FOCUS – Isolate, insulate, infiltrate
As Christians, we know that we are “in the world, not of it.” And while we agree on that point, it seems some of us put more emphasis on the “in the world” part, while others prefer the words “not of it.” That is to say, some Christians are concerned about relating to our world in order that they might reach it for Christ, while others are more focused on our separateness.
Case in point: I recently participated in a discussion among a group of Christians from varied denominations. At issue was whether or not it was appropriate for Christians to hang out in bars, drinking with unsaved friends. Two sides of the argument developed: first, a Christian must have nonchristian friends and must be willing to be part of their world to impact them for Christ; second, Christian standards of holiness require us not to engage in activities that could be considered ungodly, nor to endorse those activities in any way.
The central issue is not necessarily the consumption of alcohol nor the venue for such an activity. The real question is what kind of boundaries should be drawn for the Christian who wants to have an influence on others. How do you safeguard yourself and still put yourself in places where there are people in need of Christ? Also, how do you know when one is truly reaching out to others, and when he is simply making excuses for a worldly lifestyle he would prefer not to forfeit?
“The lost” were the focus of the ministry of Jesus. But this does not give a Christian carte blanche in terms of associations. Scripture clearly warns that one’s closest companions should share the faith. (See Psalm 1:1,2 and II Corinthians 6:14.) Beyond that, Christians vary in their maturity. Those who are younger in the faith may need to limit their associations even more until they have built spiritual muscle. (For a discussion on how maturity in faith varies and affects Christians’ choices, see I Corinthians 8.)
If we wish to reach the lost, we must prepare ourselves for ministry as Jesus did. Before he ever began his ministry, he prayed and fasted for 40 days. Throughout the gospels, one reads of Jesus withdrawing to be alone with God. If we wish to minister to the people who are “of the world,” we must first ISOLATE ourselves in private time with God. No military soldier would engage in war without combat training, and no spiritual soldier should engage in his war without his training. In the words of Brother Lawrence, in The Practice of the Presence of God: “The soul’s eyes must be kept on God, particularly when something is being done in the outside world.”
The reason we must isolate ourselves is so that we may INSULATE ourselves. Without spiritual insulation, the Christian will be vulnerable to temptation around her, especially when ministering to unsaved friends. In other words, spiritual armor must be donned, for we wrestle “against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12). It is during her time of isolation that the Christian gathers her armor (Ephesians 6: 13-17), and it is that armor which insulates her from the enemy’s artillery.
Only after we have been insulated may we proceed to INFILTRATE. Properly equipped, we are ready to minister in this world without being overtaken. It is our duty, our privilege, to involve ourselves in the lives of those who don’t know Christ. Our friendship must be genuine, not just a ruse so that we may proselytize. If a Christian truly cares for his friends, he will feel compelled to share the good news of salvation. For how could any friend cheat another of this life and death information?
Isolation, insulation and infiltration are the business of the serious Christian. Those who try to skip straight to infiltration will be victims of their own zeal, for one thing is sure: anyone who wants to share the love of Christ will come under fire from the Enemy. And anyone who is spiritually naked and unprepared will sustain injury.
One last thing remains to be said: “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:22, KJV) It is immature to think that in the name of Christ we can do whatever we wish, even if our motives are evangelistic. And perhaps sometimes our avoidance of the appearance of evil is the witness that screams the loudest.
Certainly the Lord knows the most effective way to reach each lost soul. We must listen to his orders as Commander-in-Chief. We must submit our evangelistic schemes to his. His desire to see our friends come to Christ is even stronger than our own.