The theme of Paul Corinthian epistles is correction of a carnal church, and one of the cures for carnality is separation from sin and error. A fundamental problem in the church at Corinth was that they were messing around with the evil things of the pagan society (1 Co. 10:7-8, 21-22) and with false teaching (1 Co. 15:33; 2 Co. 11:3-4). They were maintaining inappropriate relationships with the unbelieving world. Paul exhorts them repeatedly to separation. Two of the chief passages on separation in the New Testament are found in the Corinthians epistles: 1 Co. 15:33 and 2 Co. 6:14 - 7:1. See also 1 Co. 5:6-7; 10:14, 21; 2 Co. 11:4.
The essence of biblical separation is to live for Christ so as to shine light in a dark, fallen world. It is to be holy. It is to touch not the unclean thing. It is to refuse to follow the world’s ways and thinking. It is to avoid being corrupted by the world. This is stated many ways in this passage.
Separation is a divine commandment.
- “be ye not ... come out from ... be ye separate ... touch not” (2 Co. 6:14, 17).
- These verbs are all imperative mood, which is a command. Separation is not a suggestion; it is not an optional part of Christian living. Separation has been abused, as by the Pharisees who separated according to their tradition and not according to God’s Word. It has been practiced falsely in hypocrisy. But there is a biblical separation, and it is serious business before God.
- The believer must take the initiative in separation. He isn’t to wait to be kicked out of wrong associations and alliances; he is to depart in obedience to Christ.
- Separation goes against pragmatic thinking which says that by fellowshipping with error the believer can bring change. “These are God’s plain instructions to His people concerning separation from evil. Christians are not to stay in the midst of it, as part of it, in order to remedy it. God’s program is come out” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).
Separation is a continual practice.
- “Be ye not” (2 Co. 6:14), “touch not” (2 Co. 6:17), “perfecting holiness” are present tense, indicating continual, repeated action. Separation is not something that is accomplished once for all; it is something that must be practiced continually all along the way in the Christian life. It is a daily action. As soon as separation continues to be practiced, it drifts away and corruption is the result.
Separation is because the believer belongs to God (“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,” 2 Co. 6:16).
- This is the heart and soul of separation. Biblical separation is the believer’s response to God’s love to him in redemption. The believer has been purchased by God and belongs to God and is the temple of God (2 Co. 6:16). God is his God (2 Co. 6:16). God is his Father (2 Co. 6:18). He is dearly beloved (2 Co. 7:1).
- Biblical separation is God’s people taking God’s side against God’s enemies. Since God has such great love to me and has done such great things for me, I must not associate with those things that are displeasing to Him. I must have no agreement with His enemies. This is a major theme of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians. Compare 1 Co. 6:19-20; 7:23; 2 Co. 5:14-15.
- Christ taught about this in strong words. “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Mt. 12:30). “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24). “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mr. 8:38).
- Paul warned about this to Timothy. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Ti. 2:12).
- The stand for Christ in a foreign world is expressed in the hymn “Who Is on the Lord’s Side” (Frances Havergal, 1877): “Who is on the Lord’s side? Who will serve the King? Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring? Who will leave the world’s side? Who will face the foe? Who is on the Lord’s side? Who for Him will go? By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine, we are on the Lord’s side—Savior, we are Thine! ... Chosen to be soldiers, in an alien land, Chosen, called, and faithful, for our Captain’s band; in the service royal, let us not grow cold, let us be right loyal, noble, true and bold. Master, wilt Thou keep us, by Thy grace divine, always on the Lord’s side—Savior, always Thine!”
- “This great conflict of the ages involves us. We cannot be neutral. We are commanded to take sides and that means separation from this world’s system. This is not surprising since the world is the devil’s lair for sinners and his lure for saints. We have been bought at too high a price for us to go on in the same old way, fraternizing with the world, as we did before we were saved. The poet, summing up our rightful attitude toward the world, has phrased it thus: ‘Nay world, I turn away, though thou seem fair and good; that friendly, outstretched hand of thine is stained with Jesus’ blood’” (John Phillips).
Separation is to show forth righteousness in the midst of unrighteousness and to shine light in the darkness (“for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Co. 6:14).
