Ask Steve: Biblical Separation

February 25, 2016 1:05 am



Currently Reading:

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate

by Jerry Bridges

Category: Christian Living

2007, NavPress




Question: Steve, what is biblical separation? How does this apply to the Christian and to the church?

Answer: Biblical separation is the belief that God has called believers out of the world to live in both individual and corporate holiness. Christians are to be in the world, but not of it. As believers grow in the faith, they make increasingly wise and discerning choices about everyday matters so as not to defile themselves morally or pollute their reputation. The degree to which a Christian practices biblical separation is usually in correlation with their knowledge of and maturity in the faith. As Christians grow in sanctification, so will their lifestyle choices.

Biblical separation is a theme that is apparent in both the Old and the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Israel is commanded to consecrate themselves in holiness (Lev 11:44-46; 20:26). They are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:6). This implies that Israel not only keep the moral statutes of God, but act in such a manner that does not bring reproach or questionable impressions upon them. That is why the Lord set moral, judicial, and ceremonial ordinances for the people to keep, as heavily outlined in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. This historically-conditioned program was God’s design to show Israel how to specifically live out her role as a righteous, just, and respectable people before their Canaanite neighbors. These social, legal, and spiritual practices was meant to set Israel apart as a distinctively holy people so that they will not be influenced or affected by the pagan practices that characterized the immediate society around them.

Sep 3Though Christ’s work on the cross did away with the judicial and ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses, the principles that underlie those Old Testament statutes still carry over to us today. What I mean by this is that we are still called to exercise discernment when making decisions on what to wear, what to practice, where to go, and what to get involved in so that we maintain our testimony as a righteous and holy people before others. Like Israel, Christians are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Pet 1:16). They are likened to a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:16) and to a temple in which the Holy Spirit of God resides (1 Cor 6:19-20). Therefore, we must see to it that we do not defile ourselves with practices that are unprofitable, or at worst, defiling.

Christians do not live amongst biological Canaanites like Israelites did, but we do live amongst spiritual Canaanites wherever we are on the globe. No matter where we reside, we will be amongst unbelievers who are characterized by a certain way of ungodly living. Every Christian is placed in different circumstances, which is why the New Testament does not have clear cut applicational commands for the church like the Old Testament did with ancient Israel. However, we can use the timeless moral principles of the Old and the New Testament to help us create helpful boundaries on what we allow and do not allow into our lives.

Biblical separation usually deals with the matters that we think of as “Christian liberty” or “gray zones.” All true Christians will not argue that lying, stealing, fornicating, lust, and coveting is wrong, and will usually commit to obeying the Lord on these moral commandments. But what about issues that are not directly spoken of in Scripture, especially endeavors that are not stated as sinful? This is what every Christian needs to research and find his conviction in, especially if such issues have any speck of controversy surrounding it. Biblical separation has spiritual benefits for the Christian because it refines his character and helps him grow more Christlike. Romans 12:2 explores the essence of this when it says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Furthermore, Philippians 4:8 describes the importance of our choices by stating, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything praiseworthy, think about these things.” Finally, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 declares, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many…”

Sep 2In regards to the question, biblical separation occurs on two levels: the individual (Christian) and the corporate (the church). I begin by using practical examples of a Christian living in the United States of America. Some popular questions that have arisen concerning Christian liberty or gray zones are: Should Christians do yoga or Eastern mediation? Should Christians dance? Should Christians wear Catholic crosses and bracelets (even if they depict Jesus on them)? Should Christians get tattoos? Should Christians wear clothing that promote Peace and Love (the same “Peace and Love” that apparently fuels the LGBT and Co-Exist movements)? Should Christians hang out with friends at pubs or night clubs? Should Christians watch movies, TV shows, or theatrical performances filled with blasphemy, cursing, and sexually immoral content? Should Christians quote wisdom proverbs from the Pope, Ghandi, or anyone else who do not teach according to a biblical worldview? Should Christians smoke? Should a Christian be a vocational boxer of MMA fighter, or even watch such sports for enjoyment?

SepIn regards to the church (a.k.a. ecclesiastical separation), some popular questions include: Should the church confront and discipline leaders or members who teach aberrant doctrine, even if it only involves secondary doctrinal matters? Should the church continue to ally itself with other churches, seminaries, or organizations that depart from biblical inerrancy? Should the church be involved in movements or causes that promote religious ecumenicism with Roman Catholics and Orthodox Judaism? Should the church be heavily involved in politics or promoting environmental causes? Should the church endorse pastors, teachers, or authors who have a questionable reputation or teach wrong doctrines? Should pastors refrain entirely from drinking?

I believe a helpful guideline that believers can use when deciding on what to do or counsel others regarding these situations is:


  1. Does it bring glory to God (1 Cor 10:31)? Does this practice honor and reflect God’s righteousness, justice, holiness, and goodness? Can this act be done in good conscience, knowing the character of God? Is this something you can do if Jesus were physically present, next to you?
  2. Does it cause you or others to stumble into sin (Mk 9:42)? Does this practice open up temptations to fall into real sin? Is it a door into the world and into darkness?
  3. Does it have a bad reputation (1 Thess 5:22)? Is this practice looked upon favorably or unfavorably by the church? Why? Do other people grow concerned or lose trust in your integrity or sensibility by this practice?
  4. Does it have strong pagan or worldly connections (1 Cor 10:28)? Is this practice tied to false religions or ideologies that are anti-Christian? To what degree? Do these practices have spiritual and moral elements that could mislead you or mislead others into worshipping idols or supporting evil?
  5. Does it advance the cause of Christianity (1 Cor 9:20-22)? Does it enhance your witness before others? Does it bolster the truth and goodness of the Christian faith? Does it help lead the lost to Christ? Is it something that will cause the devil to be happy or to be nonchalant?

Every Christian will approach these issues with different convictions based on their understanding of Scripture and maturity in the faith. The goal is not to be so right so as to be legalistic in religious abstinences and boundaries, but also not to be so left so as to be licentious in religious liberty. We are all called as a church to be set apart in godliness, which is why every serious Christian will sooner or later need to take stances on questionable issues for the sake of circumventing temptation (Rom 13:14), avoiding appearances of wrongdoing (1 Thess 5:22), and keeping a clear conscience (Rom 14:5). That is what it means to practice discernment in order to be the purest reflection of Christ as possible.