Simon Stylites was a man who took seriously the call to holiness and the command to live distinctly from the world. But you have to wonder if he really understood.
After several other attempts to distance himself from worldly desires, he developed a plan that he followed for the final 39 years of his life. He found a pillar that had survived among some ruins. The 14-foot pillar had a platform that measured about one square meter atop it, which then became his permanent home.
Friends and children would bring him small amounts of food on a daily basis and some eventually found taller pillars so that he eventually was able to live some 60 feet above the world’s temptations. He evidently never came back down from his pillar.
Yet even from his lofty position, rather than being more separate from the world, more and more people came to visit him — and it is reasonable to assume that his daily battles with temptation were just as strong from that position (particularly his battle with pride!).
But how does one separate from the world? Simon Stylites was an early leader among a variety of movements that have suggested that one needs to seclude himself from the world. Yet that is not what Christ desired.
In His prayer prior to His crucifixion, this is what He asked the Father:
“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15)
In other words, Christ desired that His disciples stay living in the world (as His servants), yet remain unstained and uninfluenced by the world.
This remains our position — live in the world without the world living in us. We are not to isolate ourselves from the culture but we are to remain active in the culture, transformed by Christ and working for the transformation of other individuals within that culture.
And remaining unstained by the world while living in the world happens as we are being progressively transformed by the Word of God (see Jn. 17:17) so that our minds remain fixed on Christ and we cultivate minds to have godly desires and not idolatrous yearnings.
God, in our salvation, has created us for good works, and in our salvation, has also given us all we need to accomplish those good works. We can live in the world without being stained by the world.