The first principle of separation
Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." [John 15:1, 2]
"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." [verse 15:3]
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me" [verse 15:4]
A principle speaks of the manner in which something works or operates. For example, the Christian life is grounded upon, sustained and lived out through faith in God. Indeed without faith it would be impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6)(Colossians 2:6)
In the verses above we find God Himself as being the one behind the scenes who has planted, will cultivate and ultimately bring to completion a harvest of fruit through our lives. This cultivation first began when we exercized faith in the word of truth which made us clean before God and allows us to become the vessels through whom we can now glorify God by bearing fruit for His names sake. This is a process that we are both called and commanded to participate in with God. It is imperative that we understand just how we participate in this fruit bearing process if we are to prove ourselves faithful before Him.
You must be born again
An individual cannot become clean (declared righteous before God) without having been born again spiritually. This is the manner in which God Himself has ordained mankind to be made useful in His service. Regardless of what any man or woman may attempt to do for God or other people, God Himself calls all those acts "filthy" regardless of how they appear or are recognized by others as good, valuable or righteous. Jesus says, "You MUST be born again." [John 3:1-8]
It's only natural
The tendency of mankind in general is to judge things, people and even God Himself by our own set of standards. We say things like, "They're such good people," or "They're so successful or blessed," or "They're so spiritual or gifted," or in relation to God- "Why does He allow people to suffer," or "Why didn't He prevent that," or "Why me Lord" without hardly a second thought as to how we came up with our conclusions. Little do we see as we ought.
What we deem to be good often shelters selfishness and alterior motives. What we deem to be a blessed person is often just greed and an overt obsession for worldly things. What we think is God's fault is often the very vehicle he will use to safeguard His own people. Don't believe me?
Would you consider a relatively moral person "good?" It's only natural isn't it. Nonetheless, God calls every person outside of a personal union and relationship outside of Himself as evil. As evil, even that persons sacrifices are considered an abomination before Him. You MUST be born again, that is, you need a new source of "good," that is, God Himself from which all true good originates.
Would you consider a person with unlimited financial resources blessed by God? It's only natural isn't it? Although God does allow some people to be successful financially for the purpose of being generous to needy saints, He is not blessing people with finances. The blessing God offers today in Christ is a spiritual blessing that one inherits the moment they are born again into God's spiritual family. It is a blessing that far outweighs in value anything we might profit in this world- all of which is destined to perish. What real Christian wouldn't prefer the inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and which will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you [1 Peter 1:4] wherein we are now positioned [Philippians 3:20]. Do I hear a hallelujah? No?
Would you consider a "Christian musician" blessed and powerful because they sell millions of albums, receive awards and are promoted by the local bookstore? Is this how God would judge them? What about these same people selling themselves to you (making merchandise of you), appearing upon secular shows and receiving secular or "Christian" rewards (no more reward in heaven) and making a legacy and reputation for themselves (verses the example of being of no reputation by the lowly Jesus they claim). Still thinking their blessed? Me too, just not by God.
Would you consider God guilty because He fails to act in the manner you think He should act? Are you angry or disappointed when He fails to give you what you want, think you need or fails to bless you materially? Are you still blaming Him for not stopping that disease or storm before it killed all those people? Sure you are, it's all so natural isn't it?
Does the natural see or inherit the supernatural?
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." [John 3:3]
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." [John 3:6]
and why did Jesus say to the Jewish people…
"You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them" [Matthew 13:14, 15]
Are these not the very people from whom we are to learn from their evil example? "Now these things happened as examples to us (those professing faith in the present day) so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved" [1 Corinthians 10:1-12]
The natural result of abiding
There is good reason for Jesus saying the following in John 15:5; "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."
Obviously Jesus didn't mean we couldn't act or attempt to do things for Him or in His name. That happens every day with people all over the globe with limited results. Jesus is actually saying that we cannot bear fruit that is acceptable to Him unless we continue to abide (cultivate) a personal relationship with God through Him. For it is Jesus' very life working in and through us that His Father deems to be acceptable.
Just as the natural result of human nature in action breeds natural results, so our willingness to abide in the presense and person of Jesus Christ breeds supernatural power and supernatural results. It's only natural is it not?
Like produces like, and until we are willing to relinguish anything and everything that stems from our corrupt human nature, little if any real spiritual fruit will result regardless of appearances.
The power of a life, His Life
Jesus once said to an adultress woman, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."
Note the woman questioning Jesus. He doesn't seem to mind and in fact answers her: "Everyone who drinks of this water (a natural nourishment) will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him (a spiritual nourishment) shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" [John 4:1-14]
Sadly, the following verse proves she missed Jesus' point entirely. She was still attempting to perceive Jesus' spiritual truth with her natural senses, an impossibility.
Now note the change in scenery. Now Jesus is asking the questions. As before, she seems to have some historical religious information, likely passed on over generations. (verses 8, 12, 19, 20 and 25). Jesus uses her questions to direct her, first to her own sinful lifestyle and secondly to a proper understanding of what God really desires and requires. I find it interesting that despite His calling her out, she nonetheless continues the conversation even directing it toward the worship of God Himself!
Also note where the disciples (being aware of the fact that He was talking with a Samaritan woman, see verses 9 & 27) made no mention of that fact to Jesus. It was as if the power of the supernatural altercation itself overrode what would have been the natural reaction of the disciples of Him talking with a woman. Not only, but even more amazingly…she forgot her waterpot.
A true evidence of the Spirit of God at work is that which all but evaporates that which stems from a need in the natural. One's primary inclination is to share the wonder of all that one has experienced with any who would listen.
