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2 Corinthians 6:17,18 – Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.
The question we consider in this study is whether or not God’s people are maintaining our distinctiveness, or are there patterns and trends that indicate we are losing our distinctiveness?
God’s people should be separate, not because we are self-righteous or think we deserve eternal life, but because following God’s teaching will make us different from those who do not follow it.
Leviticus 20:23,24,26 – “You shall not walk in the statutes of the nations which I am casting out before you … I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples. … And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”
Deuteronomy 7:2-6 – When Israel entered Canaan, God commanded them to make no covenant with nations there and not to intermarry with them because the people of the land would lead them to serve other gods. “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”
Deuteronomy 26:17-19 – “Today … the Lord has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, just as He has spoken.”
1 Kings 8:53 – “You separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be Your inheritance, as You spoke by Your servant Moses, when You brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord GOD.”
God chose Israel to be His special people. But this required them to avoid being influenced by other nations to participate in the sins that characterized those nations. Those who seek to be God’s special people must obey God instead of participating in the sins of those around them.
[Exodus 19:5,6; 23:24,32,33; Leviticus 19:2; 20:7,8; 22:31-33; Deuteronomy 14:2; 28:1; Ezra 4:3]
God’s people today are His church, those who are redeemed by Jesus’ blood. Being God’s people still means we must be different from those around us.
Hebrews 7:26 – “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens.” Jesus Himself set the example by being separate from sinners. His special people should imitate Him and likewise be separate.
Titus 2:13,14 – “Jesus Christ … gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” We must be pure and avoid lawless deeds because Christ redeemed us to be His special people.
1 Peter 2:9,10 – “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people … who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
Revelation 18:4 – “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” We must be separate from the world if we seek to avoid the destiny that worldly people will receive at the judgment.
Those who are forgiven by the blood of Christ through the gospel become God’s special people. We are then set apart or separated from the world because we belong to God as distinguished from those who have not been forgiven by Jesus and do not belong to God.
[Matthew 7:13,14; 10:34-37; Romans 9:27; 11:2-5; 1 John 2:15-17; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 3:16,17; Romans 12:2; Matthew 15:13,14; Acts 28:22; Ephesians 5:26,27; Luke 6:22; John 17:14-17; Philippians 2:15,16; John 17:14-17; 15:18-20]
The history of Israel involved repeated failures to separate themselves from the sins of the people around them.
Judges 3:5-8 – During the period of the Judges Israel repeated a cycle of lost distinctiveness, followed by punishment, then repentance. They would be faithful for a while, then would intermingle with the people of the land and participate in their sins. When God sent punishment, the people would eventually repent, etc. [2:1-3]
1 Samuel 8:20 – The people asked to be ruled by kings “that we also may be like all the nations.” God warned them that their basic problems would continue because the problems were caused by sin, and having a king would just cause additional problems.
1 Kings 11:1-4 – “King Solomon loved many foreign women … from the nations of whom the Lord had said to the children of Israel, ‘You shall not intermarry with them…’ his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David.”
Psalms 106:34-40 – “They … mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works … Thus they were defiled by their own works, and played the harlot by their own deeds. Therefore the wrath of the Lord was kindled against His people…”
Hosea 7:8 – “Ephraim has mixed himself among the peoples.”
By failing to separate themselves from the evil of the nations around them, Israel defiled their relationship with God. They could no longer continue to be His special people if they continued to allow themselves to be influenced by the nations around them to disobey God.
Luke 12:51-53 – “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three.” Our relationship to God is so special that we must be willing to be separate even from our closest family members in order to maintain our relationship with God.
2 Corinthians 6:16-18 – The city of Corinth was known for immorality and idolatry. The Christians, who had been converted from that background, struggled with the temptation to be like those around them. They tolerated a man who was guilty of extreme adultery (1 Corinthians 5). Some ate animal sacrifices in idols’ temples (chapter 8). Some turned the Lord’s Supper into a gluttonous banquet like those that characterized idol worship (chapter 11).
God’s warning: “For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their god, and they shall be my people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’”
James 4:4 – “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
As those who claim to be God’s people today, we must ask whether we have maintained our distinctiveness from the people of the world around us. Have we separated ourselves from the influence and sinful practices of those who are not God’s people, or have we compromised, lowered our standards, and toned down our opposition to error?
[1 Samuel 15:24; Ezra 9:1,2; Nehemiah 13:23-27; 6:17-19; Proverbs 17:15; 1 John 2:15-17]
Consider what is required in order to be truly separate and distinct as God’s special people.
Being God’s special people requires that we do not practice sin, and that we do not fellowship, defend, or justify those who do practice it.
Nehemiah 10:28,29 – “… all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands … entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes…”
Proverbs 1:10-15 – “… if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; … We shall fill our houses with spoil; cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse’ – My son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path.”
Proverbs 4:14.15 – “Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on.”
To be God’s special people, Israel had to recognize error and refuse to imitate sinful people. They should stay completely away from those circumstances in which people were practicing sin.
Titus 2:11-14 – God’s special people must deny ungodliness. We must live soberly, righteously, and godly, purifying ourselves from every lawless deed, zealous for good works.
2 Corinthians 6:14-16 – “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”
God’s people must refuse to have any fellowship with sin; we must not participate in it, defend it, or encourage it. We must come out from among them and be separate and not touch what is unclean. We must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (7:1).
So, have we maintained our distinctiveness from the people of the world around us? Have we encouraged, defended, or otherwise fellowshiped sins of others? Or have we separated ourselves from the sinful practices of those who are not God’s people?
