Yes, you are right. We exist within the presence of two kingdoms. The earthly government kingdom and the Kingdom of God, which trumps the other kingdom. With that said, to answer your question as to what it means to be separate but in this world, here are some thoughts I have.
We can engage with our culture in a several ways. One way is that we can escape culture and be totally removed from it. The advantage of this is that you are able to focus more on Godly things as your head and mind are filled with much less worldly items. The disadvantage is that it means that we are completely out of touch with where society is at. Another way for us to engage could be to conform to the world which means that while we are totally in tune with our culture, we have changed ourselves to blend in with the culture. But that of course means that we don’t look very Christian anymore! I would say that is a massive disadvantage.
Finally, we can choose to have a balanced view which is when we are aware of our culture and its influences, but we don’t become like it. This way we are socially aware, but we also look like Christ still. I think that this should be our goal. Jesus did this very well. If you noticed, He didn’t hide out in a Temple all day, nor did He compromise any of His teachings so that people liked Him better. Rather, He was out walking the streets and engaging with the wealthy and poor, healthy and sick, high ranking officials and outcasts. In this way, He was in tune with where people were at, could directly answer their questions, understood their lifestyle and was in close proximity to their day to day. But He always kept the same general message. He didn’t find it worthwhile to alter His message in any way. I think this is a great model for how we are to live.
So here is how we can do this. We can stay abreast of current topics as well as familiarize ourselves with who the influential people are or what the influential ideas are that happen in our society. We can also have a diverse group of friends so we can see the struggles and moments of triumph in a person’s daily life. As we gather this information, as Christians, we naturally will view it through the lens of Christianity. For example, when we see what some of the “great” atheist teachings being put forth are, we can question their validity for truth, or whether or not it is a good or bad argument by comparing it to what we are know to be true about sin, morality and human nature.
One of my favorite verses is Matthew 5:16 where it tells us to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify God in heaven. This verse tells us two things. One, that we are to look different than the rest of the world, and two, that our lives must be set on ensuring that our actions have a good spiritual impact. This is important because if we are separate from the world, yet our actions are hurting the message of the gospel, where God isn’t being glorified, then we need to question our actions. Nothing should come above our commitment to Christ including our devotion to any person, club, organization or government. And if our actions lead to anything different, then we should consider changing them. We do not live for the Kingdom of this world, but for the Kingdom of the next. We must always remember that. I think that we can be good citizens of both kingdoms as long as the earthly kingdom does not go against the heavenly one. In Acts 5:27-29, this is made very clear. The Apostles were given strict instructions by the High Priest and associates to not teach in Jesus’ name, yet the apostles did it anyways. Their response? “We must obey God rather than men!” (v. 29). I think that what they are saying here applies beyond just this context. Our loyalty must first lie with God before any commitment made or imposed upon us by any man or government (which is made up of men/humans). As long as we are first loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31), we will be living separate from the world in a way that lets our lights shine so brightly.
Thank you for your question Jesse,