A Misguided Separation
At the time of Jesus' earthly life, the Jews at the time had many prohibitions that related to their religious lives. One of these was to devalue the importance of woman, another to avoid the Samaritans altogether. They viewed both woman in general as less valuable than men, Samaritans as a second rate people. They avoided the latter as if they were a plague, a scourge upon the so-called people of God. How can this be?
The Jewish people prided themselves upon their heritage as well as their forefathers. They seemed to think that because they were physically tied to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they were special before God and exalted as different and better than other people and races. They were given privileges (as the recipients of God's law etc) but failed to live up to that law and often added to it as well with their own traditions. This angered God and proved them unworthy to represent Him, the very reason God had chosen them as a national people to glorify Him.
The spirit beyond the natural law
What these Jews failed to recognize was the spirit behind God's law. The law was important, it had its purpose, but their was more to God's law than merely following external rules and regulations. That was the natural, but something beyond that was required, something higher, something spiritual in nature.
The law touched what was natural. For example Jesus said in Matthew 5:27; "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.' but then He went on to explain the deeper problem and origin of sin- 'but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' [5:28] He is showing us that even if we could or do obey the letter of God's law, there is a deeper problem that stems from the heart of an individual. The only hope of anyone fully obeying God in their inward parts is to be born of God, transformed by the Spirit and renewed in one's spirit. [John 1:12, 13][Romans 12:1, 2][Colossians 3:9, 10]
The spiritual verses natural basis for separation
Many people decide who and what they will and will not separate from based upon the natural. They separate from people in other churches, they separate from non-christians and even from people who participate in things they themselves oppose as wrong. Worse yet, many of these people then turn these choices into their own laws they believe must govern all believers, similar to the traditions the Jews themselves adding to God's law. Here are a few examples.
1. Being convinced that their particular "church" or denomination is the right one, these people shun other professing believers unless they conform to what they believe is the truth expressed in their denomination. The dividing line is erected along a natural boundary, that of a church or denomination. That is simply unacceptable before God.
2. Some "Christians" go as far as little or no contact with unbelievers. They do this in order to avoid the sin that permeates these sinners lives in the hope of retaining personal piety and holy living. This also is unacceptable as we are called to be witnesses to this world and its citizens. We cannot be witnessess without having interaction with sinful people.
3. Many Christians merely follow or obey what their leaders tell them they must separate from. Instead of forming their own spirit-led convictions, these people are carrying about a list of things their leaders consider taboo. Whether that list includes movies, drinking, smoking, dancing or any other item, it is still a lawful list dictated by men and therefore an unacceptable benchmark.
Spiritual guidelines for separation
There are several spiritual guidelines in the Bible that can and should aid us in deciding from what and from whom we must separate ourselves. These are worthy of serious consideration if we aim to be faithful to what God requires from us.
Guideline #1 When does separation safeguard my own spiritual well being?
Guideline #2 When is separation in the best interest of other believers?.
Guideline #3 When is separation in the best interest of unbelievers?
Guideline #4 When do my choices to separate truly glorify God and how?
At some point in our lives as Christians we shall have to face the reality of each of the above questions. Spiritual maturity not only embraces the need to ask such questions, but in addition is willing to live by the ramifications of living them out practically in daily life.
Degrees of Abiding/Degrees of Separation
Most newer believers either carry an extreme view of separation or justify continuing with friendships and habits they know are not profitable or healthy for them. It is understandable that newer believers have difficulty in separating themselves from old friends who still want to practice sin. They have forged friendships with these people and have a natural concern for their well being and that in itself can be dangerous for their new life in Christ. Sadly, most leaders would have them just "abandon" their old friends verses some more aimable solution. Once again the tendency runs more toward a natural solution over and above a spirit led solution. The answer isn't merely "abandon or don't abandon" as every individual situation and individual is unique. We'll discuss this more later on.
More seasoned believers have usually taken one of two approaches. They either agressively preach to their old friends (almost a guarantee to be abandoned) or attempt to keep old friends albeit toning down the gospel message. Many an unbeliever would just assume hold onto a new Christian who has learned to treat others with love, respect and genuine concern- who wouldn't. That often comes with a cost though- keeping your mouth shut about God.
The mature saints have learned to judge these situations individually, forsaking what they deem to be unprofitable and dangerous and attempting to salvage what may be opportunities to witness. I have in the past held onto friendships for reasons outside of ministry although I no longer go that route. I only keep active friends with unbelievers if I have a continual witness of some sort. I may hire someone, I may serve someone or maybe ask for their help at times. In every instance I attempt to steer the conversation toward that individuals greatest need. Where that opportunity no longer is present, I view that labor as being in vain. That may or may not change in the future, although I won't cultivate friendships where little or no witness is possible.
The first principle of Biblical separation is cultivating an abiding relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is only within the framework of this relationship that we can both recognize the need for separation and be able to discern how and when that separation is necessary. It is only when we become reliant upon the Holy Spirit of God in and through this relationship that we can discern the difference between the natural separation that men often dictate for us and the supernatural separation God Himself directs and commands toward us. Man has never and should not attempt to dictate the terms of how and when we are to separate ourselves. That decision and direction therein is the sole responsibility of God the Holy Spirit who is more than capable of directing us according to the will of God for our individual lives.
Almost without exception, the degree of one's abiding relationship with Jesus Christ directly affects both their willingness to obediently separate and the degree of that separation.
In upcoming articles we will take a look at the four Biblical guidelines for separation above and share some specific examples relating to them. If we are to be found obeying God in the manner He desires us to be separate, that will of necessity require the leading, sustaining and enlightening of God Himself. No natural substitutes will suffice.