“They are of the world.” (1 John 4:5, NKJV)
It is common for us to hear that as Christians we in the world but not of it. That expression comes from the high priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus, where He describes His disciples as being “in the world" (John 17:11) but "not of the world" (vs. 16). Throughout that prayer, Jesus distinguishes between those who are His and those still bound to the world, under the dominion of the evil one.
In his epistle John continues to make that distinction. “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God” (1 John 4:4-6). John speaks of an us and a them, those of God and those still of the world.
We might bristle at the thought of an us and a them, and long for peace and unity. Yet John is pointing us to something basic, something new to our existence. We were of the world. We were subject to Satan, of our father the devil, part of a fallen kingdom that will one day be destroyed. But by God’s grace we have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus and enfolded into the Kingdom of God, an eternal kingdom of life and light, of righteousness, joy, and peace.
In His high priestly prayer, Jesus did indeed pray for unity, but not a unity at any cost. Unity must be found in the truth and, more pointedly, in Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.
As believers, we not only belong to God; we are of God, born again of the Spirit. We are new creations in Christ. We were dead in sin, but now by transforming grace and resurrection power we are alive in Christ. In Ephesians 2:1-10 the apostle Paul provides this biographical sketch for everyone who is a believer. Before, we were at home in this world, of the spirit of this age, driven by lusts and disobedience, children of wrath. After, by the intervention of God’s grace, we are made alive by the Holy Spirit, and made children of the living God. Elsewhere, Paul puts it that we were children of darkness but are now children of light.
We overcome the bondage of this world not by our own effort but by the redeeming blood of the Lamb. When John declares that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world,” he is giving great encouragement that we are on the winning side (over Satan) because Christ has possessed us, blesses and keeps us. We will be His for eternity.
John says that because we are now of God, made alive by the Spirit, and are indwelt by Christ, we are not only called to be discriminating of the truth but also have the ability and inclination to discern the truth. “He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 1:6).
How can we ensure that we are giving ear to truth and not to error?