application to your life today. Isn’t it a wonderful thing that God made us part of His great program of redemption? Surely that is something that must compel our uttermost response to Him of love. Therefore here is a word that is based upon an Old Testament command. It is as old as the dawn of redemption, rooted in Old Testament history. Indeed, it is the substance of the call of Isaiah the prophet: “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11). It was the call of the prophet to the exiles in Babylon. It was the word of God to Solomon as he dedicated the Temple: “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). And in essence it is the subject of innumerable prophetic appeals in the Word of God, and underlying them all is God’s conception of His people as a peculiar treasure for His own enjoyment. He claims Israel for Himself, and He sets them apart from all others. He began it, of course, in a covenant with Abraham, but it was initiated in that day when they were brought out from Egypt under the covering of the blood, and brought through the Red Sea, guided through the wilderness, and brought into the land of fullness of blessing. This was the people who were bound to God by solemn obligation and by sacred rights. He gave them first of all His commandment which was, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2, 3).
God and His people have always been intended to be all in all to each other. Nothing must ever come between them, and if anything threatens to break that bond, it must be destroyed. Therefore, the Canaanites must be rooted out; the high places of idol worship must be cast down; there must be no intermarriage with the heathen. This was all enforced by prophetic teaching and by bitter experience, until it became the passion of the heart of every Jew. This holds to the appeal of God in Isaiah 52 that carries the conviction—often, I am afraid, in a fanatical spirit—that they were above all other nations in their separation to God.
You might ask why should this be so? What is God’s motive in it all? Well, it is twofold. It was first of all for their preservation. They were to be hedged in like a walled garden in order that it might be kept from weeds and from thorns that would choke it. If they were not so sheltered it would not be long before they would lose their faith, and adopt heathen customs and walk in heathen ways until they became as corrupt as the heathen people around them, and nobody could distinguished the difference between them. The whole history of Israel is a powerful testimony to that very danger. Time after time, you recall, they were seduced from their real faith, to their own sorrow and bitter experience. Even Solomon had his heart turned away by the fascination of heathen women. How much more then could it happen to the ordinary people? Here was the lifelong struggle of the Jewish people with their tragic failure and downfall; and against this the voices of the prophets were raised consistently. It is this that gives a wonderful sense of pathos to the prayer of Ezra. As he came back from captivity and chastisement into the land, and found God’s people mingling again in marriage with the heathen, he says as he prays with a broken heart to God, “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break Thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? Wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? O Lord God of Israel, Thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this” (Ezra 9:13-15).
It was for the sake of their preservation that God marked them out as a separated people, but not only so. It was because—may I say it reverently in the presence of the Lord, and with such a sense of awe in my soul?—of the exclusiveness of God’s love. You see, love is possessive, and when the whole heart is given then the whole heart must be returned, and it will be satisfied with nothing less. When God empties Heaven of all the glory and gives Himself to the point of bankruptcy, as He gave everything at the cross, He will not accept less than all in return. That was the demand that God made upon His redeemed people. His love would have no rival: “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.” In case you think that’s an ugly thing to say about God, may I remind you that He was not jealous of other rivals for His sake, but because of what the rivals would do to His people. It was for their sake.
In Old Testament picture language, how wonderfully that love is portrayed to us. It is the love of a father: “Ephraim is My firstborn” (Jeremiah 31:9). It is the love of a husband: “I am married unto you, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:14); “thy Maker is thy husband” (Isaiah 54:5). And that wonder love of God could stand the strain of His people’s sin apparently without any limits. It could forgive and restore, because in that amazing drama of Hosea, He says, “Behold I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and will speak to her heart…and I will betroth thee unto me for ever” (Hosea 2:14, 20). Can ever that love of God be satisfied with less than the whole heart, that His people should keep themselves for Him alone?
You see enough to underline that this great text is rooted in Old Testament revelation, in the purpose of God for our preservation, and for the satisfaction of His loving heart. But there is the New Testament also, and in this sense, the same call is made upon the Christian. The Jew, of course, gave it a meaning that ministered to their racial pride as an excuse for contempt of other people, but all that is done away in Christ. Yet the same call for separation—not racially or socially, but in spirit and manner of life—runs right through the Book. Jesus said, “If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love his own, but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).