- Separation is a pilgrim mindset and lifestyle. The believer is a citizen of heaven and a pilgrim and stranger in this present world (Php. 3:20; Col. 3:1-4; 1 Pe. 2:11). Paul says to the Corinthians, you are believers; you are of Christ; you are the temple of God; you are righteousness; you are light. The born again believer has been translated from the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13), from the family of the devil to the family of God (Ro. 8:15-17), from darkness to light (1 Pe. 2:9), from unrighteousness to righteousness (2 Co. 5:21).
- This present world is unbelieving, unrighteous, darkness, of Belial, idolatrous, full of uncleanness, at enmity with God. Unbelievers are children of the devil (Joh. 8:44). They “walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Unbelievers are “without Christ ... strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). The unsaved are “infidels.” This is apistos, from a (without) and pistos (believing). It is translated “faithless” (Mt. 17:17) and “unbeliever” (1 Co. 6:6; 7:14; 2 Co. 6:14; Tit. 1:15; Re. 21:8).
- Separation is to live a different kind of life before a lost world. “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Php. 2:15).
- “‘Can two walk together, except they be agreed?’ God demanded of apostate Israel (Am. 3:3). The believer and the unbeliever are at odds over almost everything. The believer declares that ‘in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ (Ge. 1:1); the unbeliever says the universe ‘just happened,’ that it was ‘a fortuitous concourse of atoms.’ The believer says that God created Adam of the dust of the earth, and ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’ (Ge. 1:26-28; 2:7); the unbeliever says man is the end product of a process of mechanistic evolution. The believer says that it is salutatory to punish a child corporally (Pr. 23:14); the unbeliever says that such punishment is harmful and cruel. The believer says that God instituted capital punishment and it should be enforced for the protection of society (Ge. 9:6; Ro. 13:1-4); the unbeliever says that it is cruel and unusual punishment. The believer says that marriage is sacred and that wedding vows involve a lifelong commitment (Mt. 19:4-6); the world advocates ‘no fault divorce’ and accepts throw-away marriages. The believer says that sodomy is an offense against the holiness of God (Ge. 19); the unbeliever calls it ‘an alternative lifestyle.’ The believer says drunkenness is a sin (Ga. 5:19-21); the unbeliever says it is a disease--and, illogically, allows brewers and distillers to spend billions of dollars to spread it. The believer says that in the last days ‘evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse’ (2 Ti. 3:13); the unbeliever says that, as time goes on, sociology, psychology, and humanism will produce a perfect society. The believer says that outside of Christ there is no salvation (Ac. 4:12; Joh. 14:6); the unbeliever says that there is good in all religions and it does not matter what we believe so long as we are sincere. The believer says that salvation is by faith (Eph. 2:8-9); the unbeliever says it is by works, that we must merit salvation, that we must acquire sufficient good works to outweigh our bad deeds. The believer says there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned (Joh. 14:1-3; Lu. 16:19-31); the unbeliever says that death ends all” (John Phillips).
Separation has always been God’s command to His redeemed people; the church now possesses what Israel lost and what Israel will yet regain.
- In 2 Co. 6:16 (“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”), Paul refers to Ex. 29:45; Le. 26:12; and Eze. 37:27, which are promises to Israel.
- Ex. 29:45 and Le. 26:12 pertained to God’s relationship with Israel through the covenant of Moses. The promises pertained to the laws, the tabernacle and temple service, and the Levitical sacrifices. “And I will sanctify the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar: I will sanctify also both Aaron and his sons, to minister to me in the priest's office. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God” (Ex. 29:44-45). So long as Israel obeyed His law, God would dwell among them, but the law was broken, the temple destroyed, and the people scattered among the nations. Note in Leviticus 26, that God said that He had redeemed them from bondage to Egypt that they might be His people. “And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people. I am the LORD your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright” (Le. 26:12-13). They were not redeemed to return to Egypt or to serve false gods or to walk in their own ways and be their own masters. Likewise, the Christian is saved to walk in newness of life and live according to a new Lord.
- The promise in Ezekiel 37:27 is for the time of Israel’s conversion. “And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children's children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Eze. 37:25-27).
