Be in the world but not of the world. That is a statement anyone who has attended church for any amount of time has likely heard or read at least once. But what does it exactly mean and more importantly, how does the proper examination and understanding of such a statement impact our lives, both in service to God and in day to day life. Are we to shun all worldly pursuits for a more monastic lifestyle or is there a biblical balance God has in mind? These are the subjects Michael Wittmer explores in his helpful book Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?.
The title of this book is certainly catchy. Becoming a worldly saint is an approach I would venture to say many would think rather untenable. After all, we are commanded to think on things above, to store up our treasure in heaven, and to be holy as God is holy right? Is not this earth a cesspool of iniquity, a place we are merely sojourning through as aliens and strangers? Not so fast suggests Wittmer and rightly so.
In order to explore what it means to live on this planet while at the same time seeking things above, Wittmer divides his thoughts into three sections. These three sections follow the overarching theme of Scripture, namely that of creation, fall, and redemption. He aptly notes most have fallen into the trap of either spiritualism or naturalism, commenting “Naturalism affirms our present existence, but robs it of any ultimate meaning. Spiritualism leaves room for the existence of God and a heavenly purpose, but it shortchanges who we are and why we’re here.”
It is that piece of why we are here that garners the most attention from Wittmer and where the strength of this book resides. There is an element of Greek philosophy that has crept into our theology over the years, namely that this earth is evil and thus humanity needs to escape the terror that is planet earth. Such an approach to life on earth is not contained in Scripture and Wittmer does a great job of outlining the errors contained in such a concept. We were created by God and placed by God on this planet to have dominion, to be fruitful and multiply, and to do those things to the glory of God. Sin marred the picture; however that ushers in not an escape from planet earth to the heavenlies (a Greek mindset), but rather the promise of redemption and a new heavens and new earth (biblical mindset).
As we live life in this era of sin and death, looking forward to that time when God once again will dwell with His people on that new heavens and new earth, we are to have a balance between the things of God and enjoying God’s creation to His glory. Wittmer outlines what this looks like, namely the need to love God, love others, subdue the earth, rest on the seventh day, and to do what God has called you to do with the gifts He has given to all of us.
I appreciated that Wittmer address the issue of Sabbath rest as this command of God seems to have been stricken from the 10 commandments in the minds of far too many believers. Wittmer aptly notes “Sabbath is a gift because it is a day of enjoyment.” Since the Sabbath is a creation ordinance, then it precedes anything “Jewish” or “Christian” for that matter and thus is given by God as a means to rest in Him and to remember He is creator and sustainer of all things. It was good to see Wittmer even address the topic of the Sabbath, a subject far too many seem to ignore these days and he rightly notes that our freedom in Christ is not an excuse to neglect a day God set aside long ago for His creation.
So are we to enjoy life? Absolutely. The key as Wittmer saliently speaks to is we must do all for the glory of God. We can tend to our backyard garden, we can enjoy our hobbies, and we can enjoy “worldly” pursuits provided of course they do not become idols that lead us away from God who made us to enjoy such things. When we enjoy God’s creation, we can keep in mind that one day all things will be made new and God will dwell with His people.
This is a book I highly recommend as it strikes a needed balance between calls to be mindful of spiritual things and calls to enjoy life. Both can be pursued by the believer as long as God is the continual focus. Wittmer does an excellent job of walking the reader through what that looks like in practice and his approach stirs one to action in this life while looking forward to an eternity spent with God in a redeemed creation.
I received this book for free from Zondervan Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”