Apostolic Teaching on Separation

By J. C. Wenger


Let us turn now to the New Testament epistles and examine what they have to say about the separation between those who are in the kingdom of Christ and those who are still in the kingdom of darkness. Just as in the Old Covenant the basis for the separation between the children of God and those who are in sin is participation in a covenant relationship with God, so in the New Covenant the distinction between the children of God and those who belong to Satan is spiritual in its foundation. A new type of life is expected in the New Covenant of those who are in Christ for the very reason that they have been delivered by God out of the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His Love (Col. 1:13). The greatest difference therefore between Christians and non-Christians is the fact that Christians have Christ in them (Gal. 2:20) and that they belong to His Kingdom (Col. 1:13), that they possess eternal life (Rom. 6:23; John 10:28), that they have entered into a covenant relationship with God through Christ (I Pet. 3:21; Rom. 6:1-11), that they are one with the Lord Jesus (John 17:16-26; Rom. 12:5; Gal. 3:28; I Cor. 6:17).

Those who have thus been regenerated and now belong to God may not fashion themselves according to their former lusts, "but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy" (I Pet. 1:15, 6). And Peter says also, "But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Pet. 2:9-12). Christians are to follow Christ in His victory over sin. "Forasmuch then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that ye no longer should live the rest of your time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past may suffice to have wrought the desire of the Gentiles, and to have walked in lasciviousness, lusts, winebibbings, revellings, carousing, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them into the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you" (I Pet. 4:1-4).

The Apostle John teaches the same truth in his epistle. "These things have I written unto you concerning them that would lead you astray. And as for you, the anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that anyone teach you; but as his anointing teacheth you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, ye abide in him. And now, my little children, abide in him; that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that everyone also that doeth righteousness is begotten of him" (I John 2:26). Furthermore, "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him" (I John 3:6). John says the very purpose for Christ's incarnation was to redeem men from sin: "To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot be sinning (Greek present infinitive has this force) because he is begotten of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother" (I John 3:8-10). After commenting on the fact that Cain belonged to the evil one and in violation of love took the life of his brother, John continues: "Marvel not, brethren, if the world hateth you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not abideth in death" (I John 3:13, 14). After reminding his readers of their spiritual standing in Christ, John makes this appeal: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever" (I John 2:15-17). The Apostle Paul preaches the same doctrine as Peter and John.

Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have rightousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement hath a temple of God with idols? for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore

Come ye out from among them,

and be ye separate,

saith the Lord,

And touch no unclean thing;

And I will receive you,

And will be to you a Father,

And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (II Cor. 6:14-7:1).

In Romans 5 the Apostle Paul makes a beautiful comparison between Adam and Christ. Both, says Paul, were race heads. Adam by one act of disobedience to God brought sin and death upon his race. That is to say, all people since the time of Adam have been born with a sinful nature and with a mortal body, subject to death. Christ on the other hand by His act of obedience, that is Calvary, brought righteousness and life upon His race. Furthermore the gift in Christ is much greater than that which was lost in Adam. After showing this marvelous position of justification for all those who are in Christ, Paul continues with this great appeal:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of is death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, tha our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away (more literally: rendered powerless), that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; for he that hath died is justified from sin       Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey the lusts thereof: neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:1-14).

In contrasting their former life in the world with theirs, now that they belong to Christ, Paul says: "For when ye were servants of sin, ye were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit then had ye at that time in the things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end eternal life. For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:20-23).

Being separated unto God involves nonconformity to the sinful lives of those who know not God. "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye were washed, but ye were sanctified, but ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God" (I Cor. 6:9-11). In Galatians 5 the Apostle Paul gives a good summary of the ethical distinction between those who are heirs of the kingdom and those who are still in the flesh.

But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law (the noun is amortous in the Greek). Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law. And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof (Gal. 5:16-24).

For the apostles then the great separation between the children of God and those who belong to Satan is due to this covenant relationship with God on the part of His saints and it involves a sharp ethical distinction. It is but natural therefore that marriage should be entered only by those who are also in Christ, and this is the specific provision of the New Testament. The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 7: "A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, (Greek: be fallen asleep) she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (I Cor. 7:39). That is, it is a sin for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. It is the will of God that those who are His children should enter into the relationship of marriage only with those who are also in the Lord. To do anything else is to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.


From Separated Unto God, by J. C. Wenger, pp. 34-38. Copyright 1951 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania. Renewed 1990, by Sword and Trumpet, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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June 22, 2000