We often hear about the need for a Christian to “come out of the world.” In order to understand what this means, it is important to look at where this instruction is given, and how to apply it in life practically.
A good place to begin is with Revelation 18:4-5, which reads “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.’” This follows an explanation of how the fallen system of Babylon has influenced people and nations, and clearly indicates an instruction for God’s people to come out of it. Babylon here is indicted in sin, which is something that God obviously does not want people to be involved in. As a result, the instruction to come out of Babylon is an instruction to come out of sin.
With this in mind, we need to elaborate on the “way of sin” being equated with Babylon, or the Babylonian system. Following from this, we will see how the Bible indicates that the “way of sin” is not the “way of God”, but it is the “way of the world.” With an understanding of what to come out of, it is important to know the correct way to seek, which is following the way of Christ. All of these aspects are about a way of living, and therefore the instruction to come out of the world is not to be taken in a physical sense, but applied in a spiritual way, leading a Christian lifestyle.
What does the Bible say about Babylon and the way of sin? By looking at the establishment of the city of Babylon, we learn more about the historical context and the relationship with God. In Genesis 10:8-9 Nimrod the hunter is named as the founder of the city of Babel. In reference to Nimrod, the Bible states that “he was a mighty hunter before the Lord”, but the word “before” can be more precisely translated as “against”. From the beginning, the city of “Babel” was founded by a man who was against God. Indeed, the actions by the inhabitants of the city following the establishment prove this to be true. Later in the book of Genesis, we can see evidence of how the city found God’s disapproval. In Genesis 11:4-9 we read about the people of the city, who wanted to make a name for themselves by building a giant tower. God disapproved of this action and punished the people, scattering them and confusing their language. The name of the city comes from the word “confusion,” which can be translated as Babel, or Babylon. From the establishment of the city, we can see that Babylon has historical roots in provoking God to anger and stands opposed to God’s rule from the beginning.
Babylon is referenced in ways that describe the ancient and modern city of Babylon standing in opposition to God, and therefore becoming overthrown (Isaiah 13:19, Revelation 18:21, Jeremiah 50:9, Jeremiah 51:29). It is clear in this regard that ancient Babylon displeased God so greatly that He destroyed it, and He will destroy the modern city of Babylon as well. But why
did God want to destroy it then, and why does He want to destroy it now? Certainly, the city stands in opposition to God’s rule; therefore, it is the sin which provokes God’s anger. Jeremiah 50:14 makes this reason for God’s anger very clear, “Put yourselves in array against Babylon all around, All you who bend the bow; Shoot at her, spare no arrows, For she has sinned against the LORD.” It is the sin of the established ancient and modern city that provoked God’s anger then and continues to do so now.
Knowing Babylon is distinguished by its sinfulness, and especially since we read in Revelation 18:4 that God calls people to come out of modern Babylon which is represented by a particular city, so that they don’t share in its sins, it is clear that the instruction is to remove one’s self from the place known for sin. Note how Revelation 17:9 is translated in the Living Bible: “And now think hard: his seven heads represent a certain city built on seven hills where this woman [called Babylon the Great, see verse 5] has her residence.”
Babylon is to be understood as representing more than just a place, however. The Bible references Babylon in a way that it is considered to be a system and a way of living that stands opposed to God’s righteousness. Just before God’s people are called out of Babylon in Revelation 18:4, we read the following in Revelation 18:2-3, “And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.’” Seeing that “all the nations” have been influenced by Babylon, it is clear that the sinful behavior has spread throughout the world to people everywhere. When people are instructed to “come out of her,” it is the system of sinfulness represented by the rebellion of Babylon that is referenced.
So far, it is clear that Babylon represents a way of living that is sinful and rebellious towards God, and that Christians are instructed to come out of that way of sin. But, how does that relate to the instruction to come out of the world? Where is the connection? By seeing that sinfulness is one of the defining characteristics of the world in which we live, and that Christians are to come out of the sinful Babylonian system, we can conclude that Christians must therefore come out of the world. Titus 2:12 offers a clear insight into the connection between sinfulness and worldliness, teaching us that while“…denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” Here, we can see that worldly lusts, those temptations offered by the world in which a Christian must physically reside, are grouped with ungodliness of this present age. The correct alternative is presented here as well, to live righteous and godly lives.
This presents an apparent paradox, however. How can we come out of a sinful system if we must live within it? Jesus Christ provides the correct perspective when explaining the troublesome relationship between a Christian and the world in John 15:18-19, “‘If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.’” Here, the world in its sinful ways is mentioned as a kind of force, or system that hates the way of life that Jesus Christ came to share. The disciples here are called out of the world; they are not to be part of it. If we understand that the world represents a system of sinfulness, we can see how Christians can be called to separate themselves from it without physically and literally coming out of the physical world. Something to consider in this regard is that coming out of sin might require Christians to take action to separate themselves from certain sinful places or environments, as Abram was asked to leave his hometown, and as
Lot was taken out of Sodom. Whether a literal physical separation is involved or not, it is the way of living that a Christian is instructed to change. That is, to come out of the way of sin, and to follow the way of Christ (John 14:6).
With the clear proclamation that true Christians are not part of the world (John 17:14), it is important to note that the job of a Christian is not to improve this present evil world (Galatians 1:4) in which he or she lives. The reason is that Satan the devil is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), and he deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). As stated in Ephesians 6:12, the systems of this world that are influenced by the ruler of this age are what Christians stand against, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Any attempt to make an improvement or to try and fix the world will ultimately fail because it is under the influence of Satan. Rather, we are to be delivered from this world (see again Galatians 1:4). Please read our Q&A that elaborates on the reasons why Christians are not to make THIS world a better place. We must wait for God to overthrow Satan so that the Kingdom of God may be established. Until that time, Christians are ambassadors in this world (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing that future Kingdom to come. At the same time, Christians are supposed to be the light of the world to show it how to live (Matthew 5:14-16; Philippians 2:15), and Christ sends them as sheep into the world of wolves (Matthew 10:16) to proclaim to it the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 24:14; Mark 16:15).
The instruction for Christians to come out of this world is an admonition to turn away from the system of sin, and turn toward a system of godly righteousness. The system of the world is what leads to sin, and God stands opposed to it. 1 Corinthians 3:19 makes the distinction between His way and the world’s way clear, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God…” Coming out of the world then means to live according to God’s perfect and spiritual laws with His help. We are reminded and strengthened about how this is possible in 1 John 4:4 where we read, “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.” To come out of the sinful system of this corrupt world is within the power of all Christians who rely on the Holy Spirit of God living within them to become obedient.
Lead Writer: Eric Rank