For the Life of the World

Find Out What It Means to Be in the World But Not of It

Curated by Acton Institute


You hear the word exile. You’re told that you’re in it. That you’re an exile and a foreigner in a strange land, on your way home (1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:11; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 13:14).

But what is your place and purpose in this God-created world that surrounds you? Should you don a helmet and hazmat suit (fortification), launch weapons in the culture wars (domination), or try to fit in with everyone else and go unnoticed (assimilation)?

Or is there another plan, another approach, another calling?

As the church in the world, we are not home … yet. We are called to good endeavors in the world, wherever we live (Eph. 2:10). We may want to create our own little Jerusalems, waiting out our exile in comfort and security, but Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world, wrestling with decay and darkness. In the same way, we’re called to engage our cultural surroundings and have a faithful presence in our communities, in every sphere of culture—from work to education to government to the church. We’re simply called to be ready to share the hope we have in Christ and ready to love with Christ’s love by the power of the Holy Spirit in everything we do (Col. 3:23–24).

But perhaps we need a new, wider lens for understanding what it means to be in the world, not of it. So grab a glass of lemonade (and perhaps a few friends), and enjoy our short film series, For the Life of the World.

Called to Be Exiles

God tells us that we are exiles, strangers, and pilgrims on the earth. Our calling is to a better country, an eternal dwelling. And yet our calling is also for the life of the world.

That means that God isn’t calling us to a bunker mentality (fortification) or to dominate the culture around us (domination) or to simply blend in to get along (accommodation).

So how exactly are we supposed to engage the world? Watch this video to learn how God called Jeremiah to do it.

  • Jeremiah's Call to Exile

See Ps. 24:1–2; Jer. 29–33; Heb. 11:1, 13; Eph. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:17

Reflection Questions
  • The Israelites are exiled in Babylon for disobeying the Lord, but the Lord promises to restore them to their homeland after a generation has passed. Jeremiah explains to Israel’s leaders that, in the mean time, they are to seek the welfare of the city where they now live. In a sense, they are called to bloom where they are planted (Jer. 29:7). What does the Lord say will happen if they do?
  • Why do we forget that we’re strangers in a strange land, not yet home? Does the long-view perspective of the church in exile transform how we engage our surroundings?
  • What is our personal salvation actually for? Do you view it solely as a means of being rescued from sin, or do you think that it has a larger purpose in the redemptive history? (See TGC’s Theological Vision of Ministry: The Integration of Faith and Work.) Do you think our salvation has implications for how we work in exile?

Recommended Video
  • Your Everyday Work as a Gift

  • The Purpose of Our Salvation

Say Yes to Love

Multitudinous definitions for love, marriage, family, and community, in our culture pile up like options on a menu. But is there an original design or purpose for marriage? Why did God create the family?

Family is the economy of love. It’s the school of love. It’s where we learn our true nature, to be pointed outward—as individuals, pointed outward toward others, and sometimes toward the other of a spouse. And as spouses, pointed outward toward children and family, and as families pointed outward to our communities.

And as glorious a gift it is to be created, to need, to spring from love, the grand mystery is that family is often so unromantic, so everyday, so humble. We learn our nature of love not in grand gestures to save the world, but in the normal, everyday struggle to love, to encourage, to bless those beside us.

  • How Love Points to the Trinity

See Gen. 2:15–25; Ps. 68:6; Matt. 1; Mk. 10:6–9; Lk. 1:46–55

Reflection Questions
  • How does our culture define marriage and family, and what does it say its purpose is? Do these definitions and purposes vary with God’s design and purpose for them?
  • As we seek to know our Creator, for what purpose did he make us male and female? And what is the nature of the Trinity that is reflected in family?
  • How do you see your family as a blessing to be shared for the welfare of those around you? How does God work through the church—that is, the family of God—in the same ways?

Recommended Video
  • What Does It Mean to Say, "I Do"

Recommended Book

Work Together in Creative Service

In giving us work (Gen. 1:26–2:25), God invites us to blend the creativity of our minds with the labor of our bodies, and then to share the products of this work with one another, to make real our communal nature, our gift nature.

We must never see our work as simply a way to gain. We must never see our labor as an impersonal force of efficiency. We must never see our work merely as a mechanism we might control with levers and switches of power. Work is always personal because work is always relational. Whether you’re a janitor, a CEO, or a programmer, work is creative service.

So let us cherish our work as the glorious gift that it is—the opportunity to join with others, literally millions of others, in a divine project of vast creativity, vast abundance, for the meeting of needs, for the flourishing of cities, for the life of the world.

  • The Fruit of Our Labor

See Ps. 104:24; Jer. 29:5; Lk. 12:22–23; Phil. 2:3–4; Col. 3:23

Reflection Questions
  • Did God create us for work? How has work changed after Adam and Eve fell away from God in the Garden of Eden? How has man-centered or self-centered work (rather than God-centered, God-glorifying work) affected the world around us?
  • How many hands, or roles, are employed in making a table? How do individuals freely collaborate with their God-given gifts to meet community needs and desires? How does your individual creative work contribute to a greater whole?
  • Is work personal or impersonal? What responsibility do we have to others to bring wisdom and virtue into our daily collaborations?

Recommended Video
  • Work Is Always Relational

  • How Many People Make a Table?

Order and Justice Require Love

Hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight. I will put my spirit on him and he will proclaim justice to the nations” (Matt. 12:18 via Is. 42:1).

But how are we to operate as ambassadors of Christ in a world with so much hurt? We spurn justice, abundance dwindles, and dysfunction mars a once perfect creation. Paul tells us that creation groans (Rom. 8:19–23).

Here is they key: justice needs a face. Yes, God created the world to have order, and yes, in a broken world, we need curators of that order. But seeking justice must always be personal, which requires investment, vulnerability, and hospitality—not just to members of the household of faith, but to the stranger, too (Heb. 13).