- Paul applies these promises to church-age believers. This is the mystery of the church. “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of the mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:26-27). The Old Testament prophesied of the salvation of Gentiles but it nowhere revealed that Christ would dwell in Gentiles and that Jews and Gentiles would be together in one spiritual body in Christ. “In the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) there are both eschatological clauses and soteriological clauses. The eschatological clauses are exclusively for the nation of Israel. The soteriological clauses are for the nation of Israel as well but, inclusively, they are also for us--as Jesus Himself taught (Mt. 26:27-29). With us the wondrous truth has already come to pass. The living God dwells in us. He is our God. We are His people. We occupy higher and holier ground than Israel ever knew. The God who said He would dwell with His ancient people Israel now says He will dwell in us. Think what it means. The heaven of heavens cannot contain Him. One word from Him and a hundred million galaxies burst into being and hurl themselves toward the ever-retreating boundaries of space, traveling at inconceivable velocities and on prodigious orbits and with mathematical precision. Yet He dwells in us! One word from Him and countless angel hosts, who surround His throne on high and sing His praise and hang upon His words, leap into instant obedience to do His will. And He dwells in us! As for us, well might the psalmist say, ‘What is man that Thou art mindful of him?’ We dwell on a microscopic planet chasing around a moderate star located some thirty thousand light years from the galactic center, one among a hundred billion stars in a far-flung galaxy in near infinite space. And we, ourselves, but the dust of the earth. He dwells in us! Moreover, He proclaims Himself to a wondering universe, to be our God! ‘I will be their God,’ He says, ‘and they shall be my people’! What amazing grace! Saved to the uttermost! Wonder of wonders! Of course, He demands separation from a world which spat in the face of His Son and which took Him out to a skull-shaped hill and nailed Him to a cross of wood! How could He demand, or we deliver, anything less?” (John Phillips).
Separation is not yoking with, not having fellowship or communion or concord with, not agreeing with, not partnering with (2 Co. 6:14-16).
- These are various ways of saying the same thing.
- Biblical separation is not isolation; it is not communalism; it is not monasticism. We are to be in the world as light for Christ, but we are not to be corrupted by the world. The believer can company with unbelievers so long as he is not sinning with them or agreeing with them in error or participating in idolatry or being negatively influenced by them.
- Biblical separation is to be different, to think differently, to live differently. It is to refuse to follow the crowd. It is to be on guard against all spiritual and moral traps. It is to exercise vigilance in regard to one’s associations and activities so as not to be harmed by them, so as not to be polluted in one’s life and thinking, so as not to be drawn into darkness, so as not to backslide and be drawn out of God’s will. It is to be constantly proving all things by God’s Word so as to please God in all things. It is the mindset of obeying God rather than man (Ac. 5:29). It is to love God more than all earthly relations (Lu. 14:26; Mt. 10:37). It is the mindset of being the friend of God rather than a friend of the world (Jas. 4:4). It is not to love the evil things of the world (1 Jo. 2:15-17). It is not to be conformed to the world’s ways and thinking (Ro. 12:2). Albert Barnes comments, “We are not to associate with idolaters in their idolatry; nor with the licentious in their licentiousness; nor with the infidel in his infidelity; nor with the proud in their pride; nor with the frivolous in their gaiety; nor with the friends of the theater, or the ballroom, or the circus in their attachment to these places and pursuits. And whatever other connection we are to have with them as neighbors, citizens, or members of our families, we are not to participate with them in these things.” The Expositor’s Bible observes, “The text prohibits every kind of union in which the separate character and interest of the Christian lose anything of their distinctiveness and integrity. ... We are to have no compromising connection with anything in the world which is alien to God. Let us be as loving and conciliatory as we please, but as long as the world is what it is, the Christian life can only maintain itself in it in an attitude of protest. There always will be things and people to whom the Christian has to say No!” “In a society in which idolatry runs rampant, a church that is not iconoclastic is a travesty. If it is not against the idols it is with them” (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction).
- “unequally yoked together” (2 Co. 6:14). This is heterozugéo, from heteros (another, different) and zugos (a yoke), yoked together with a different kind. “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together” (De. 22:10). A yoke refers to a partnership, a union. It refers to a business partnership, a marriage.
