Reflections on Deus Ex and how to be “In The World But Not Of It” (John 17:14-18)

Cyberpunk is one of my favorite genres in both gaming and non-interactive entertainment.  Few games have attempted to nail this setting, and fewer still have gotten it right.  But then there is the Deus Ex franchise, brimming with all the tech noire that befits its futuristic setting.  Long black trench coats?  Check.  Cybernetic implants that reduce the world to an equation? Check that off too.  Sunglasses at night so I can keep track of the visions in my eyes?  Check-a-Mundo (Bonus credit if you get the 80’s song reference).  Corporations bent on owning the future through technology are the status quo, and our protagonist has the difficult decision over the course of the game to slowly give himself over to the very technology he is fighting against in order to compete with those who would control the world. As our hero character, we place his body on the altar of sacrifice over and over again to provide an easier path through the game, removing his humanity and making him more machine than man.  Faster, stronger, smarter, and with new skills after each augmentation upgrade, we spend the majority of the experience becoming the very thing he is at war with:  a world where the line between machines and men have blurred so fully that those who control the machines control all of mankind as well.

These dystopian futures resemble our real world more and more all the time, as our hyper-dependence on technology becomes more pronounced with each passing year.  But while we become more advanced with our toys and our tech the core issues of humanity remain intact, and the struggle at the heart of the questions asked by Deus Ex have stood for thousands of years and are still relevant to Christians today.  As each pound of the lead character’s flesh is replaced with yet another piece of technology, the question becomes what is he really?  A man with the abilities of a machine, or a machine  that wears the face of a man?   And how close is he to becoming what he hates in order to destroy it?

How close is he to becoming what he hates in order to destroy it?

I compare this to a query I have asked myself time and time again regarding the believer and our relation to the world.  Like the example above, in order for us to be effective in our mission we must engage our culture and be active within it to make an impact.  But how close is too close?  And more to the point for us, how do we juggle being both saved from the world, and yet still be a functioning part of it?  Are we simply one foot out the door waiting for eternity, or on the other end of the pendulum are we so completely intertwined with the world that you can’t tell the difference?  How do we balance being in the world, but not of it?

I have battled for much of my Christian life to find the appropriate balance here.  Legalism lies on one side of the equation, anarchy on the other, and the fate of the world rests on each of us to find the narrow path in between.  To start, I have always found Paul’s dissertation on how he viewed evangelism enlightening, as he informs us in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that he became as a Jew to reach the Jews, as one under the law to reach those under the law, as one without the law to reach those without the law (although he points out he is still under the law of Christ), and to the weak he approached them as one who was also weak.  This text has been taken to a lot of extremes so we must be cautious not to extrapolate beyond his governing point.  This is not a license to become worldly to reach the world, because as 1 Peter 4:1-9 makes it clear that we no longer run with the world as we did in the past before our conversion.  As a matter of fact, he points out our former BFF’s will actually think it is strange that we are no longer dancing to the same beat.

Our former BFF’s will actually think it is strange that we are no longer dancing to the same beat.

The temptation for me, and I believe for many of us, is to try to find or create a universal doctrine that makes all of us comfortable, and this is a large source of the denominational rifts that plague us to this day.  The early church grappled with this exact issue when trying to integrate the new Gentile believers into the Jewish believing community in Acts 15.  So let’s turn to the words of Jesus to find the initial place where this concept was introduced and uncover the answers we seek.  Jesus’s prayer for his disciples  in John 17:14-18 is where we derive much of the “in the world but not of it” concept, where he lines out the following key points:

  1. We are not of the world, just as He is not of the world.
  2. Because of this, the world hates us as it hated Him.
  3. We are sent into the world just as He was sent into the world
  4. He prayed that we are not removed from the world, but kept from Satan.

There’s a lot to unpack there, and as usual Jesus supplies Himself as an example of how to follow Him.  And before someone raises their hand and and suggests this was a prayer for only the twelve disciples, let me point out that in verse 20 Jesus plainly states that He prays not for the disciples alone, but for ALL those that believe in Him.  So we are all in this together.

