Come Out From Them and Be Separate

MARCH 16, 2018

by Mike Riccardi

In our series on 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, I’ve been considering what implications that text has for us as we consider whom the faithful Christian minister may legitimately partner with in ministry (parts onetwothree, and four). Last time, we considered that the church is the temple of the living God in this age, and that all false religion is idolatrous. To partner in ministry with those who are enemies of the Gospel is to bring idols into the temple of God, and to court His judgment.

The consequence of that reality for our lives—the responsibility it creates for us as God’s temple—is stated in 2 Corinthians 6:17–7:1: “Therefore, ‘come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean.’ And I will welcome you. ‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Do Not Touch What Is Unclean

First, there are the divine prescriptions. Because we are the temple of the living God, because God’s promise to dwell in and walk among His people, and to be their God, is fulfilled in us—Therefore, ‘come out from their midst and be separate’ . . . ‘And do not touch what is unclean.’” If we are God’s temple, we must keep that temple pure. We must refuse to pollute it by any alliance or fellowship with the idolatry of false religion. We must be separate.

These calls for separation are quotations from the Greek translation of Isaiah 52:11. In that chapter, Isaiah is prophesying of Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile (which they hadn’t entered yet!). Starting in verse 8, the prophet says,

“Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When Yahweh restores Zion. Break forth, shout joyfully together, You waste places of Jerusalem; For Yahweh has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. Yahweh has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God.”

God is going to deliver His people out of exile. And when He does, He gives instructions to the priests and Levites in the next verse: “Depart, depart, go out from there, Touch nothing unclean; Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, You who carry the vessels of Yahweh” (Isa 52:11). The priests and Levites were the keepers of the vessels of worship in the Temple of God. And God is commanding them to go completely out of Babylon, and to touch nothing unclean—that is, to bring none of the idolatrous vessels that pertained to idol worship in Babylon. The people of God were chastened by the exile, but now that they were free they had to separate themselves entirely from that pagan nation and conduct themselves in the purity of true worship of Yahweh.

Paul quotes this verse and applies it to the Corinthians. In effect he says, “Dear brothers and sisters, has God not delivered you out from the captivity of sin and the idolatry of paganism through the redeeming blood of Christ? He has saved you out of that spiritual exile, and restored you to a right relationship with Himself! And in light of that deliverance, just as He said to the priests of the Old Covenant He says to you—a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:9)—‘Come out from them and be separate, and touch nothing unclean!’ As a kingdom of priests (Rev 1:6), don’t pollute the temple of God by attempting to mix the pure worship of Christ with the trappings of pseudo-Christian idolatry of the Judaizing false apostles. Make a complete and total separation from everything that you were called out from in the world! And that includes false doctrine concerning Christ! Because of their false doctrine, the Judaizers are still in the Babylonian captivity of the soul from which you have been delivered! Therefore, there can be no spiritual partnership between you!”

This rich imagery of pure temple worship versus the idolatry of false religion only further underscores the main lesson of this text. The church has no business partnering in ministry with the world; even that part of the world that goes to church and calls themselves worshipers of Jesus. Whenever true Christians join in common spiritual cause with unbelievers, we are like exiles, delivered out of the Babylonian captivity, set apart to the pure worship of Yahweh, who then set up Babylonian idols in the middle of Yahweh’s temple. It’s just unthinkable!

A Practical Example

In the providence of God, the Lord has given me the opportunity to put the lessons of this text into practice. My pastoral duties at my church include the oversight of our local outreach ministries—our attempts to bring the Gospel to our community here in Los Angeles. And I had been praying for a while about how to get our church more involved in frontlines abortion ministry. About a year ago now, I and some of the seminary students who work with me began joining several other members of our church outside an abortion clinic on Wednesday mornings. About 10 minutes from our church, there’s an office building where people go to murder their unborn children. And so we’ve developed teams to be there twice a week to plead with the mothers and fathers to not follow through with their plans, and also to raise our voices into the waiting room from outside in order to preach the Gospel to those who can hear us on the inside.

And it has been a difficult, intense, glorious ministry. The Lord’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. We’ve had opportunities to preach the Gospel to all sorts of people—from men and women intent on killing their children, to the men who transport the “medical waste” from the facility, from passersby on the street, to the police offers who responded to complaints about our preaching. And twice a week for a year, at least one woman has left the clinic under the sound of our preaching. We can’t know for sure, but we pray that means that several children have been saved from death.

But there has been an interesting aspect to this ministry. There is always a group of Roman Catholics on the sidewalk as well. They usually stand a bit apart from us, holding signs, clutching their rosary beads, and praying to Mary. And of course, we’re friendly to them; we’re glad that the Lord might use their presence to deter some women from killing their babies. But there have been times when they’ve come over and bowed their heads with us while we were praying. There have been times when they’ve come to pray for us as we’re preaching. And there have even been times when they’ve come and stood next to us while we were pleading with the mothers at the entrance, always holding their rosary beads, and some of them holding icons of Mary and Jesus.

And so we’ve had to ask ourselves: At what point have we crossed the line from (a) co-belligerence on a political issue over to (b) partnership in ministry? I’m happy to “March for Life” alongside a Roman Catholic, and alongside anyone else who thinks murdering the most defenseless among us should be illegal in our country. But because that is a legislative endeavor, and not a mission-of-the-church endeavor, it’s not a spiritual partnership in Gospel ministry. However, the answer to abortion isn’t merely, “Don’t have one,” but, “The desire to murder comes from a corrupt heart that can only be transformed by the Gospel of Christ.” And because we and our Roman Catholic friends fundamentally disagree on what the Gospel of Christ is, we can’t pray and preach together as if we were united in a ministerial partnership.

