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Christian Separation

God does not change; He cautioned His chosen people, the nation of Israel to be separate from the nations around it (Deut. 7:1-6) and He told the ecclesia (the called-out people of the New Testament) to separate themselves from the prevailing culture of the Roman Empire. Today and for all time, God requires good and evil to not commingle but remain separate. When good and evil come together; the evil may become less evil but the good also becomes less good and, from God’s perspective, this is not progress; it is sin.

Christians are called to avoid all close associations with unbelievers:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers:  for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness?  And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  for ye are the temple of the living God;  as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them;  and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing;  and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

The Apostle Paul cites here several reasons for separation, all of which stress the extreme differences between believers and unbelievers. His words bring us back to God’s statements to Adam, Eve and the Serpent just after the Fall, where He said that He would put enmity between these two seeds (Gen. 3:15). Christians should see the worldly as their enemies! This should not surprise us; one group belongs to Christ, the other to Satan. Are not Satan and Christ enemies? Shouldn’t their followers also be enemies? What do we call a soldier that associates with the enemy? Are Christians that associate with unbelievers potential traitors to Christ?

The enmity, though, is not an all-out enmity, as in warfare. It is an enmity of the mind. The born-again believer has a renewed outlook and is developing a new mind-set that is very different from the unbeliever’s. In principle, it is God-centered as opposed to the self-centered nature of the unbeliever. In practice, the believer’s mind-set is becoming more and more God-centered as he matures in the faith. The rate at which this change progresses is strongly dependent on the believer’s environment. Fellowship with unbelievers impacts this development process; the ecclesia community environment enhances it.

Christians know that some of these enemies will become Christian converts and change sides. They also know that they have some responsibility in this. In addition, there is a built-in desire to end controversy, to seek a middle ground, one that can bring peace. These factors tend to temper the enmity but they always involve some give and take, some compromise. This, though, is the very thing God hates and is one reason for His putting the enmity in place (Gen. 3:15). His first concern is for the purity of His children; they are to become holy as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:16), which means no compromise, none whatever, with the world. The people of God are not very holy yet and actually are a long way from it; but it must be their goal, a goal they continually work toward. God knows us, His wayward children; He knows that we are still sinners and tells us we must separate ourselves from Satan’s children so that we can become pure as He is pure. As believers mature in the faith, their recognition of the difference grows and separation becomes more natural.

Albert Barnes cogently describes the meaning of unequal yoking:

It is implied in the use of the word that there is a dissimilarity between believers and unbelievers so great that it is as improper for them to mingle together as it is to yoke animals of different kinds and species. The ground of the injunction is, that there is a difference between Christians and those who are not, so great as to render such unions improper and injurious. The direction here refers doubtless to all kinds of improper connections with those who were unbelievers. It has been usually supposed by commentators to refer particularly to marriage. But there is no reason for confining it to marriage. It doubtless includes that, but it may as well refer to any other intimate connection, or to intimate friendships, or to participation in their amusements and employments, as to marriage. The radical idea is, that they were to abstain from all connections with unbelievers – with infidels, and pagans, and those who were not Christians, which would identify them with them; or they were to have no connection with them in anything as unbelievers, pagans, or infidels; they were to partake with them in nothing that was special to them as such.[1]

Barnes does not bar all connections with unbelievers; he excludes connections in anything that would detract from the fundamental differences between them. Unbelievers need to see that there is a great difference, that these born-again ones have really undergone a radical transformation. They look for similarities with themselves and, when the see one, they take hold of it and use it as an excuse for their ungodly behavior. God’s will is that they see the difference and feel the reality of His Presence, the Presence that they have always known was there. Every excuse for rejecting Him must be confronted and eliminated.

The expression, “touch not the unclean thing,” harks back to the many Old Testament warnings against contamination by physical or moral disease (Lev. 5:2, 3; 7:19, 21; Deut 14:8; Isa. 52:11). Sin is a disease of sorts, one we all have; it’s not contracted, but is still affected by association with unbelief. For Christians, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a healing influence but, as we see here, the unclean thing is a corrupting influence, one that hinders the work of the Spirit. We too often think too highly of our ability to resist evil influences and fail to give proper heed to such warnings. But God’s words are never idle; they are given for a purpose and, instead of acting as brash fools, we should humble ourselves and just obey. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

Another consideration: Christianity is true, therefore unbelief is a lie. Truth and lies cannot associate together without contaminating each other. It is a poor choice to attempt to evangelize by association with unbelievers. We quarantine contagious disease and must do so also with unbelief. We cannot help the sick by exposing ourselves to their diseases. The doctor that must touch, wears gloves and a mask if necessary; others must keep away.

[1] Barnes, Albert. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6:14”. “Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament”. “// 1870.