Andrew Bonar wrote on one occasion, ‘Believers are not to be like the world. It is their peculiar honour and privilege to be quite different from it.’ In what ways are they different?
The basic difference is that they trust in Jesus alone for their salvation. Trust in Jesus means dependence upon him. It is not the strength of their faith that matters, but the object of it. Jesus is the object of their faith in the sense that they depend on what he has done for them, particularly his sin-atoning death on the cross when he suffered, in their place, the wrath of God against their sins. Since Jesus paid the penalty, they depend upon his work. If I was in debt, and a rich person paid it for me, it would be strange if I were then to depend on someone else to pay it. A believer had spiritual debts, Jesus paid the cost for them, and now that believer depends on Jesus and what he did. This is the crucial difference between Christians and others.
There are other differences between followers of Jesus and the world. What is meant by the ‘world’? It is not a reference to the physical world. Instead the term ‘world’ describes the system of things that is hostile to God and his ways. There is a very simple way of discovering if something is worldly or not. The method is to ask oneself, ‘Will this attitude, action or intention cause me to break one of the ten commandments inwardly as well as outwardly?’ If it will, then it is worldly. And according to Bonar, it is an honour and privilege for believers to be different.
Of course, it is always possible for them to turn difference into a negative outlook and focus on what they do not do. Instead they are to show how different they are by becoming increasingly like Jesus in character. One biblical description of such a character is the fruit of the Spirit detailed in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). What a difference, and a privilege, to be like that!
The final difference between believers and the world is in their destinies. Followers of Jesus will be taken by him to heaven after their lives here are over. It is always good to know where one is going in this life; it is even more important to know where one will be going in the next. Because of the promises of Jesus, his followers have assurance of their destiny, and that is a great honour and privilege.