by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter 6-2 (contd.)


How do we get released from the entanglements of the world? Do we literally sell all of our possessions? Do we move away from civilization to a kind of monastic environment? Let us first be very clear concerning one thing: the biblical answer is not asceticism. Asceticism involves the religious self-discipline of depriving one’s self of things good in themselves (food, warmth, comfort, etc.) for the sake of spiritual attainment. Paul condemned this practice as one that itself involves worldly principles!

If you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Col. 2:20-23).

Space does not permit us to detail here all of the spiritual helps related to disengaging the believer from the world. For this, the reader needs to consult the suggested reading list for help in Christian growth (especially Love Not the World by Watchman Nee). However, some observations now follow in overview.

First, we need to be continually conscious of the "world" and the "saving of the soul" as issues for us, not thinking of immorality or "sin" as the sole issue. To this end, we should study the Scriptures on this subject and pray for God to enlighten us and sensitize us. In conjunction with this, it would probably be very helpful for us to read the writings of men of God who have seen these things clearly from God’s Word and from experience.

Secondly, we need to go to the Lord in prayer and deal with Him over the issue of "selling all". Jesus told us, "So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions" (Lk. 14:33). Here, He is talking about having an attitude of releasing--inwardly letting go of--all of our possessions and relationships in order to follow Christ.

This self-denial is primarily a heart matter, a matter of willingness. He is not saying that every believer needs to literally get rid of all he owns (this would be against the record of the New Testament). However, our heart should be so willing to relinquish these things, that if the Lord speaks to us to actually dispose of some possession, we would be ready to do it. In our heart, we need to "leave" (let go of in terms of primary affection and involvement) job, house, family and material possessions in order to follow Him (Matt. 19:29). He wants our heart to be free from the entanglement of these things (2 Tim. 2:4).

We need to tell the Lord that we are willing, by His grace, to suffer loss to our soul in this age; that is, we are willing to give up the enjoyments that please our soul. We need a caution here. We must be very genuine with God and sincerely ask for His enlightenment in our life as to what needs to be dealt with. Watchmen Nee comments: "But the things in which we usually take great delight are things about which we are insensitive as to our being entangled."[1]

Thank God that His Word tells us that He has already dealt with the problem of the world at the cross. "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). We need to take this word, meditate on it, and claim it every day, preferably praying it to the Lord. This truth is our release from the grip of the world and the attractions within us to it. We need to exercise our faith in the accomplished fact of what Christ did to us and the world on the cross. Remember that Luke 9:23 tells us that self-denial and bearing our cross is a daily matter. I believe that specific prayer is needed every day, mainly because the world is so deceptive and so easily entraps us subconsciously.

How do we know when we are being "of the world" instead of just "in the world" (Jn. 17:14-18)? There is no set of rules in the Bible as to what is "worldly" behavior or indulgence. The following comments on this subject are important:

So a serious problem faces us here. As we have said, presumably there must be a limit. Presumably God has drawn somewhere a line of demarcation. Stay within the bounds of that line and we will be safe; cross it and grave danger threatens. But where does it lie? We have to eat and drink, to marry and bring up children, to trade and to toil. How do we do so and yet remain uncontaminated? How do we mingle freely with the men and women whom God so loved as to give His Son for them, and still keep ourselves unspotted from the world?

If our Lord had limited our buying and selling to so much a month, how simple that would be! The rules would be plain for any to follow. All who spent more than a certain amount per month would be worldly Christians, and all who spent less than that amount would be unworldly.

But since our Lord has stipulated no figure, we are cast on him unceasingly. For what? I think the answer is very wonderful. Not to be tied by the rules, but that we may remain all the time within bounds of another kind: the bounds of His life. If our Lord had given us a set of rules and regulations to observe, then we could take great care to abide by these. In fact, however, our task is something far more simple and straightforward, namely, to abide in the Lord Himself. Then we could keep the law. Now we need only keep in fellowship with Him. And the joy of it is that, provided we live in close touch with God, His Holy Spirit within our hearts will always tell us when we reach the limit![2]

As we walk closely with God, we will begin to realize the Holy Spirit’s subtle promptings and movings. When we start to engage in some worldly activity, begin to let pride swell up, or crave some possession that God has not desired us to have, there will arise within us an uneasiness, a certain repulsion deep within our spirit reacting against the longing of our fallen soul. It is then that we must yield to the Lord, agreeing with Him that our self must be denied and put to death. With full dependence upon Him, and not using our energies to fight the cravings, we must allow the Holy Spirit to crucify, to cut off, that longing within our soul that wants to be gratified at that moment. As we grow in Christ, we will also discover that some things of the world that used to have a strong hold on us no longer even present an inward struggle. Further, our sensitivity to the world and its entanglements is also a progressive matter:

Also, by God’s sovereign arrangement, we should realize that each one of us has a different place in society. Some are well educated and may have professional jobs with good salaries, whereas others may be impoverished. God does not expect that all persons in the church should have the same standard of living. The Bible shows that believers may be rich, yet they must handle riches properly (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Each believer must learn how God wants him to live, how he should use his money, when he is being entangled by the world, and when he is being tested by God in the matter of self-denial.

One more help: God has given us His Word in order to effect a separation from the world (sanctification) within us.

I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." (Jn. 17:14-19)

We should read and meditate upon His Word every day (Matt. 4:4). The more time we prayerfully spend in the Word of God, the more opportunity God has to sanctify us from the world.

The lesson of the rich young ruler is this. He loved this world. He loved the pleasures his money afforded him; they were a delight to his soul. He made a very bad and costly decision. He decided to trade the pleasures of this world for the eternal life to be experienced in the next age. He gave up a thousand years in the glory of the coming Kingdom, even forfeiting ruling with Christ, in order to hold onto his worldly enjoyment. Dear Christian, are you making such a tragic trade? May we learn from his negative example.

Finally, I conclude with an amazing thought. As we let go of the world in our hearts and allow our souls to suffer the loss of earthly pleasures, we find, even now, that our soul has a new enjoyment! The enjoyment of the worldly things is replaced by the enjoyment of Christ! This enjoyment is the increasing experience of eternal life, in which God becomes more precious and real to us (Jn. 17:3). As a result, we feel more detached from the world, but more attached to Christ. What a glorious thing! Our foretaste of eternal life in the coming Kingdom is being deepened and expanded. Praise be to His Name!

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] Nee, p. 38.

[2] Watchman Nee, Love Not the World, 1968. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1978), pp. 99-100. Used by permission of current publishers: Kingsway Publications, Lottbridge Drove, Eastbourne, England (copyright 1997).