- “fellowship ... communion” (2 Co. 6:14). “Fellowship” is metoché, “from meta (with) and echo (to have), denoting association, partnership” (Complete Word Study Bible). “Communion” is koinonía, to share in, fellowship with, participate in. It is translated “fellowship” (Ac. 2:42; 1 Jo. 1:3, 6, 7) and “communication” (Phile. 1:6; Heb. 13:16). This is a warning against close, intimate fellowship and association with unbelievers and those who hold false doctrines so that you are joining with their thinking and their ways and are being influenced by them.
-“concord ... agreement” (2 Co. 6:15, 16). “Concord” is sumphónesis, from sun (with) and phone (a sound), a sounding together, unison, accord. It is the basis for the English word “symphony,” which is multiple instruments joining together to produce one harmonious sound. “Agreement” is sugkatáthesis, to consent, join, “to be well disposed toward, to have an understanding with, to have common ground with.” Joseph of Arimathaea did not consent to the decision of the Jewish leaders to put Jesus to death, and he asked Pilate for permission to bury Jesus’ body (Lu. 23:51-53). Likewise, every believer must refuse to agree with or consent to anything that is sinful or wrong in God’s sight. The believer disagrees with the unbeliever on all important things: who is God? how was the world made? What is man? What is his purpose? How should he live? How can man be right with God? What is death? Who was Jesus? Why did He die?
- “part” (2 Co. 6:15). This is meridos, a share, a portion. It is translated “to be partakers of” (Col. 1:12). The believer must not have a part with, participate with, join hands with, make union with anything that is wrong, sinful, false.
Biblical separation is to have nothing to do with the things of unrighteousness, darkness, Belial, or idols (2 Co. 6:14-16).
- Biblical separation is to have nothing to do with the things of “unrighteousness” or “darkness.” Darkness represents evil deeds (Joh. 3:19). Darkness represents everything that is contrary to God’s character and will. “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jo. 1:5). Biblical separation is to have nothing to do with sin, nothing to do with evil, nothing to do with anything that displeases God.
- Biblical separation is to have nothing to do with “Belial.” “Belial” is transliterated from Hebrew and means wicked, worthless (1 Sa. 25:25). Paul applies it to the devil, who is the god of this world and is the power behind the wickedness of this present world. Paul had given the same warning in 1 Co. 10:21, “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” Anything that pertains to the devil must be rejected.
- Biblical separation is to have nothing to do with “idols” (2 Co. 6:16). Idols refer to pagan idolatry such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Idols refer to the images of apostate Christianity, the statues of Catholicism and the icons of Orthodoxy. Idols refer to anything that is put before God in one’s life and affections (Ex. 20:3), anything that has first place in one’s life (Mt. 6:33). “Idolatry in its larger meaning is properly understood as any substitution of what is created for the Creator. People may worship nature, money, mankind, power, history, or social and political systems instead of the God who created them” (Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction). Idols refer to covetousness (Col. 3:5). Atheists claim to have no God, but their gods are those things that they highly esteem, such as self, human intellect, science, the earth, and pleasure. “On no account or pretence were the early Christians to partake of idolatry, or to countenance it. In primitive times, during the Roman persecutions, all that was asked was that they should cast a little incense on the altar of a pagan god. They refused to do it, and because they refused to do it, thousands perished as martyrs. They judged rightly; and the world has approved their cause” (Barnes).
Separation is to “come out from among them, and be ye separate ... and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Co. 6:17).
- The second part of this verse explains the first part. To come out and be separate is to touch not the unclean thing. Separation is a mindset of being holy unto the Lord, of being separate from sin. It is the mindset that refuses to participate with any unclean thing, to associate with any evil, to engage in any sinful activity. It is to be “a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). It is to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Tit. 2:10). It is to “be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pe. 1:15). It is to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). It is to “not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:6-7). It is to make a clean break with the old life in all of its evil ways and wrong ideas and principles. Peter described it like this: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Pe. 4:2-3).
- This world is filled with unclean things. Unclean things are those things that are sinful and wrong before God. Unclean things include fornication, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, backbiting, pride, boasting, inventing evil things, disobedience to parents, covenant breaking (Ro. 1:29-31), adultery, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, sedition, drunkenness, revelling (Ga. 5:18-21), theft, corrupt speech (Eph. 4:28, 31), filthiness, foolish talking, jesting (Eph. 5:3-4). God’s people are to “touch not the unclean thing.”