For justice requires love. We won’t have justice unless we remember the image of God in each person—that God himself gives them dignity.

But we must do more than just remember their dignity; we must welcome them, especially strangers. We must make a space for them in our lives and at our tables. For Christ himself was a stranger among us and, as his church in exile, we are strangers, too.

  • How Hospitality Is Key to Justice

See Lev. 19:33–34; Jer. 29:13–14; Is. 42:1; Lk. 14:12–14; Rom. 5:8; Heb. 13:2

Reflection Questions
  • In what ways do gardeners have a “provocative” role? How is your work the same, as you “garden” in your place of exile and seek the welfare of your city?
  • What causes injustice or the breakdown of order? What role does hospitality play in restoring order? (See Deut. 10:12–22.)
  • Why is “the stranger” the face of justice? Does fear hinder you from being hospitable to strangers? What is behind your fear of the stranger? In what ways were you “the stranger” to Christ, and how did he show hospitality to you? How might this motivate you to show hospitality to others?

Recommended Video
  • Justice Needs a Face

  • We Affirm, not Give, Dignity

The Beginning of Wisdom

“Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (Prov. 3:13–14).

Knowledge, education, research, science—they all provide some pretty great things. But in our age of technological wonder, it’s easy to forget that information is about more than just what it can do for us.

Knowledge is a gift and, like all gifts from God, it points us outside of ourselves. It helps us be more so that we can flourish, not just survive. It also helps us to serve more people more fully, to steward our gifts more faithfully. Our God-given insights help us discover new medicines, new means to feed more people, better ways to care for the world.

But knowledge alone is insufficient. We need wisdom, too. And when faced with God’s glory and our humanity, when we learn to fear the Lord, this is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10).

So we can plumb the depths of God’s mysteries in the world, the mysteries of his creation, without fear. We can build institutions of education, of research, of exploration, in the full confidence that what we learn will not contradict our faith, but will speak of his abundant majesty and grace. We can explore, that we may be more, that we may serve more, that we may know and love God more, that we may wonder at his magnificence.

  • The Grandeur of God

See Ps. 139:14; Prov. 3:19; 4:4–7; Phil. 2:13; Jam. 1:5; 3:17

Reflection Questions
  • What is knowledge for? How can it be used as a blessing or misused as a tool of manipulation? How can prideful knowledge, for example, manifest itself in relationships or service? What happens, on the other hand, when you share knowledge with others?
  • As we explore God’s world, how does his creation reveal who he is? Are things in the world signs of something else? How can this knowledge lead to wisdom?
  • Paul tells us that the cross is wisdom to those who are saved but foolishness to those who are not. How does the gospel turn the idea of wisdom upside down?

Recommended Video
  • Let Us Explore the World

  • The Purpose of Knowledge

Recommended Book

Wonder Beckons Us to Behold

Have we lost our ability to wonder? Enclosed in a world with only mirrors of ourselves, solitude, silence, wonder, and awe, can be crushing.

Yet the Scriptures beckon us to wonder:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10)

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (Jn. 1:29)

But what does wonder require? What happens to your heart, mind, and body? Do you have to be somewhere, or is it a perspective that is possible anywhere?

Wonder and beauty can lead us beyond man-made control, beyond human imagination, to an infinitely creative God who calls us on a mysterious, adventurous quest to know him. Beauty and wonder surpass the confines of practicality and utility, beckoning us to behold the Lord and his good creation. It helps us develop a palate for what is truly good, as we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

  • Rediscover Beauty and Wonder

See Gen. 1:31; Ps. 40:5; 27:4; Mk 14; Jn. 1:3

Reflection Questions
  • What is the importance of wonder—that is, of appreciating the value that things have in and of themselves? Do you take time to wonder? To behold the beauty of Christ, his extravagant love and sacrifice? To marvel at his creation?
  • How does placing ourselves at the center of the universe (self-centeredness) blind us to the mysterious beauty and wonder of God’s creation?
  • Do you see beauty in the gospel? How is the ability to wonder and appreciate God’s beauty a priestly calling in the world? How would beholding God’s beauty transform our hearts and help us share God’s truth in our communities?

Recommended Video
  • Beauty Goes Beyond Practicality

  • Do Something Totally Useless

The Mission of the Church

Christ’s body was beaten and bruised and offered as a gift for the life of the world. And this is where another mystery is revealed. In living this way, not only are we the body of Christ, not only are we preparing the way of the Lord into the world of exile, but we are preparing ourselves for him, the way the virgins prepared the way for the bridegroom.

Because at the end of all things, where does this all lead? What does this all look like when God pours himself out for us and we offer ourselves back to him? It looks like a marriage feast. It looks like a wedding party.

This is the mission of the church and the people of God. This is our song of Zion. Remembering, living, and rejoicing in the hope that is to come. This is our prayer—that, as a royal priesthood, we would be salt and light. In our daily tasks and creative collaborations, may we offer God’s gifts for the life of the world, and may God transform us and our surroundings through our labors in every sphere of culture.

  • The Lord's Prayer

See Ez. 36:33–36; Jer. 31:3–6; Is. 33:20; Col. 1:17–20; Rev. 21:1–5

Reflection Questions
  • Do you see your daily actions as a part of God’s plan for all things? Do you wake up knowing that each day has a purpose, that you have a purpose, for the life of the world?
  • How does your church remember it is the lived memory of Christ in the world—through gathering, communion, etc.? Do these practices function as deep, abiding reminders of our gift of life in Christ and our daily activities as his body in the world?
  • How is the church like a family, and how are we to work together as the body of Christ in the world?

Recommended Video
  • Preparing Ourselves for Him

Recommended Book