As the Church has developed and grown throughout history we can see a clearly divided attitude towards the things of the world. On one hand there are Christians who, in wanting to honor God and live holy lives, reject everything that is of the world desiring to never become like the world. For example, some within Christianity withdraw from the world and set up their own communities in order to show the rest of the world what life could truly be like if you follow Christ. On the other hand there are Christians who, in wanting to honor God and live holy lives, embrace as much as they can in the world to gain an audience with the world. For example, some within Christianity adopt many worldly behaviors to show the world that Christians aren’t as rigid and severe as normally thought. The result of both of these attitudes is that the world is often confused. Those who withdraw from the world are usually seen as unapproachable and remote while those who adopt much in the world are usually seen as indistinguishable from the world.
So the question remains, how are Christians to live faithfully and fruitfully in the world? Our text this morning addresses this very issue.
Last week we saw the first three items atop Jesus’ prayer list for the disciples in v6-13, this week we see the next three. But though there are three clear items Jesus prays for here, the three are very related, they are distinct but they are one. We’ll see this again and again as we walk through v14-19.
Set Apart from the World through the Word (v14-15)
“I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
In v6 we saw it was the word that the disciples kept, in v8 we saw that word was given from the Father to the Son, now in v14 we see it is this same word that the Son gave His disciples. And when Jesus gave it, the disciples believed it, and upon believing it the disciples began suffering for it. How did they suffer? Trace it all the way back. The disciples had been born into the world, they were raised in the world, and were a part of the world. But by believing in Christ’s word the world now saw them as alien, as ‘not of the world.’ And for this Jesus says the world hates them. This is like Jesus and unlike Jesus. This is unlike Jesus in that while the disciples were once of the world and chosen out of it, Jesus was never of the world but chose to come into it.But it’s like Jesus in that the world now identifies the disciples as they identify Jesus, not of the world. And so Jesus tells the Father that the world now views them as the world views Him, “just as I am not of the world.” God has truly set them apart from the world through the Word.
Jesus gets this, but the disciples don’t, so naturally when they encounter the trial of the cross they all scatter and remain hidden and huddled together until the resurrection of Jesus and coming of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. After these events they no longer remain huddled and hiding, no. Now they are eager and enabled to powerfully proclaim the gospel to those in the world regardless what that brings them from the world. Why? What changed? Once indwelt by the Spirit they understood what Jesus says here. That like He was then they are now. Outcasts, aliens, exiles, and sojourners in this world, and because of this they know the world will treat them as such. So, trials, suffering, and hardship brought on by this world no longer surprises them. They expect trials to come and when they come what do they do? Well they don’t compromise or soften their message to make it more acceptable so that they’d be more accepted and popular.No, they stand firm and preach the undiluted gospel message the world needs even though the world doesn’t know they need it. And they rejoice that any suffering they experience here is light and momentary when compared with the glory to come.
Now, since they aren’t of the world and since they’re in the crosshairs of the world’s hostility one might expect Jesus to ask the Father to remove them from the world for their protection.But this isn’t the prayer of our Lord. Yes, He’s about to leave the world as His work is done, but the disciples are about to be sent into the world as their work begins. So remain in the world they must. And having been set apart from the world through the Word, Jesus now asks the Father to keep them from evil in v15. Why? Because there is much evil seeking to stop them and their message from going out to the world. Evil inside them and evil outside them. Inside them, because (though saints) they’re still sinners who’ll struggle with lingering corruption. Corruption that will show itself in a multitude of ways as they seek to be faithful in carrying out their mission. But also evil outside them, because they’re behind enemy lines in this world. The Devil (though defeated) is the prince of the power of the air and he isn’t resting. Rather he’s roaming about seeking to devour God’s people and ruin God’s work by clogging ears from hearing the gospel of Christ and blinding eyes from seeing the glory of Christ. So while not being of the world but remaining in this world there is a great need for them to be kept by God. But how will God keep them? We see one way He’ll do this in the next two verses.
Sanctified in the World by the Word (v16-17)
v16 restates v14 leading into the request in v17, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
Question: how does Jesus ask the Father to keep the disciples faithful and fruitful in a fallen world while the world and the Devil over the world will hate them? Answer: having already been set apart from the world through the Word Jesus now asks the Father to sanctify them in the world by Word of truth.
The reasoning goes like this: in order to be of service in the world and to the world, the disciples must be separate from the world.If they’re not separate from the world they’ll be of no use in the world. Perhaps you can see even in these words why so many within the Church have gone about interacting with the world in such different ways. The disciples are to be in the world, yes, but while in the world they must not be of the world, they must be sanctified or ‘made separate’ from the world. This is a tension we must not try to soften. It is surely more comfortable remaining in seclusion, in a kind of holy huddle, all our days worshiping and growing and learning and fellowshipping. That is great indeed, but don’t we find that the more we grow in our knowledge of God the more we grow into a desire to make Him known? This happens for a reason, the power of the Word is what propels us out to the world. This is why v17 says what it says.
“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” While justification is an act of God’s free grace where He pardons our sins and declares us to be righteous in His sight because of Christ’s work received by faith alone, sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace where He renews us in His image, enabling us to more and more die to sin and live to righteousness.You see the difference? At the moment of conversion God justifies us, God declares that we are what we are not, righteous. In sanctification God slowly but surely makes us into what He’s already declared us to be, righteous. How does He sanctify us? How does He make us righteous and holy? v17 tells us, with His truth. What is His truth? His Word is truth. In the immediate context for the disciples God’s Word was what we now call the Old Testament, but throughout the apostolic ministry and their being carried along by the Holy Spirit to give us the inspired Scriptures of the New Covenant, we now define God’s Word as the Old and New Testaments.