- We see that biblical separation is a very strict, far-reaching principle. It involves the whole life. It is to measure everything by the standard of God’s Word so as to reject everything that is unclean. Biblical separation encompasses friendships, education, business practices, clubs, social and political organizations, marriage, the home, child training, fashion, music, entertainment, toys, pastimes, literature, social media, church. In all things, I must ask whether this thing brings me of my family into wrong association with sin, idolatry, or error. The child of God must touch not the unclean literature, unclean movies and videos, unclean music, unclean clothing fashions, unclean dancing, unclean jokes and comedy, unclean video games, unclean fantasy worlds, unclean relationships.
Separation is required to know the Father (2 Co. 6:17-18).
- “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.”
- In verse 17, Paul refers generally to Isa. 52:11, “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD.” God has always required separation unto holiness. But Paul’s statement that God will receive you and will be a Father unto you is not found in the Old Testament. This is new revelation for church age believers through the prophet apostle Paul.
- Separation requires making the choice as to whether I will please God or man, whether I will walk with God in the light or walk out of fellowship with God in the darkness. “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” (1 Jo. 2:15). “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). “for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Ga. 1:10). Life with God is glorious business and it is also serious business. He sets the rules.
- Separation unto holiness and truth is required to know the Father in the sense of repentance unto salvation. God commands all men to repent (Ac. 17:30). Repentance is toward God (Ac. 20:21). Repentance is to “turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:9). It is to “turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Ac. 26:20). It is a change of mind that results in a change of life. It is a new mindset that is ready to turn from false religion and false gospels and from self-will and from a sinful lifestyle. When the sinner repents and puts his faith in Jesus Christ as only Lord and Saviour, he is accepted by the Father.
- Separation unto holiness and truth is required to know the Father in the sense that this is the evidence of saving faith. If someone professes to know God in Christ but continues to be in concord with the devil and in fellowship with unrighteousness and darkness and in agreement with idols, he is deceived and does not truly know God. Christ made this very clear: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (Joh. 14:21). “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jo. 2:3-4). The verbs “keep” (1 Jo. 2:3) and “keepeth” (1 Jo. 2:5) and the participle “keepeth” (Joh. 14:21; 1 Jo. 2:4) are present tense, referring to continuous action. They do not refer to doing something once in a while. They refer to doing something in a continual, repeated, committed way. Those who keep God’s commandments in a committed way are those who truly know Him, and those who do not keep God’s commandments in this manner do not know Him. These verbs refer to a way of life, a fundamental commitment, a clear direction. The Greek for “keep” is tereo, meaning to keep an eye on, to guard. It is translated “observe” (Mt. 23:3) and “watch” (Mt. 27:54) and “hold” (Re. 3:3). It refers to those who have their attention focused on obeying God, which comes by born again salvation. They don’t do it perfectly, but they do it with commitment, with strong intent because the Spirit of God lives in them and the law of God has been written on their hearts.
- Separation unto holiness and truth is required to know the Father in the sense of fellowship with Him. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. ... This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 Jo. 1:3, 5-7). To the believer who separates from darkness, God says, “I will receive you” (2 Co. 6:17) Separation closes many doors in the human sphere, but fellowship with Almighty God is far better than fellowship with the world. It is better to please God than to gain the whole world. “God will not recognize those who remain identified with the world, as having the position as sons and daughters; for the world has rejected His Son, and the friendship of the world is enmity against God, and he who is the friend of the world is the enemy of God” (The Annotated Bible).
Separation is perfecting holiness (2 Co. 7:1).
- “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
- The chapter division before 2 Co. 7:1 is unfortunate because it breaks the context.
- This is separation in a nutshell. If the believer obeys this command, he will be properly separated. If he is seeking to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, if he is pursuing holiness in every part of his life, he will refuse to participate in anything that is sinful or wrong and he will refuse to associate with anything that would pollute him morally or spiritually and he will cut off any type of fellowship that would displease his God.