So, what do we do? It’s a public sidewalk; we can’t tell them where to stand. But we decided that we can lovingly explain to them that there is a genuine separation between us because of the Gospel of Christ, and that therefore we cannot stand together in ministry. We’ve engaged several of these friends in conversation, asked them what they believe about the Gospel, and explained to them why we believe in fundamentally different Gospels, and therefore fundamentally different Jesuses (cf. 2 Cor 11:4). And we’ve explained that the Jesus they worship isn’t the Jesus of the Scriptures, but is an idol that their religion has fabricated, and therefore, sadly, that we are not brothers and sisters in the Lord. And while we’ve affirmed to them that we want to keep talking with them about the Gospel, we’ve asked them that we not stand together as if we were partnering in Gospel ministry.

Now, why did we do that? It certainly would have been easier and less offensive to just pretend we were all on the same side. But it would not have been faithful. It would have stood in stark violation of this very passage of Scripture. It would have been for us to have taken the unclean idols of Babylon and introduced them into the Holy temple of the living God. It would have been to join together with those of whom God has said, “Come out from them and be separate,” and “Do not touch what is unclean.” We dare not think that we can be faithful in the ministry to which God has called us if we refuse to obey the prescriptions He has outlined in the carrying out of that ministry.

I Will Welcome You

But we don’t only have the divine prescriptions to come out from them and be separate. We also have the divine promises that motivate us to this obedience. In verses 17 and 18 God says: Come out from among them and be separate, and do not touch what is unclean, “And I will welcome you. ‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

The kind of separation that I just described is extremely offensive and alienating to people. Often, because of this, we can find ourselves isolated from the very people we’re trying to reach with the Gospel. Obedience to this call to separation is not easy! But these verses teach us where we get the strength to follow Christ in faithful, difficult obedience. It is in the promises that, though we may be shunned by and alienated from the enemies of the Gospel, God Himself says, “I will welcome you.”

Here, Paul is once again quoting from the Old Testament. The phrase, “I will welcome you,” comes from Ezekiel 20, another passage that prophesies the rescue of Israel from exile, this time speaking of the final eschatological restoration of Israel. God says,

“I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out. . . . For on My holy mountain, on the high mountain of Israel, . . . there the whole house of Israel, all of them, will serve Me in the land; there I will accept them and there I will seek your contributions and the choicest of your gifts, with all your holy things. As a soothing aroma I will accept you when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you from the lands where you are scattered; and I will prove Myself holy among you in the sight of the nations.” (Ezek 20:3440–41)

This is the New Covenant promise for the nation of Israel, which she will inherit when she repents from her apostasy and trusts in her Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. But Paul is saying: because we have trusted in this divine Messiah and partake of the blessings of this promised New Covenant, we experience that welcome now in the present age!

And what a privilege it is to be welcomed by God! What greater blessing could there be than to be welcomed into the fellowship and the favor of the God in whose presence is fullness of joy, and in whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11)? We who deserve to be told, “Depart from Me” (Matt 25:41), are told, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father” (Matt 25:34). How can I face the world’s rejection as a result of obeying God’s command to be separate? I must trust in the divine promise that when I do, I will be welcomed by My Father. His fellowship outweighs all the world’s rejection. His smile outweighs all the world’s frowns. Come out from them, make a clean break with the world, and God will welcome you.

I Will Be Your Father

And it gets better than that. Not only will He welcome you. Not only will you be to Him a holy temple and a people for His own possession. He will be your Father, and you will be His sons and daughters: “‘And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:18).

This is yet another Old Testament promise finding its fulfillment in the salvation of the Church. It was first spoken by God to David concerning David’s son (2 Sam 7:14). That promise is the substance of the Davidic Covenant, in which God promised that He would raise up David’s seed and establish his kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:12–13). And while there was a proximate fulfillment of that promise in David’s son Solomon, the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic promise is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Hebrews 1:5 quotes 2 Samuel 7:14 and applies it to Christ. The author of the Hebrews says that Christ is greater than the angels, and then he proves his point by asking, “For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’? And again, ‘I will be a father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me’?” Jesus is the Son of David, the eternal Son of the Father.

And through the divine grace of the Gospel, we are united to Christ by faith alone. By virtue of our union to Him, all that is His is ours. So we participate in His Sonship in such a way as to become sons and daughters of God. To be adopted into God’s family! John 1:12: “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” This is a staggering privilege, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the reality that, spiritually speaking, we were orphans, under the cruel oppression of sin and Satan. By nature, we are not children of God, but “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3) and “sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). The unregenerate have the devil for their father (John 8:44). “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4)

What an extravagant ex­pression of love is this adoption! If the blessings of salvation stopped with being indwelt by God as His temple and being welcomed by Him as the people of His own possession, no one would question God’s goodness or regard His grace as deficient. But in a superabundance of grace, God makes us His sons and daughters! It would have been enough just to be His people. To be His temple staggers the imagination. But further still: we are His family, entitled to all the rights and privileges that belong to the family of Almighty God. “See how great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). How great a love indeed!

Dear Christian, can you be enticed by that love—strengthened by that love—to separate yourselves from the world and endure its scorn? God promises to be your Father! What an infinitely greater privilege than to have a big church, or political victories, or societal influence! You are His children! “And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17) in the inheritance of all things. The strength to walk in faithfulness to the divine prescriptions is granted by faith in the divine promises. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (Click to Source)

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