July 24, 2017

Biblical Separation: Isolation or Insulation

Bud Steadman

Biblical separation” is a phrase that often evokes a demonstrative response from the individual who hears it. Those who are opposed to the concept of a distinctive Christianity are prone to get their dander up when they hear the phrase. Believers who are committed to faithfulness to Christ and His Word rally around the concept with an evident zeal.

As is true of most words, the idea of “separation” takes on a different meaning depending on the person who is using the term. Even among those who are committed to the practice of biblical separation, there are differing views of how it should play out. Our Lord gives wonderful guidance to us in His intercessory prayer in John 17, directing us to understand that biblical separation is not isolation, but insulation.

What do I mean by “not isolation, but insulation”? Some who seek to genuinely honor the Lord believe that the proper application of separation involves removing themselves from any contact with the world. A few years ago, a man told me that he was leaving our church because he did not want his children to be tainted by contact with the bus kids who came to our church. Though a motive of purity is a necessary and honorable one, that purity is not to be exercised in a vacuum, but in the midst of ministry to a lost world.

In John 17, our Lord used several phrases that point out that we are not to isolate ourselves from the world, but rather to insulate ourselves in distinctive Christianity. Notice the relationship of the believer with the world in His prayer, “[11] these are in the world … [14] they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world…. [15] I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil…. [18] As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”

Perhaps an illustration will help us understand that our Lord is teaching insulation, not isolation. Electricity is a wonderfully protective energy source that has been designed by God for our good. When a generator produces electricity, the current is sent from the generator to the object of the power’s application through an insulated wire. If the wire loses its insulation, the power is shorted out and lost, rendering the object of the energy without benefit. If the insulation is maintained, the application of the power is dynamic.

Jesus Christ has given us spiritual power for ministry, but that power flows through us effectively and efficiently only as we are insulated from the world and its draining influence. The object of Christ’s power is ministry to a lost and dying world, that men might be saved and discipled. A biblical practice of separation is a major part of that insulation.

Isolation means shutting ourselves off from the world in which we live. Insulation means having the power of Christ flow through us to the lost around us. The first is a clear violation of John 17. The latter is Christ’s model for ministry. Let’s commit ourselves afresh to purity and holy living, to biblical separation and distinctiveness from the world system, in order that the power of Christ may rest upon us and that we might be conduits of His salvation to those to whom we aggressively reach out with the Gospel.


Dr. Bud Steadman is the Executive Director of Baptist World Mission.

(First published in Baptist World Mission’s “The Messenger”, Spring 2013. Used by permission.)


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