By Zac Poonen
Bangalore, South India
ON the hill of Calvary, in the hour when Jesus was crucified, two thieves, condemned with Him, hung on either side. For the hour of their suffering they were separated, if only physically, by the cross of Jesus. In the outcome they were eternally separated, one to perdition and the other to be with Him forever. This is a picture of what the cross of Jesus always does. It separates men who choose the light, from men who choose the darkness. Yes, it separates.
There are many sincere Christians today who feel that any attempt to separate mankind always has its source in evil, and that every movement towards unity originates from God. This, however, is only because they are not familiar with the Bible. The Bible talks about separation in its very first paragraph. In Genesis chapter one verse three we read about the creation of light, and in verse four we read that God saw that this light was good. He then separated the light from the darkness. Had He allowed the two to mingle they might have produced some form of twilight; but this could scarcely have served the life-giving purpose for which God had created light. Thus we see that God was the first to make a separation. He is a God of distinctiveness, and right through the Bible we find this principle clearly laid down. Moreover from a “separation of principle” it soon comes to involve a separation of people. God forbade Israel to intermix in marriages with the other nations because they were themselves to be a light to the nations who sat in darkness. In the New Testament for the same reason the church is clearly told to be separate from the world (2 Cor. 6:14). In fact, the very Greek word “ekklesia”, which is translated “church” in the English versions, itself means “a called-out company”.
The church and the world have something in common with the two thieves who hung there at Calvary on either side of Jesus. Both men were originally wicked, but one was forgiven and justified because he repented. The other continued in his sin and died unforgiven. So their eternal destinies were different, just as are those of the church and the world. For the spirit of the world is wholly contrary to the Spirit of God, loving the darkness and turning away from the light. It chooses its own destiny—and finds it.
Alas, this separation to God can at times mean a separation from the religious world also. When what passes as the Christian church lives according to the spirit of this world and not according to the Spirit of God, and is guided by the tradition of men instead of by the Word of God, a choice may be forced upon us. At the very hour when the Lord
Jesus was being crucified outside the city of Jerusalem, the priests and religious leaders were worshipping God in the temple, inside the city. They had crucified the Son of God, but in their blindness were carrying on with their empty religious rituals, in the belief that God was pleased with them! Both in His life and in His death the Lord Jesus Himself was outside all religious formalism, and so will His
true disciples be (John 16:2). There are many professing Christian churches today that, like the church in Laodicea, have placed them-selves in the same position as those Jews.
They are carrying on their activities, thinking that all is well with them, while in truth all the while the Lord Himself is outside their church door (Rev. 3:14, 20).
Separation from the world is in fact a leading theme of the New Testament. Before He went to the cross Jesus told His disciples that they did not belong to the world. Jesus was Himself one apart—“not of this world”. And He affirmed that His disciples were just as truly other-worldly. And because they did not belong to it, He told them, that they would find this world a difficult place to live in (John 15:19; 17:16). It is the disciple’s responsibility to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27). For the church is Christ’s Bride, loved, won and sanctified, by Him (Eph. 5:25-27). This explains Paul’s “godly jealousy “over the Corinthian believers. He desired, he said, to present them as a pure virgin to Christ, and he feared lest the devil corrupt them (2 Cor. 11:2, 3). This explains too the extremely strong words, “You adulterers and adulteresses,” addressed by James to believers who showed themselves friendly with the spirit of the world (4:4). Yes, the Bible has much to say on separation.