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Biblical Separation

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Biblical Separation

The Biblical doctrine of separation is based on one of God’s essential attributes – His holiness. By His very nature, God is completely set apart from all sin, evil and wickedness. As a result, He never looks upon any sin with the slightest degree of tolerance, and He desires for His children to likewise set themselves apart from all that is sinful and from even tolerating any form of evil or wickedness. As believers, we are called to fellowship with God who “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that we separate from whatever is “darkness,” that is, whatever is in direct opposition to His very nature and His will for our lives. I Peter 1:15-16 clearly states the perfect will of God for every believer. “Be ye holy in all manner of conversation (lifestyle); because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

The belief that God is indifferent to whether or not we distance ourselves from that which His Word declares to be contrary to His will is terribly foolish and extremely dangerous. God has given us His Word so that we can know what we are to embrace and from what we are to separate. Separation from error and from those who are walking in error or those who espouse error is essential for our spiritual well-being and usefulness in service for our Lord (II Timothy 2:19-21).

Separation from that which is contrary to the Word and will of God is sometimes difficult, but our separation from evil and every false way is always God’s order. We are declared to be positionally sanctified “in Him” and are called to be separated unto Christ the moment we believe and are saved. God’s Word continually admonishes us to walk in a sanctified, holy, separated manner that is worthy of our “high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Although the doctrine of separation is a dominant theme throughout the Scriptures, difficulty often arises when we are called upon to actually heed or practice this Biblical doctrine. In some instances, to obey God’s Word in this regard is rather easy. For example, to reject the false doctrines of the cults or to separate from an unbeliever who rejects the truths concerning the death and resurrection of Christ is not too difficult, nor does it usually involve any sacrifice on our part. However, many believers have difficulty understanding and obeying God’s command to refrain from fellowshipping with those who are disobedient to the Word of God when it means they must separate from Churches or Christian organizations or ministries that have compromised and failed to heed the counsel of God’s Word. But God’s directive for the believer with respect to evil is the same whether the sin is found outside or within the Church.

Separation from worldliness

As Christians, we have been delivered from our enslavement to sin and death. The Lord has set us free from our old masters (the world, the flesh and the devil) and has given us the power to live a life of righteousness that honors and pleases Him. So why should we desire to remain attached to the world system from which we have been delivered? The apostle John commands us, “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” (I John 2:15). The “world” to which John refers is the ungodly world system in which we live. As believers, we must not become attached to the things of the world nor gain an affinity for the world’s ideas, philosophies and programs that oppose or contradict the Word of God. The Bible gives two specific reasons why we are to “love not the world.”

Love for the world is incompatible with love for God (I John 2:15).

The world system is at enmity against God and, therefore, at enmity against those who are obedient followers of Christ (John 15:18-20). Notice James 4:4. Those who are friends of the world are described as enemies of God. To be an enemy of God is a serious matter! The Bible makes it clear that we cannot love the world system and simultaneously strive to effectively attain spiritual goals.

The world in which we live is only temporary (I John 2:17).

Our present lives should reflect our spiritual priorities. If we believe the world is only temporary, then we will strive for eternal reward. On the other hand, if we live for today and attach ourselves to the world now, then we are not laying up spiritual treasure in heaven. Clamoring for material wealth and greedily striving to obtain earthly possessions is not only futile but it actually harms our relationship with our Saviour.

Peter commanded us to be obedient children of God who are “not fashioning (ourselves) according to the former lusts in (our) ignorance” (I Peter 1:14). This is a clear command to separate from the ways of the world in which we walked prior to our salvation. Peter continues, “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation (lifestyle)” (I Peter 1:15). Every aspect of our life should be conformed to the way of righteousness and Godliness rather than conformed to the philosophies and attitudes and pleasures of the world.

God’s Word does not specifically (by name) forbid the believer from participating in certain worldly activities such as smoking, drug use, gambling, etc., but it does provide us with certain principles by which we are to live our lives and gauge all our activities. From these principles, we discover that the aforementioned activities are certainly contrary to the will of God.

Separation from false teachers and false doctrine

The entire epistle of Jude is an impassioned command to all believers to beware of false teachers who espouse false doctrine and to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Such “contending” involves exposing false teachers and false doctrine and separating from them. We can know how to distinguish truth from error by knowing the Word of God and keeping ourselves in the love of God (Jude 17-21).

The apostle Paul frequently exhorts believers to separate from false teachers and false doctrines they propagate. Notice several portions of Scripture in which Paul commands us to practice Biblical separation:
• II Corinthians 6:14-18
• Ephesians 5:11
• Romans 16:17
• II Timothy 2:15-23
• II Timothy 3:1-5
• Galatians 1:6-10

The apostle John also exhorted believers on numerous occasions to beware of false teachers and to separate from them and their false doctrines.

The entire first epistle of John informs believers that one of the primary ways in which they can abide in Christ (that is, to continue to enjoying a close relationship with Him) is to watch out for false teachers and “try the spirits” to see whether or not they are truly of God (I John 2:18-20; 4:1-5).