The Bible carries God’s very authority, because when it speaks God speaks. It stands over us, rules over us, and makes commands of us. We do not stand over it as if we were the judge of Scripture. When it commands, we’re to obey. When it promises, we’re to trust. When it declares, we’re to believe. The Bible is necessary because only there do we find a full explanation of who God is and what He requires of us. The Bible is clear, and while not everything in the Bible is easy to understand the things which are necessary for the salvation of man and the Christian life, are so clearly taught that anyone willing to look into the Bible can understand them. The Bible is sufficient, because whatever we do, it teaches us how to do it to God’s glory, in this way – all of Scripture is sufficient for all of life. And the Bible is beautiful, because that which it reveals to us carries more beauty than any other thing. What does Scripture reveal to us? God. Who He is, what He’s like, and what He calls mankind to. He is beautiful in His glory, matchless in His wonder, and stunning in His splendor. He is ultimately what the Scriptures reveal to us, and He is beautiful.
v17 says this Word is not only true, but is the truth. It is the standard of all that is true. It is the means by which God grows His people in truth. This, “…it should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. We should read it slowly, read it frequently, and read it prayerfully. It is the best seller of all history, it will be opened at the judgment, and on into eternity none of its contents will pass away.”Henry Smith once said of Scripture, “We should set the Word of God always before us like a rule, and believe nothing but what it teaches, love nothing but what it prescribes, hate nothing but what it forbids, and do nothing but what it commands.”Thomas Watson said “Scripture contains a majesty, a melody, and brilliant divinity, and because of that we should read it with reverence, with seriousness, and with affection…search the Scriptures!…for there is no danger of tasting from this tree of knowledge; rather if we do not eat of this tree of knowledge we shall surely die.”
Church see the promise of v17. Through neglecting the Scripture we invite all kinds of horridness in ourselves, but by giving ourselves to it God brings all kinds of holiness in us, fitting us for use in this world by making us, more and more, separate from the world.
Sent to the World with the Word (v18-19)
Having been set apart by belief in the word or teaching the Father gave the Son, and having begun being sanctified by that word of truth, what does God do with His disciples now? He isn’t done, no, He does more in, with, and through them. He sends them into the world with the Word.
“As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
Before us is yet another transfer from Jesus to His disciples. In v1-5 it is His glory, in v6-11 it is the name of the Father, in v11 it is the Trinitarian unity, in v13 it is His very joy, in v17 it is His holiness, and here in v18 it is His mission.The mission of the disciples is to be founded and based upon the mission of the Son. Remember, when the Father sent the Son into the world He sent the very Word of God and gave Him words to speak. The disciples heard these words, or teaching, and believed them and because of that they were no longer seen as ‘of the world.’ Now, Jesus is sending His own into the world with the same words or teaching, they believed when He spoke to them. So Jesus sends them into the world, not aimlessly but purposely, to carry out their mission as He has carried out His own.That He sends them into the world, as we’ve been seeing, shows how much God truly does care for the world (He wants it reached and so sends His disciples into it!) and shows us also that if we’re truly following Christ we will not turn away from the world because while He does separate us from it He does send us into it. We’ve seen this pattern in John before. In 10:36 Jesus was sanctified or consecrated and sent into the world. Now, having begun sanctifying His own in v17 He sends them into the world in v18.
He speaks of this again in v19 as He says, “And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Here Jesus says He consecrates Himself, or sets Himself apart, or makes Himself holy, so that His own would be consecrated, or sanctified, or made holy in truth. This is referring to His death and resurrection that will make His disciples holy, as He takes their sin onto Himself while giving them His very righteousness. There is a double meaning here to see. Jesus sanctifies Himself, readying Himself to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, which will be the very thing that enables His disciples to be living sacrifices for Him. Jesus’ consecration is for His death, and the disciples consecration is for life. So the disciples and we ourselves can now say, with the apostle Paul,, “…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
So how can we wrap this up? I think we say this. Based on who we are, our temperaments and personalities, we all feel the pull towards either isolation (leaving everyone to be apart from the world to reach the world) or assimilation (becoming like the world to reach the world). Remember, isolation often makes us remote from the world and assimilation often makes us indistinguishable from the world. Both are mistakes, as we’ve seen. So what are we to do? We must remember that Jesus didn’t call His disciples and doesn’t call us to isolation or assimilation, but mission.Too accomplish this mission many Christians give much time and discussion to thinking through the vision of their particular church. Many pastors can give much time to creatively persuading people of these visions and then how they can unveil or launch these visions. I don’t believe this is a bad idea, after all we’ve got our own vision and we think it’s a good one. What I am saying is that when we think through the vision of our churches, we must remember that Christ already has a vision for His Church, and His vision must be our mission.
What does it look like to on mission for Christ?
What is His vision for us?
To set us apart from the world through the Word, to sanctify us in the world by the Word, and to send us to the world with the Word.
Of all the things we as a church could give our time, energy, and resources toward, these are the things we want to be faithful and fruitful in.
D.A Carson, The Gospel According to John – PNTC (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1991) page 564.
Grant Osborne, John – Verse by Verse (Bellingham, Washington: Lexham Press, 2018) page 399.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John – NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1971) page 730.
Ibid., page 730.
See Questions 33 & 35 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism for these definitions, and more.
Taken from the Gideon Bible Introduction, my twist on it.
Henry Smith, quoted in Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) page 532.
Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, reprinted 2012) page 34-38.
Osborne, page 701, with the addition of Christ’s own joy in v13.
Morris, page 731. See also, Carson, page 566.
R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe – Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1999) page 408-409.
Richard D. Phillips, John 11-21 – Reformed Expository Commentary(Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2014) page 436.