- Separation is “perfecting holiness.” This is a present participle, which describes continuous action. Practical holiness is a lifelong pursuit. It is day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. It is not aorist infinitive, which describes punctiliar rather than continuous action. It is not perfect tense, which is “the state brought about by the finished results of the action” or “an action or process that took place in the past, the results of which have continued to the present.” The perfect tense would indicate that holiness is a state that could be attained once for all, but this is not what we see in Scripture for this present life. “Practical sanctification is a process that goes on through our lifetime. We grow in likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ until the day when we see Him face to face, and then we shall be like Him throughout all eternity” (Believer’s Bible Commentary).
- Separation is to “cleanse ourselves.” This is a command, not a suggestion, not something that is optional. “Cleanse” is “aorist subjunctive used as an imperative.” The Christian life is many things, and one of those things is to be cleansing myself. We cleanse ourselves by separation from uncleanness. And we cleanse ourselves by confession of sins when we have touched the unclean thing. The blood of Christ is available for daily cleansing. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jo. 1:8-9). When we come to Christ in true confession, He is our High Priest to forgive our sins by His mercy and through His blood, to bestow mercy, and to help us in time of need (Heb. 4:15-16; 1 Jo. 2:1-2).
- Separation is to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.” All filthiness encompasses everything that is unclean and wrong before God. It encompasses all filthiness of the flesh (e.g., idolatry, fornication, adultery, drunkenness, revelling, stealing, lying, covenant breaking, cheating, strife, debate, backbiting, whispering, false accusing, disobedience to parents, rebellion to authority) and all filthiness of the spirit (envy, wrath, deceit, pride, lasciviousness, hatred, maliciousness, unmerciful). “The young prodigal son was defiled by sins of the flesh. He had wasted his inheritance on harlots (Lu. 15:13). His older brother was defiled by sins of the spirit, by anger, jealousy, pride, stubbornness, self-righteousness, and an unforgiving spirit” (John Phillips).
Separation is motivated by God’s promises and by God’s fear (“Having therefore these promises ... in the fear of God,” 2 Co. 7:1).
- There are many right motives for sound Christian living, and here we see two of them.
- We are motivated by God’s promises. I pursue holiness and reject all filthiness because God has saved me and given me “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Pe. 1:4), such as forgiveness of sins, justification, eternal life, adoption, inheritance, never being forsaken, being loved and cared for, being a joint heir with Christ, ruling with Christ, being the bride of Christ, dwelling in the New Jerusalem in the new heaven and new earth. “We have the promises! They are ours! They are addressed to us! We are not misappropriating promises made to someone else. The same Holy Spirit, who made similar promises to the Hebrew people in the Old Testament, now makes even greater promises to us” (John Phillips).
- We are also motivated by the fear of God. The fear of God encompasses holy reverence for God, the fear of displeasing God, the fear of God’s chastening, the fear of losing God’s commendation (“Well done, good and faithful servant”), the fear of losing God’s reward. The fear of God is mentioned 38 times in Scripture. Proverbs, the book of practical wisdom, the book of child training, emphasizes the necessity of the fear of God. “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil...” (Pr. 8:13). “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom...” (Pro. 9:10). “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death” (Pr. 14:27). “the fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom...” (Pr. 15:33). “... by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil” (Pr. 16:6). “The fear of the LORD tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil” (Pr. 19:23). “By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life” (Pr. 22:4). “Fear is a healthy ingredient in God’s recipe for holy living for His people. It is when we lose sight of God’s holiness, a holiness calculated to strike awe into every heart, that we lose our sense of the seriousness of sin (Isa. 6:1-5; Da. 10:5-9). David would never have sinned with Bathsheba had he kept his sense of God’s holiness before him” (John Phillips).
Consider some biblical examples of separation.