[Genesis 6:6-9; 39:7-12; Exodus 19:5,6; Exodus 23:7,24,32,33; Exodus 34:12-16; Leviticus 18:3,24,30; Leviticus 19:2; 20:7,8; 20:23,24,26; 22:31-33; Joshua 23:6-8; Ezra 9:12,14; Psalms 106:34-40; 119:115; 141:4; Proverbs 22:3,5,10; Isaiah 8:11; 52:11; Jeremiah 51:45; Romans 1:32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 10:21; Ephesians 5:6-11; 5:26,27; 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 2:22; 3:5; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 1:15,16; 2:9-12; 4:1-4]
Being God’s special people also requires separating ourselves from false teaching. Not only must we refuse to accept false teaching, but we must actively oppose and speak against it.
Deuteronomy 12:30,31 – “Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them … saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way…”
Psalms 1:1,2 – “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”
So we must not worship or serve God according to the way of false teaching. We must not walk in ungodly counsel but must meditate on God’s word and delight in it.
Matthew 15:13,14 – “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
People who teach doctrines different from what God has taught (verse 9) are planting plants that God has not planted. Those who do so are blind leaders. If we blindly follow them, we will receive the same reward that they do. So Jesus said to let them alone: separate from them.
John 7:7 – “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” Jesus not only refused to participate in practices that displeased God, but He openly taught against such works. This separated Him from those who taught such practices.
2 John 9-11 – People who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ do not have God. To have the Father and the Son, we must abide in the doctrine of Christ. We must not support or encourage those who do not bring this doctrine, else we share in their evil deeds.
False teaching promotes false practices. And false practices promote false teaching. To be God’s special people, we must separate ourselves from both the practices and the teachings that lead to the practices. We must not defend or justify them but must actively oppose them.
Where do God’s people stand today? Have we compromised the truth and failed to stand where we should regarding the errors of the world around us, or have we fulfilled our responsibility as God’s special people to reject and oppose false teaching?
[Numbers 14:2,6-9; Deuteronomy 13:6-11; Nehemiah 6:2-4; Job 21:16; Psalms 26:4,5; 50:18; Proverbs 1:10-15; Proverbs 14:7; Jeremiah 10:2,3; Ezekiel 22:26; 44:23; Hosea 4:9; John 17:14-17; Galatians 5:7-9; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Philippians 2:15,16; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:17,18]
Separation from sinful acts requires us to separate from people, places, and circumstances where people are involved in sinful practices.
Exodus 34:12-16 – Israel was forbidden to make covenants or form close relationships with people of the land because those people were idol worshipers and would lead God’s people to sin.
1 Kings 11:1-4 – Solomon’s heart was turned after other gods because of the influence of foreign women whom he married. But if this can happen to Solomon, the son of a man after God’s own heart, why should we think such things cannot happen to us?
Proverbs 13:20 – “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”
Romans 12:2 – “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Like Israel, we often want to enjoy the things people around us enjoy without having to tell them their practices are wrong. The solution is to remember that we are God’s people, so we must follow God’s will. We must avoid such influences and learn to think differently.
1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’”
This does not mean we should refuse all association with people around us. When Jesus was criticized for associating with sinners, He explained His purpose was to teach those people to repent, like a physician helps those who are sick. Apostles often went into Jewish synagogues, not to participate in sin, but to teach the people there the truth.
So we must realize that people who do not serve God may become a bad influence on us. We must limit our relationship with them to whatever extent is needed for us to remain pure. The question is: Who is influencing whom? Are we diligently teaching them the truth? Are they receptive to God’s word or are they resisting it and seeking to lead us away from God?
[Genesis 39:7-12; 49:6; Exodus 23:2; Leviticus 18:3,24,30; 20:23,24,26; Numbers 33:51-56; Deuteronomy 7:2-6; 12:30,31; 1 Kings 21:25; Ezra 6:21; 10:11; Nehemiah 2:20; Psalms 6:8; 26:4,5; 50:18; 101:7; 106:34-40; 119:63,115; Proverbs 1:10-15; 4:14.15; 5:8; 6:27,28; 12:26; 20:19; 22:24,25; 23:20; 24:1; Jeremiah 15:17; 51:45; Matthew 6:13; 10:34-37; Luke 6:22; 12:51-53; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Galatians 5:7-9]
Not only must we separate from those who are not God’s people, but at times an even greater separation is required when sin enters in among God’s people.
1 Corinthians 5:6-11 – “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. … But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person.”
Our separation from erring children of God is even more pronounced than it is with people of he world. To completely separate from people of the world, we would have to leave the world. But we must purge out the leaven of sin among God’s people.
Hebrews 12:14,15 – “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”
[Numbers 14:2,6-9; 16:24-26; Deuteronomy 13:6-11; Joshua 7:11-13; 1 Kings 21:25; 18:21; 2 Kings 8:18; Jeremiah 9:2; Matthew 18:17; Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6,14,15; Titus 3:10]
The Bible uses other words, which we have not emphasized in this study, but mean that God’s people must be separate, set apart, and distinct from the world. Two of these words are “elect” and “holy.” God’s people must be holy because He is holy, and because He has chosen us to be His. We have attempted in this study to learn what it means to be holy as God’s chosen people.
Holiness and election require us to be separate. This does not mean we are different just for the sake of being different or that we are self-righteous as though we have earned eternal life. But it does mean that God’s people must separate ourselves from all sinful conduct and false teaching. And we must guard against those influences that would tend to lead us into sin.
Compromise with the world has always been a very real problem among God’s people. Each of us must ask whether we are compromising are we separating ourselves as we should? Are we truly God’s special, chosen people? Are we truly holy as He requires His people to be holy?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018; www.gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.