In John’s second epistle, he commands us to separate from those false teachers who embrace false doctrine (II John 7-11). Those who accommodated the false teachers were described as being “partakers” of their evil deeds. The Word of God reveals that “guilt by association” is possible in the life of the believer.

Jesus Christ Himself commended several churches for separating from false teachers and false doctrine and rebuke several other churches for failing to separate from false teachers and their dangerous doctrines (Revelation 2:1-3:22).

Separation from disobedient brethren in Christ

The command to separate

Often, the most difficult type of separation to practice is separation from another brother or sister Christ. Yet the Bible clearly states that we are to separate even from fellow brethren when they fail to heed and obey the Word of God. Some brethren embrace those who teach false doctrine. Others posses an affinity for the world and seek to employ the ideas and philosophies of the world in their lives and ministries. Some brethren actually embrace and teach false doctrine. Others repudiate certain Biblical doctrines such as separation from error and false teachers. In each case, the fellow believer is compromising the truth and failing to heed and obey the Word of God. To separate does not mean to act in an unkind or unloving manner toward the offending brethren or to refuse to speak to them of have anything to do with them. Rather, it means we must not associate ourselves with their ministries or their ministerial endeavors. We must make sure that others know we are not identified with the doctrine they teach or with the philosophy of ministry to which they subscribe.

Paul commanded the Thessalonian believers to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” (II Thessalonians 3:6). How were these brethren walking disorderly? They were not heeding and obeying the tradition, that is, the words and inspired writings of the apostle Paul (II Thessalonians 2:15). Paul writes, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thessalonians 3:14-15). Those fellow believers who do not heed and obey the Word of God are to be marked and avoided. No room exists for compromise!

Purposes for separation from fellow Christians

Maintenance of church purity

Separation is necessary in the local church fellowship in order to maintain church purity. I Corinthians 5 presents a case in point, for Paul charged the church at Corinth “not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” Whether this individual was a sinning believer or an unsaved pretender, the command is the same. When such church discipline is not enforced, unconfessed and unforsaken sin in the Christian fellowship will harm and corrupt others (I Corinthians 5:5-7). God has ordained separation in order to stem the leavening, spreading influence of sin, which always comes to pass within compromising fellowships.

Restoration of the disobedient brother

Unless the errant believer is rebuked according to God’s Word, he might continue in his sin indefinitely. Separation should make the disobedient brother “ashamed” (II Thessalonians 3:14). He is not an enemy, nor should he be treated as such (II Thessalonians 3:15). One purpose for our separation from him is to bring him to a place of repentance and restoration. Paul tells us, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).

Reception of a full reward

Believers should obey God’s Word and separate from disobedient brethren in order to receive a “full reward” at the appearing of Jesus Christ (II John 8). We are “not crowned (rewarded), except (we) strive lawfully (that is, according to the dictates of God’s Word)” (II Timothy 2:5). It is possible for a disobedient Christian to lose reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ due to his compromised fellowships while on earth ( I Corinthians 3:13-15; Revelation 3:11). Anytime a believer is identified with any religious activity that is not true to God’s Word, he will meet with God’s disapproval.

Consistency in the midst of theological confusion

Separation from disobedient brethren is necessary in order to maintain a strong, consistent testimony in the midst of theological turmoil and confusion that exists today. Compromised fellowship clouds the issues, dulls spiritual discernment and silences Scriptural reproof. Paul writes, “Be not deceived: evil communications (wrong fellowships) corrupt good manners (proper conduct)” (I Corinthians 15:33). Only a separated believer is able, in obedience to God’s clear command, to sound a faithful, unhypocritical warning concerning the deception that Satan is sowing in the church today (Acts 20:28-31).

We must remember that our God is holy, and He calls us to be holy. In order to be obedient to His command, we must endeavor, by the grace of God, to be separated wholly unto Him, regardless of the cost or the scorn of man.

Study Questions

1. According to the following verses, what attributes of God make sin absolutely intolerable
    to Him?
    a. Psalm 11:7
    b. Matthew 5:48
    c. 1 Peter 1:15-16
    d. 1 John 1:5

2. To what does the word "world" refer in 1 John 2:15?

3. Look at the following verses and briefly explain why the believer should not love, or have
    affinity for, the world.
    a. John 15:18-20
    b. Galatians 1:4
    c. James 4:4
    d. II Peter 3:10-12
    e. I John 2:15-17
    f. I John 5:19

4. What is the basis for the believer's need to live a holy, separate life according to
    Ephesians 5:1 and I Peter 1:15-16?

5. What do the following verses say concerning our fellowship (associations) with false
    doctrines and false teachers?
    a. Romans 16:17
    b. II Corinthians 6:14-18
    c. Ephesians 5:7-11
    d. II Timothy 3:1-5
    e. Titus 3:10
    f. II John 1:9-11

6. What are some Biblical reasons for separating from a disobedient
    fellow believer?

7. According to II John 8 and II Timothy 2:5, what is the believer's motivation for practicing
    Biblical separation?

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