In the early 1980s, God used Herbert W. Armstrong to put the Church “back on track.” In a message he gave at that time, he asked: “Why should we come out of the world? … Why should we want to come out of this world?”
At this time of year, we often focus on the Exodus. We remember how the ancient Israelites were redeemed from slavery in Egypt after some spectacular, divine intervention. Exodus 1 through 12 show us what it took for this slave nation to be set free.
But it didn’t take long before the Israelites longed to return to their familiar surroundings (Exodus 14:9-12). Just weeks into their journey, following the miraculous redemption, the Israelites were ready to return to Egypt (Exodus 16:3).
When we hear of converted Christians leaving God’s Church, do we realize that what they are doing is no different? They are returning to the world they were called out of. The sad reality is that most of God’s people have stopped coming out of the world and gone back into it.
As Mr. Armstrong worked to get the Church of God back on track in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the importance of coming out of the world weighed heavily on his mind.
If we believe that Mr. Armstrong was the end-time Elijah, then the same urgent question should be on our minds.
Why should we want to come out of this world?
Understand The Origins
Mr. Armstrong answered that question, probably better than any human being could. He often stated that we are here to be educated, and impressed upon our minds that if we are to fully comprehend the true gospel, we must understand the origins of this world.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3). The beginning of God’s plan started here: two beings with the utmost desire to share their way of life with other like beings. The entire creation was made for this purpose. These two great personages, God and the Word, were creators. John 5:17 tells us how they work. Their efforts are an ongoing process.
These two beings wrapped their lives around the law of love (Romans 13:10; 1 John 4:8; 5:3). That way of life is one brimming over with accomplishment, happiness, fulfillment, productivity and cooperation. One did the directing, the other the following, and they were always united in purpose.
The angels were created as free moral agents. They all rejoiced over the creation of the physical universe (Job 38:7). That universe was not created in a state of decay, but Lucifer’s rebellion, described in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, led to universal destruction and chaos.
Beginning in Genesis 1:3-4, God reveals how He prepared for a new creation; the reproduction of His own kind (verse 26).
The entire Earth was re-created for this special purpose. Mankind was created to become like God. In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong showed the crucial need to develop holy, righteous character in us. He described it as “the supreme feat of accomplishment possible for Almighty God the Creator—it is also the means to His ultimate supreme purpose! His final objective!” He explained how it is developed: “It requires the free choice and decision of the separate entity in whom it is to be created. But, further, even then it must be instilled by and from the Holy God who, only, has such righteous character to endow.”
This super-vital truism explains why we should want to come out of this world—not have to, not be told to, but sincerely desire it. If we understand the origins of our creation, it will motivate us to want to.
Satan’s Lack Of Character
Mr. Armstrong gave this classic definition: “Perfect, holy and righteous character is the ability in such separate entity to come to discern the true and right way from the false, to make voluntarily a full and unconditional surrender to God and His perfect way—to yield to be conquered by God—to determine even against temptation or self-desire, to live and to do the right. And even then such holy character is the gift of God. It comes by yielding to God to instill His law (God’s right way of life) within the entity who so decides and wills” (ibid).
This is where Satan failed. He knew what was right; he had all the ability to do what was right; but he didn’t have the character to choose what is right.
Character consists of right choices. It cannot be created by fiat.
Man, Too, Must Choose
Immediately after the creation of man, we see how God created the Sabbath. This was to be a day of instruction for man in the ways of God—the ways that had produced peace for eons of time until lawlessness and rebellion were found in Lucifer.
You can be assured that God preached the gospel to Adam and Eve that first Sabbath. God loved His creation so much that He equipped them with the knowledge needed to be successful prior to allowing Satan access to them. Adam and Eve knew their origins, and God set before them a choice to live either according to His ways or to Satan’s (Deuteronomy 30:19). That same choice is set before every one of us each day.
To make right choices, we must understand why God wants us to choose. Verse 20 explains, “That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life ….”
To choose life is to love God. That means the keeping of all His Commandments. Love is the fulfilling of God law (Romans 13:10). On the other hand, to choose to tune in to Satan’s wavelength is to allow him to destroy us spiritually.
Adam and Eve did not have faith in God and His promises. They rejected Him as their Ruler and Revelator, relying instead on observation, experimentation and human reason.
To come out of this world means a total reversal of the path taken by our first parents, rejecting all of Satan’s way—carnal reasoning, experimentation and judging by our senses—and instead developing the faith that God’s Word is true and must always be obeyed.
Overcoming Hurdles Of Conversion
Reversing our path and coming out of the world require that we overcome four hurdles.
Once Jesus Christ started preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the first instruction He gave was that we repent (Mark 1:15). Repentance is the first hurdle in coming out of the world. Sometimes we simply don’t want to come out of the world; we don’t want to repent. The most difficult thing for us human beings to do is to admit that we are wrong and need to change.
Through the Apostle Peter, God declared that the first step to a new, changed life is repentance (Acts 3:19). Repentance must lead to conversion. But what is true Christian conversion? What is a real Christian in God’s sight? Does joining a church make you a Christian? Does saying, “I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior,” make you one? Romans 8:6-9 teach that a true Christian is one in whom God’s Spirit dwells.
