Separation is often viewed in the negative! The purpose of this article is not to soften this subject or somehow present it as something it is not. Rather, the intent is to encourage the reader to consider the basis for this Bible doctrine. May we be strengthened where needed, encouraged to greater faithfulness, and sharpened in our understanding of why God requires His children be separated from a sinful world.
When we make application to the doctrine of separation, it is not for the sake of being odd or obnoxious. There are plenty of people who seemingly do not mind filling that role. These individuals are motivated to be different on the basis of some personal or political statement they are trying to make. We could ask ourselves this question, “If those people don’t mind being different, shouldn’t we see our calling to be a separated people, as a much more noble and worthwhile lifestyle because of Who receives the glory and Who instituted the plan?”
In Isaiah 55, the Bible speaks of God’s ways being higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts. This gives indication that we may not always fully comprehend the reason God asks His people to do what He asks them to do. However; instead of ignoring God’s direction, we should seek to understand the purpose of God’s instruction and how our obedience will bring Him glory.
The same chapter says that as God’s Word goeth forth out of His mouth, it shall not return void, but shall accomplish that which He pleases and shall prosper where He sends it. Based on this reality, we must make His Word the basis by which we live. The condition for God placing His blessing on our life is only fulfilled when we surrender to His will. Whenever our thoughts or ways are not consistent with the thoughts and ways of God, He desires that we come up to His standard rather than try to lower His standard to fit our own experience. We frustrate God’s purpose in our lives when we choose not to accept His way for us and seek to make a way of our own.
Why does God ask His people to be separate from the world? Has this doctrine become antiquated in modern society and should not receive too much emphasis today? God asks His people to be separate because He is holy. In I Corinthians 7:23 the Bible states “Ye are bought with a price.” As Christians we belong to God. When we ask Him to forgive us and reign in our heart, He does so without reserve or restraint. God asks that we return or commit every aspect of our life back to Him without reserve or restraint. How do we know God is pleased with our practice of separation? In His Word, God sets forth the basis by which we can meet His requirements and experience His blessing.
The foundation for the doctrine of separation must be grounded on God’s Word. Giving direction to practical expressions of separation is the responsibility of the church. When an individual makes the choice to become a member of a local body of believers, they are also choosing to accept the applications of that church. We live in a time when many people want to question the authority vested in the church. Sometimes the question is raised; “Should the church actually ask her members to adopt and practice a specific set of guidelines pertaining to the expressions of separation?” History has shown that a church cannot maintain Scriptural separation among her membership unless its members are willing to both accept and abide by the direction given by spiritual brotherhood.
What challenges to Biblical separation must the Church address today?
Perhaps the greatest challenge to Biblical separation is linked to the Bible itself. The Christian must first be separated in his world-view. A choice must be made to accept all of God’s Word as the complete authority for our life. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 lists a number of conditions for being acceptable before God. We are to fear the Lord, walk in all His ways, love Him, serve and obey Him with all our heart and soul. When we wholly commit to do this, we place no conditions on our obedience. Rather, by faith we take up the way God planned for His people to walk. When God says in this passage, that this way will be for our good we say, “yes Lord,” and look no further for another way.
Another threat to the practice of separation is that of becoming accustomed to the ways of the world around us. In Genesis 46:34, Joseph was concerned his brethren tell Pharaoh that their occupation was about cattle. This would help to separate them from the Egyptians and their pagan practices. Joseph saw the value in preserving his brethren’s way of life even unto the generations yet to come. This same principle needs to be maintained in our work and activities with the world. Clear lines of separation help assure our relationships stay largely spiritual. We don’t compromise principle when we relate from a spiritual concern for their soul. The lines of separation are weakened when we find ourselves compromising what we know to be right in order to keep their friendship.
Closely related is the principle of separation in the area of affluence. In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, the children of Israel were warned to beware when they were living well in the land of Canaan. There is a spiritual danger when things go well. We may begin to become attached to possessions, and desire more of the good things around us. This can be a special temptation when we have ample income and desire to live like the prosperous society around us. There is a challenge for us to keep the principle of separation before us and choose to live with less. This will result in more funds being available for Kingdom work. A separated heart will impact our buying decisions. Treasure is laid up in heaven and not here on earth. Instead of wishing others would give more, a separated heart moves us to give sacrificially. Let us not allow our hearts to be led away from God through the good things He has given us.
Romans 12:1-3 identify another threat to the practice of separation. These verses teach us that separation unto God requires we present ourselves a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. This will require that we crucify the fleshly inclinations that cause us to be accepted by the world. The sin of pride separated Satan from the presence of a just and holy God. Today, those who follow Satan and those who follow God give indication of their allegiance by the company they keep. When our commitment to be a separate people for God becomes weakened, we try to fit into both camps. In this act, we reject both God’s absolute holiness and Satan’s absolute wickedness. In reality, the only indication of our heart in the area of separation is our practice. We can say we are separated unto God, but if there is no outward expression, it becomes largely lip service. Separation needs to be defined by how we live out the principles of the Bible in obedience to the direction of a faithful church.
In Numbers 15:38, God’s people were commanded to show their separation from the nations surrounding them by the ribband of blue. This unique expression was to fulfill a twofold purpose. First, it was to serve as a constant reminder to remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them. The second purpose was so that they would not look to themselves for direction in this area, thus becoming individualistic in their practices. God knows the tendency of the human heart to forget Him and grow lax in obedience. He understands how prone we are to trust in ourselves and our own views, especially when leaders have disappointed us in the past. But God has designed that we properly relate to those in authority over us. Both the world’s system and the apostate church embrace a spirit of individualism. Humbly accepting Godly counsel from others is an expression of Godly separation. Before the church will be effective she has to recognize her responsibility to God and the Bible. The individual member does well to accept his responsibility to the church.
Under the new Covenant, the church is to be “a peculiar people.” According to I Peter 2, we are the people of God who have obtained mercy, now we are to show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. We have the same two forces warring in our members that have been in conflict since the Garden of Eden. Each of these forces desire that we separate ourselves from the other and declare that separation in the choices we make each day. each of these forces desire our complete devotion. God does not accept half-hearted commitments. He will not share us with Satan. God is looking for committed ambassadors who can accept His conditions of sonship. He is seeking for the Josephs, and the Daniels; the Ruths and the Esthers who are not ashamed to be called the Children of God. The church has always needed to separate itself from the influences and practices of a fallen world. It seems to be more imperative for the church do so today as accessibility to the world’s systems are rapidly increasing.
In summary, why is separation from the world imperative today? First, God places it as a condition for us to be His children. “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2Co 6:17). Secondly, we must accept the reality that the world is led by Satan, who is intent on pulling us away from God. Our separation should be unto God, in order that we keep our focus on the One who has “given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” We must constantly remember that we are in the world to shine the light of the Gospel into the darkness. A consistent life of separation draws a clear line between the darkness and the light. A Christian who tries to become like the world to win the world, dims the Gospel light and declares that a radical change is not needed to be accepted by God. Finally, we are preparing in this life for the ultimate separation in eternity. Confusing the line of separation from the world in this life may well result in separation from God in eternity. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, for He is faithful that promised.