That is the whole significance of the cross, the place where Jesus died. It reminds us that the Lord whom we follow was rejected and cast out because the spirit of His life, His way and manner of life, were so totally contrary to the spirit of the world. He said to His disciples, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). We are called to take sides with Him against a world that crucified Him. The New Testament church had no misconception of what He meant. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12, 13). The apostle James takes up the symphony and the theme, saying, “Pure religion and undefiled before God is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). Almost in a burst of indignation (for which I feel, not knowing him personally but reading between the lines, James was the kind of man who was quite capable of doing) he writes “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). I tell you, I think his pen nearly took fire when he wrote like that! He was indignant at the possibility of a Christian getting mixed up with worldly things.
Paul’s whole view of the Christian life rested upon this principle. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world…let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:14, 17). And to Paul the gulf between himself and the world was as wide and as final as death itself.
The Christian is to reckon himself dead unto sin and alive unto God. He is a soldier on active service and therefore he mustn’t entangle himself with the affairs of this life. He is part of a colony of Heaven living in an alien, enemy country, and he must be subject to the laws of the kingdom of which he is a member, and if you want to know what they are, read the Sermon on the Mount. The motive in the New Testament is exactly the same as the motive in the Old Testament. First, for our preservation, not racially but spiritually, Jesus prayed—oh, that you would catch the anguish in the heart of our precious Lord as He prayed in the last days of His earthly life; “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16). I was included in that prayer, so were you, isn’t that wonderful?
But it was not only for our preservation and purity, but for the satisfaction of the heart of God for Jesus declared that the first and greatest commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.”
“You cannot serve God and mammon.” There can be no rival in the heart to this supreme passion of the love of God, and as Christ loved His own unto the end, He must have our whole love in return. The Holy Spirit uses in the New Testament exactly the same symbol of marriage as He does in the Old Testament: “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chase virgin to Christ. I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve…so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2, 3). What darling language!
Our text is as great, as deep, as wide, as long as all the revelation of God. It is part of God’s mind, heart and purpose for His people from the day when He flung the stars in space until the day when we shall see His lovely face, and we are part of that great plan. Therefore, come ye out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord Almighty.
Now, wait a minute, that’s all very well, but what is the modern significance? The great question is, how are we to apply it today? I hope you read John Bunyan’s books: Pilgrim’s Progress, Grace Abounding, Holy War. Do you remember how Bunyan describes his pilgrims in Vanity Fair? He says of them that they were so different from all others in their dress, their speech, their behavior, and their contempt for the merchandise of the Fair. Is that relevant in 1960? Many would reply, No! Oh, that’s all right in the dark ages of ancient civilization, but when Christian principles are applied to society in which we live the call is obsolete.
That is the most dangerous attitude a Christian can take today. It is the thing that pulls the dynamic power of the church of Jesus Christ right down to the level of godless, sinful, Christ-rejecting world until she is powerless to lift the world up. We have set aside the call to separation. How far do you think Christian principles are really applied in modern society? I suggest to you that the veneer is very thin, not even more than skin deep. It is the same world that rejected Christ, and it does so still. It is a civilization which is under the judgment of God, and it is doomed to destruction. The Babylon of the Old Testament has its counterpart today, and in the great last book of the Word of God, in the picture of the overthrow of world civilization, God says: “Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto Heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquity” (Revelation 18:4, 5).
It is fantastically absurd—it is worse than that, it is sheer downright sin—for one generation for the sake of its worldly convenience to imagine that it can lower the bars of separation, which are rooted in divine history, and revealed in divine prophecy, when we live in a world that is under God’s judgment and doomed to destruction, and when Jesus Christ is coming back to take His people home. Yet most Christians are satisfied to conform to custom, to dress, to the opinion of the day in which we live, and the great command, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” ceases to grip our hearts, and is regarded as archaic. Indeed, it even creates resentment on the argument that you must conform if you would live. I wonder who spread that devilish doctrine into the church of Christ today? The great church historian, Honeck, records this, and this I quote: “The church never had so much influence on the world as when she kept herself aloof from it. A church conformed to the world will never lead it; she must be separate if she would live.”
