Jesus Christ said, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer.”

Walking Through Vanity Fair: the Christian and the World, Part 1 (Pilgrim’s Progress According to the Bible #32)

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TEXT: John 17:14-18

14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because 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.

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.

Walking Through Vanity Fair: the Christian and the World, Part 1 (Pilgrim’s Progress According to the Bible #32)

“In the world, but not of the world,” is a common phrase among Christians, but what does it really mean? The answer to this question has important implications for how we live our lives every day. A famous depiction of Christians being in the world but not of it is found in the description of Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress. John Bunyan wrote:

Then I saw in my dream that when Christian and Faithful had come out of the Wilderness, they immediately saw ahead of them a Town which was named Vanity. Now at this Town, a fair is promoted there that is known as Vanity Fair. It is maintained all the year long and bears the name Vanity Fair because the Town where it is located is regarded as lighter than vanity; and also, because all that is sold there, as well as those who come to buy, is vanity [worthless]. As is the saying of the wise man, “All that this world promotes is vanity.”

This Fair is not some newly constructed business, but an enterprise going back into antiquity. Let me tell you about its origin. Almost five thousand years ago, even then there were pilgrims walking toward the Celestial City, just as these two honest persons are doing. So Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, along with their associates, noticing that the path along which pilgrims traveled toward the City passed through this Town of Vanity, they determined to construct a fair; it was to be a festive market in which there would be sold every sort of vanity, and it would be open all the year long.

Historians believe that the inspiration for Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress came from the annual fair that was held in a town called Sturbridge, a city near Cambridge in England, which John Bunyan would have been familiar with. In a biography of John Bunyan, this yearly event is described as follows: “When business was over it was succeeded by pleasure. Round the square, in the center of which rose the great maypole with its vane at the top, there were coffee-houses, taverns, music-halls, buildings for the exhibition of jesters, magicians and tricksters, itinerant charlatans, wild beasts, monsters, dwarfs, giants, rope-dancers, and the like… Year by year, the country populace for ten or twelve miles ­around came in with their sons and daughters for the diversions of the place.”

The happenings in Vanity Fair are a symbol of the nature of the world. The devil puts a great deal into making the world appear attractive, colorful, and dazzling. He keeps millions of poor souls enslaved in the pursuits of this life. And, as the wisest man who ever lived said, it turns out to be nothing but vanity, vexation of spirit, and a chasing after the wind.

Yet, as Christians, we are to live in this world of vanity. In our passage for today, Jesus Christ is praying for His disciples — and, by extension, all believers — as He is on His way to be crucified in Jerusalem. I will be dealing with Jesus’ entire prayer in a future message in our Praying Through the Bible Series, but today, I want us to look at Jesus’ words which shed light on how we should live as Christians in a world of vanity.

The first thing we see in Jesus’ prayer is that we are to abstain from evil. He says, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” Many Christians have the idea that the only way they can be free from the evil in the world is to be separated from the world. To that end, we build walls around our Christian communities, we cloister ourselves in Christian ghettoes, and we never interact with those who do not yet know Christ. In other words, we confuse sanctification with separation.

Jesus emphatically rejects the idea that we are to be separated from the world. He does not pray that God would take us out of the world. In fact, He later commands us to “go ye into all the world.” Rather, Jesus prays that we would be separated from the evil in the world. Now, in Greek, the word evil is properly translated “evil one”, meaning the devil.

The devil often comes to us and tempts us with the allure and attractiveness of the world. As Christians, he wants us to take our focus off of the straight and narrow way and to be distracted by the vain pursuits of the world. When he came to Jesus Christ in the wilderness, he tempted him with power, glory, and personal gratification, and he will do the same to us today.

The worldly person pursues power for himself, glory for himself, and gratification of his fleshly desires. However, a Christian depends on the power of God, attempts to glorify God with His life, and gives up the fulfillment of his fleshly desires in order to fulfill God’s will for his life. Although the Christian is in the world, he does not operate according to the standards of the world. He has a much higher standard to live up to, and that is the standard of Heaven.

So, how can the Christian be in the world but not of the world? How can the Christian be in the world, yet not affected by the sin, vanity, and degradation of the world. The late pastor Chuck Smith explained it like this: “The Christian is like a ship which is made to float in the water. As long as it’s floating in the water, it’s alright. The only danger is when you get the water in the ship. The ship is to be in the water, but if you get water in the ship, then you get into trouble. The Christian is made to live in the world. But if you start getting the world in the Christian, you get into trouble. Like getting water in the ship, you’re eventually going to sink.”

So, we are to be in the world, but not to have the world in us. This is what it means to be sanctified. When we are sanctified, we are set apart for the purposes of God. Jesus Christ prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth.” What is God’s truth? God’s truth is His Word as displayed in Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, and explained and taught by the Holy Spirit. The more we learn about God and His ways, the more we ought to dedicate ourselves to Him. As we are shaped and transformed into being like Christ, we become sanctified vessels set apart for God to use.

We are in the world, but we do not operate by the world’s standards. Our purpose is to live a godly life and carry out the work of God in the midst of the world. Part of the way we do that is by abstaining from the sin and evil of the world by God’s grace and with his grace.

In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Faithful found that the straight and narrow way ran directly through the middle of Vanity Fair. The city of vice had sprung up on either side of the road to the Celestial City. It would have been easy for the two pilgrims to step aside for a little while and see what the world had to offer. In fact, that was Satan’s purpose in putting it there — to keep unbelievers deceived, and to cause believers to become distracted. But as sanctified followers of Christ, we are called to be in the world but to abstain from the evil of the world. We are called to continue on the straight and narrow way no matter what is going on around us. Even though the road we are on is straight and narrow, it is a road that leads, as C.S. Lewis put it, “further up and further in.” Although it is a straight and narrow road, it is a road that leads to higher ground. Our lifestyle in the world ought to reflect the words of this hymn:

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till rest I’ve found,
“Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”

One day — but not today — we will indeed live “above the world” where we will no longer be susceptible to Satan’s temptations and worldly attractions. Until then, we must live faithfully as sanctified believers — in the world, but not of the world.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, allow me to share with you briefly how you can be saved from your sins and be guaranteed a home in Heaven with God today.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now that is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9 & 13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved… For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. I am sorry for my sins, and today I choose to turn from my sins. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. I trust Jesus Christ as my Savior and I choose to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.

If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God! Congratulations on doing the most important thing in life and that is receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door.” Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”

God loves you. We love you. And may God bless you.