For conversion to take place, two prerequisite conditions are repentance and faith. But our own repentance and faith cannot enable us to receive God’s Holy Spirit. God gives His Spirit by His grace, and it is God’s Spirit that converts us—not our actions.
Note what Mr. Armstrong wrote: “[God] gives His Spirit because He wants to give it. He wants us to have His Spirit as His gift before we repent. He merely requires repentance and faith as conditions” (The Incredible Human Potential).
It is God who grants repentance (Romans 2:4), and of our own selves, we cannot desire God’s way of life (John 6:44, 65).
Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4), and God’s law is an outgoing concern for the good and welfare of others. Therefore, to be converted, we must repent of our satanic ways, our selfishness, self-concern and self-centeredness.
God’s law shows us what sin is (Romans 3:20), and our repentance must be toward God (Psalm 51:4).
The sad truth is, we often stifle our conversion because we fight God in this. We become comfortable with our status quo and do not acknowledge the need for ongoing conversion.
Conversion, then, is the ongoing struggle to overcome and rid ourselves of the satanic nature we’ve acquired from earliest childhood, what we call “human nature.” To conquer and unfetter ourselves from it, we need to replace it with the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), God’s holy, righteous character.
The Days of Unleavened Bread teach us the need for this permanent change to God’s righteous character. To attain that permanent change, we must quit fighting God and embrace the key to true repentance: being correctable.
If we are not corrected, are we really repenting? Hebrews 12:5-8 tie God’s correction to His desire for us to be in His Family. As a loving Father, He stops and tells us, I told you not to do that, but you went ahead and did it anyway. Now, because I love you, I must correct you. We had better take on God’s perspective on correction, because refusal to accept it will keep us out of God’s Family (verse 8).
Correction can come from God’s ministry or from our own study of God’s Word. Either way, we need to recognize it as a starting point and catalyst toward true repentance.
The small number of God’s people doing His Work today shows that the vast majority have refused God’s correction. They have stumbled over this hurdle of repentance.
The Faith To Be Corrected
The second hurdle we must face is faith. It takes faith to be corrected. It takes faith to know that Jesus Christ works through His ministers and to believe that He directs His Church.
“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Paul wrote in Romans 10:17. Faith comes from studying God’s Word. At baptism, every candidate acknowledges the need to take God at His word and to study God’s mind daily.
Satan entices us all the time to disbelieve God: You can keep sinning—just one more time, it’s no big deal. Yet, twice God tells us that if we sin, we die (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).
It takes faith to disbelieve Satan and to believe God. Not our human faith, but only the faith of Jesus Christ will see us through our trials (Galatians 2:16).
When Pharaoh pursued Israel after they had escaped and were encamped by the Red Sea, Israel feared because of what they saw. Satan thrives on intimidation, but it took real faith to see the salvation of God (Exodus 14:13)—real trust to believe God’s promises. Hence, Paul’s exhortation to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Lack of faith leads us to judge by physical evidence and can easily draw us deeper and deeper into this world.
Grow In Grace And Knowledge
When we repent and have faith in God, we can experience God’s grace (Hebrews 11:6). But receiving God’s grace is not enough to stay out of Satan’s world. Nor is having knowledge. So we are commanded to grow in both of these (2 Peter 3:18). This is the third hurdle to coming out of the world.
We grow in grace and knowledge by holding fast to our foundation, by being steadfast (verse 17). So many of God’s people had the knowledge of God and even received His grace, but fell from it because they didn’t love the truth. Paul notes the antidote to the great falling away. He uses two military terms: standing fast and holding to the traditions and teachings we received (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 10, 15). These terms teach us that coming out of the world demands that we fight and repel the onslaughts that Satan and his society launch at us. Through that battle we grow, both in God’s grace and in His knowledge.
Endure To The End
Christ said, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:27). To successfully come out of the world, we need to appreciate the vast gap between the pursuits of the world and the struggle to enter the Kingdom of God. Continual education in the “meat which endureth unto everlasting life” will help us endure in times of trial. The spring holy days teach us that coming out of slavery can be a long, daunting process. It requires that we see beyond the immediate and keep our gaze firmly fixed upon the end result: total unity with God. If we do, we can endure any trial, knowing it builds in us the character of God (James 1:12; 2 Peter 1:4-10). This is the fourth and most important hurdle to coming out of the world!
To endure to the end means we must have our minds set to never surrender, to never desire to return to the slavery from which we’ve been liberated. That can only happen if we come to see sin the way God views it. “The so-called Christian churches today do not understand or teach what sin is—they do not teach that sin must be put away—they do not understand what man is, the purpose of life, the meaning of being born again, and of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—they do not understand that God’s Church, today, is not to convert the world, but to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom as a witness, to live a life of overcoming sin, enduring unto the end, and that the overcomers shall reign with Christ, being kings, and priests, in His Kingdom” (Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which?). To be able to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God, we must put sin away—never to pick it up again.
Jesus Christ spoke with conviction to Pilate when He said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Is our kingdom of this world? If not, then we should be striving to leave this world completely behind.
God’s Church must be made up of overcomers who are not terrorized or intimidated by Satan’s threats, nor enticed by his allurements, because they desire to come out of Satan’s world, and set their minds to stay out!