- Separation is illustrated by Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan. He was a pilgrim and a stranger, not a citizen (Heb. 11:13-16). He did not put down roots, did not settle down in Canaan. He did not move into the Canaanite cities. He lived in a tent. His eyes were on God his Master and on a heavenly country. He lived by God’s Word and was ready to relocate whenever God spoke. He was a good neighbor to the Canaanites, but he was not a partner with them. We never read of Abraham partying with the Canaanites, sending his children to their schools, joining their clubs, and such things. He was ordained by God to shine light in the pagan darkness through his faith and his godly lifestyle. In contrast, Lot rejected the pilgrim lifestyle of his uncle. He moved into Sodom, bought a house, settled down, yoked with Canaanites in business contracts and marriage, became a judge, supported homosexual rights, and let his children learn the ways of the Canaanites. We know how both cases ended. Lot lost everything and through incest became the father of Moab and Ammon, perpetual enemies of Israel (Ge. 19:31-38). Abraham went from blessing to blessing throughout his earthly sojourn and a very portion of heaven is named for him (Lu. 16:22).
- Separation is illustrated by the life of King Jehoshaphat. He was a good king who “walked in the first ways of his father David, and sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in his commandments, and not after the doings of Israel” (2 Ch. 17:3-4). He removed the sodomites from the land (1 Ki. 22:43-46) and took away the high places and groves (2 Ch. 17:6). He sent teachers through the land to teach the Word of God (2 Ch. 17:7-9). He appointed judges and instructed them to deal justly in the fear of God (2 Ch. 19:5-11). He trusted in God rather than in the arm of flesh (2 Ch. 20:1-30). But Jehoshaphat committed a great sin by forming alliances with the idolatrous kings of Israel. He “made peace with the king of Israel” and “joined affinity with Ahab” (1 Ki. 22:44; 2 Ch. 18:1). When wicked Ahab asked Jehoshaphat to join him in warring against Ramothgilead, Jehoshaphat said, “I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war” (2 Ch. 18:3). This was strange, wrong thinking. Jehoshaphat worshiped Jehovah God, whereas Ahab and Jezebel worshiped Baal. Judah had remained faithful to Jehovah God, whereas Israel had apostatized. There was no spiritual unity. For his compromise, Jehoshaphat was rebuked by God through the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani (2 Ch. 19:1-2). Even after this rebuke, Jehoshaphat joined with Ahab’s son Ahaziah (“who did very wickedly”) in a commercial enterprise, but God destroyed the ships (2 Ch. 20:35-37). Jehoshaphat also joined hands with Ahab’s son Jehoram against Moab (2 Ki. 3:6-27). Jehoshaphat’s sin of affiliating with Ahab bore bitter fruit in his own family and in Judah itself. Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah, and they introduced filthy Baal worship into Judah (2 Ki. 8:16-18, 27; 11:18). Jehoshaphat’s sons and grandsons were murdered as a result of his illicit alliance (2 Ch. 21:4, 13). The revival that Jehoshaphat started was destroyed in one generation because of his refusal to separate from evil.
- Separation is exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a friend of sinners in that He loved them and helped them and taught them the gospel, but He never sinned with sinners. His enemies said he was “a man gluttonous and a winebibber” (Mt. 11:19), but that was a lie. He was always holy. He always spoke the truth. He never agreed with false religion and false thinking but rather rebuked it (Joh. 8:42-44). He exposed sin (Mt. 7:11; 12:34; Mr. 7:21-23; Lu. 11:29). He called men to repentance (Lu. 13:3-5). He frequently warned about hell (Mt. 5:22; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50; 18:8, 9; 25:41). He refused to allow His relatives to call Him out of God’s will (Mt. 12:46-50).
Consider some practical applications of biblical separation.
- Multitudes of professing Christians have been corrupted by disobeying God’s command in this passage.
- The following are the type of questions that will enable the believer to know if an association is legitimate or not before God: Does this association yoke me together with unbelievers in any way forbidden by Scripture? Does this association cause me to fellowship with unrighteousness? Does this association cause me to fellowship with darkness? Does this association cause me to participate in idolatry or to agree with idolatry? Does this association cause me to have any concord with the devil or the things of the devil? Does this association cause me to participate in any unclean thing? By this association is the Father displeased with me? Does this thing bring me into fellowship with something that is not God’s will? Is this association harmful to my Christian testimony? Does this association keep me from speaking out for Christ? Does this association bring harm to my Christian life or home or church?
- Biblical separation applies to marriage. It forbids marriages to unbelievers, false religionists, or to those who hold false doctrines. Marriage is the closest yoke in human society. There must be agreement and concord. In the case where a believer is already married to an unbeliever, Scripture instructs him or her to remain in that marriage and try to win the unsaved to Christ (1 Co. 7:12-16).