Now if that principle is true for this day—as it has certainly been true in every other, and it is certainly yet to be true in those to come till Jesus comes again—then how do I apply it in daily life? Do you know where we have gone wrong, and why we have brought down the scorn of an unbelieving world? We have laid down mechanical rules and listed a whole row of things that are taboo. Life is far too complex for that. You cannot list certain things and make separation from them a mark of Christian discipleship. Let me be careful to say, nevertheless, that what Christian people found to be harmful in days gone by, they are most likely to find harmful today. On the other hand, separation such as I am talking about is not a negative thing; it is a positive thing. It isn’t simply living contrary to the world, as I’ve said before, putting yourself in a little compartment labeled “separated,” and making everybody mad at you. It is living in harmony with the passion in the heart of God for a world that is lost. That is separation.
It is every moment of your day, wherever you may be, in the ministry or in secular life (and that is a ministry anyway), invested to the glory of God in a commitment to His authority and power in your life which is without reservation. This means that day by day you live in such a way that you refrain from doing anything which would disturb your harmony with God. I’m not concerned if people don’t like me, and I am unpopular down here. But I am very concerned if I lose the harmony of my relationship with the Holy Spirit. He is a very sensitive Lord.
It is not a question simply of trying to empty your heart and life of every worldly desire—what an awful impossibility! It is rather opening your heart wide to all the love of God in Christ, and letting that love just sweep through you and exercise its expulsive power till your heart is filled with love. Don’t you think, my friend, that a fundamentalist group of Christians ought never to need to be told this, for they do! Surely the all-sufficient incentive for a holy life is not legalism but grace, not saying to a young Christian, “thou shalt not do this or that; thou shalt not go here or there.” No, it is saying, “Don’t you recognize what God had done for you in Jesus Christ, the privileges that are yours, what it cost Him to forgive you? That which you have taken so easily as God’s gift was purchased with a broken heart, with the God of all the universe murdered outside Jerusalem. You are the temple of the living God.”
You see, this is Paul’s basis for it (2 Corinthians 6:16). A temple is set apart for holy use. In Old Testament days it was in three parts, the outer court of service, the holy place of sacrifice, the Holiest of all worship. Ye are the temple of the living God and the outer court of your body (the place of service), the inner place (the holy place of your soul where you make decisions, the place of sacrifice), and the holiest of all (your spirit, the place of worship), every bit of you is set apart in the sight of heaven for holy use. The conduct of the people in the outer court and in the holy place of the Temple was regulated twenty-four hours, day and night, by the awful sense of the presence of the living God in the Holiest of all. “I will be with them, and dwell in them, and walk with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The whole temple is set apart for His glory.
Are you going to argue about movie shows? Don’t be absurd! You are set apart for His glory, every bit of you, every minute of every day. Bunyan, (forgive me quoting a favorite author again) says of his unconverted days, “I well remember that though I could myself sin with the greatest delight and ease, yet even then if I saw wicked things practiced by those who professed godliness, it made my spirit tremble.”
I am not going to lay down any rules for you for it is not law but grace, but I am going to suggest principles about anything in your life concerning which you have a problem:
- Is it to the glory of God for you to do that? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
- Has it the appearance of evil? (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
- Is it a stumblingblock to a weaker Christian? Beware how you are using your liberty in Christ lest a younger brother be caused to offed.
- Is it a weight? Does it drag you down?
- Does it make your prayer life more difficult?
- Does it dim the vision of your wonderful Saviour?
- Does it make you less than your best when you are praying and reading the Word? Does it kill all that, or does it help you to see His lovely face?
- Can you ask His blessing upon it? “For the blessing of the Lord maketh rich and addeth no sorrow.”
If you are honest and concerned enough, and deeply devoted enough to the Lord Jesus, when you apply those principles you will have no doubts whatsoever about anything.
What a promise there is here for obedience in verse 18. What does the Lord offer to His child who is really prepared to face this? Relationship with God is established by faith and commitment to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord; but sonship and friendship are the reward of obedience (John 15). It is the result of an intimate relationship with the Lord that makes us sensitive to sin. Nothing else matters too much except that there may be in your heart an intimate sense of His nearness and love, His protecting care, His presence and joy. How urgent it is that you might hear His word, for the church of today has lost its savor because it is conformed to the pattern of the age and is no longer marked out as being a separated church. The spirit of the world has poisoned our life and paralyzed our testimony, and on that level the church of 1960 is powerless to do a thing. In the light of the majesty, dignity and greatness of this text at the very heart of divine revelation, respond to His great love in terms of the cross, and say to Him, “Father, I yield!”