We do not have to look for a way to be different… Once we choose to follow Christ we already are.

First and foremost, our conflict with the world system is not due to our difference in beliefs, but our difference in citizenship, and it is critical we see this as the root cause issue. Jesus was born into this planet, yet still stated that He was not “of” it.   It is easy to argue right and wrong, split hairs on morality issues, and through these divisions create artificial and typically unproductive conflict.  But the nature of the issue is not merely moral, but at a subatomic level SPIRITUAL.  We do not have to look for a way to be different… Once we choose to follow Christ we already are.  And we cannot expect this world system to understand or follow the laws and tenets of the Kingdom we now belong to, nor should we be surprised when they don’t.

We cannot expect this world system to understand or follow the laws and tenets of the Kingdom we now belong to, nor should we be surprised when they don’t.

Secondly, we can see that Jesus is not advocating for us to bury our heads in the sand or flee to a commune to keep ourselves clean from the world.  We see through the examples of Paul, Peter, and Jesus Himself that we are to be active in the world so we are in a position to share Biblical truth, provide prayer, and set free those who are in bondage.

And finally, our refusal to accept and participate in the world system will not only draw the ire of those still held in its sway, but the same level of illogical and rabid hate that ultimately put Jesus on the cross.  This wasn’t because Christ was picketing the Roman soldiers or because He chose to make provocative statements designed to offend.  He simply refused to conform to or participate in the sin around Him in whatever form it existed, and when He spoke He never compromised the truth for the sake of His audience.  To present Himself as a sacrifice for us Jesus became sin, not a sinner, and that is a very crucial difference.

To present Himself as a sacrifice for us Jesus became SIN, not a SINNER, a very crucial difference.

So what is the resolution?  I suppose if we want to determine what manner of life we should live, we should fully understand what our mission is.   Jesus’s mission was to seek and save the lost, and He became what His mission to earth required… A human, specifically a Jew from the lineage of David, a perfect sacrifice, and an offering.  Our mission in Mark 16:15 is to go into all the world and preach the good news to every creature.  To reach every creature in all the world will require each of us to do our part in the great commission, and we will each have a different role.  This requires a very personal relationship with our Creator to determine everything from what job we take and where we choose to live down to the hobbies we pursue and the daily choices we make.

When viewed from the lens of our actual mission on this planet much of our questions become clear, and through our daily prayer life the Spirit of God will guide us through the choices we make.  We will each be led in different directions because we all have unique callings as well as individually designed moments of destiny each day that require us to be in a specific place and time to pray with, protect, comfort, or share our faith with someone in need.  And to achieve our destinies as individuals, some of us will be in this world as baseball players, others as authors, many more as teachers and doctors and retail workers… These roles do not define us but rather place us in the position we are needed in like a chess piece on the board.

Chess pieces have unique movements to fit the their role in the greater scheme, and by faithfully performing their positions within the confines of the rules for THEIR piece they set up the skilled chess player for success.  It would not be appropriate for a rook to move like a knight, and a bishop should never be jealous or critical of the king simply because of the limitations of movement for one vs. another.  We are all in this world as unique pieces of the playing board, and the game is to save souls.  It is the responsibility we each carry to determine what the expectations the Lord has placed on us to fulfill His grand plan.  Some of those may limit choices we are permitted to make, not because of legalistic rules but because your mission compels you to be where you are needed performing your role in a way that would not distract you or others from your true purpose.

There is not a one size fits all solution, much like our original point of discussion from Deus Ex.  The same Spirit of God who called John the Baptist to a monastic life in the desert placed Jesus in the center of Judea.  Paul was called to a life of celibacy to best facilitate his missionary calling, while Philip the evangelist served while building a family full of daughters.  Key differences abound, but they were all unified in that they were living their lives in a manner consistent with their message, their calling, and their mission.  As we draw to a conclusion, I believe it is appropriate to land on what Jesus defined as the ultimate rule for how to be in the world but not of it…

Matt 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

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