- Biblical separation applies to Christian denominations, associations, alliances, and programs. It forbids joining ecumenical alliances and ventures. It forbids joining a church that is committed to false doctrine and practice. It forbids joining an association or denomination in which truth is in union with error. Examples are local clergy associations, National Council of Churches, World Council of Churches, Baptist World Alliance, CRU, Youth With A Mission, United Mission to Nepal.
- Biblical separation applies to business practices. It forbids forming business partnerships with unbelievers and heretics. Many believers have brought great trouble upon themselves by disobeying God’s command. I think of a believer who joined an unbeliever in a real estate business and the unbeliever got the company in trouble with the law by his dishonesty and the believer had to spend time in jail. It forbids partnering with any evil practice, such as performing abortion or selling liquor or providing filthy entertainment.
- Biblical separation applies to politics. The believer is at liberty to participate in political activities so long as those activities do not cause him to be yoked together with unbelievers or to participate in sin or to agree with wickedness and error or cause him to stop speaking out against things that are against God and His Word. “He cannot be at liberty to unite with them in political schemes that are contrary to the Law of God, or in elevating to office people whom he cannot vote for with a good conscience as qualified for the station” (Barnes).
- Biblical separation applies to secret orders and fraternities (e.g., Masonic Lodge, Eastern Star) that require agreement with false teaching and participation in practices forbidden by Scripture.
- Biblical separation applies to education. The believer must not participate in educational programs that cause him to be yoked together with unbelievers or to agree with anything that is in error or to participate in sinful things. Multitudes of professing Christians have gone astray by sitting at the feet of unbelieving teachers and by contracting close associations with unbelieving students. We give examples of this in the commentary on 1 Corinthians 15:33.
- Biblical separation applies to relatives. We are to love and honor mothers and fathers (Eph. 6:1-2). We are to be kind to all men, honor all men, and seek to win them to Christ (1 Co. 9:19; Ga. 6:10; Tit. 3:2; 1 Per. 2:17). But if the believer’s relationship with God is hindered by his relationship with relatives, God must come first (Mt. 10:34-39). Multitudes of believers have had to make this choice when their relatives have tried to interfere with their relationship with Christ. I think of a converted Hindu who, soon after he trusted Christ as Lord and Saviour, was required by his family to perform idolatrous rituals upon the death of his father. As the oldest son, the duty fell on him, and the family was depending on him to do his part to appease the gods and bring blessing upon them. When he refused, they were angry and threatening, but he obeyed God rather than man. We know of hundreds of cases like this. In some, the professing believer chose to honor man more than God and the consequences were always harmful to his or her spiritual life. The believer must apply the teaching of 2 Co. 6:14-18 to his association with relatives. Does this association cause me to fellowship with unrighteousness or darkness? Does this association cause me to participate in idolatry or to agree with idolatry? Does this association cause me to have any concord with the devil or the things of the devil? Does this association cause me to participate in any unclean thing? Does this association bring me into fellowship with something that is not God’s will? Is this association harmful to my Christian testimony? Does this association keep me from speaking out for Christ? Does this association bring any harm to my Christian life or home or church?
- Biblical separation applies to friendships. If a friendship puts the believer in danger of being corrupted in his spiritual and moral life, if it puts him in danger of backsliding, if it causes him to participate in sin or error or even to countenance sin or error, that friendship is not God’s will and the believer must love Christ more than man.
- Biblical separation applies to entertainment and art (e.g., music, movies, social media, video games, sports, fantasy digital worlds, literature). Everything must be subjected to the standard of God’s Word. Is this thing of righteousness or unrighteousness? Is it light or darkness? Is it of Christ or Belial? Does it have anything to do with idolatry? The music-driven global pop culture is idolatrous to the core and filled with moral filth and demonism. At its heart is the worship of self, pleasure, and prosperity. It celebrates wickedness and is at enmity with God and His holy laws. It is permeated with the occult (e.g., pagan mythology, goddess, witchcraft, goth, deathrock, Star Wars, the Force, Harry Potter, Pokémon, super heroes). The believer must separate from all such things.
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