August 6 – John 17:13-19
Main Focus: Jesus sanctifies his people so that they may be one in the world to the glory of God.
We mentioned this in week one of the series, but we shouldn’t forget that Jesus’s prayer in John 17 is some of his last words to his disciples before his death. Final words are weighty, and in our section for this week Jesus wants to leave us with his mission for the disciples, being sent into the world, clarified by a critical bit of information: they are sent into this world but belong to a different one, and thus will experience varying forms of resistance from the world. Grappling with that relationship between God’s people and the world will provide the bulk of our discussion this week.
But before we get there, we need to define a theological term, “sanctified.” When we define these sorts of words in community group we help level the playing field between doubters, seekers, and followers, and we remind seasoned followers to understand their own Christian jargon. This is also necessary because “sanctified” is jam-packed with significance. Some of your Bibles might have a footnote about that word meaning “set apart for holy service to God.” Behind this is a common Old Testament use of the term; “holy” or “set apart” people and objects were reserved for God’s use while common things were for everyday use—for ex. think of the special altar in the Temple rather than someone’s backyard grill. But the word also connects to Jesus’s role as a priest interceding for our sins, since OT priests were consecrated (same word as “sanctified,” i.e. set apart) for service to God (Lev 8:10), and it connects to his death on the cross since sacrificial animals were also consecrated to God before being killed (ex. Lev 16:7). It’s only through Jesus’s death and intercession for us that we can be sanctified, or made holy by God.
And there’s one last thing worth noting: our sanctification leads to holy, or godly, living. Being set apart for God means walking in his ways and obeying his words. “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:15-16). Sanctification then is both initial and progressive. When we are first saved by Jesus we are initially sanctified and set apart for God (1 Cor 6:11). But followers also progressively grow in holy living or sanctification, as Jesus teaches us to learn his ways and imitate him (2 Cor 3:18). As Jesus says in the John 17:17, this continual growth in holiness is accomplished through God’s word (and note, Jesus doesn’t say “your word is true” but “your word is truth”; it is not true alongside other things that are true but is the definition of truth to which all things are judged to be true or not true).
You can see how all that contributes to our understanding of Jesus’s mission for his people. We remain in the world, but we are set apart for God’s special use through Jesus’s death on our behalf. In our salvation we are consecrated to God for service, and throughout our life we grow in holiness as a reflection of God’s ways in the world. As we see in this passage, Jesus’s prayer is not that his people escape this world but rather that our sanctification (individual and collective) would be accomplished by God’s word in the context of the world for God’s glory.
“The world” dominates Jesus’s prayer in John 17; he mentions it 18 times, 9 of which occur in our passage this week. Clearly Jesus wants us to get our relationship with the world right, but over the years Christians have gotten this wrong in a lot of ways. The phrase “in the world but not of the world” helps us hold onto the tension and diagnose wrong approaches. Some Christians have desired to move so close to the watching world that they end up being both “in” and “of.” In this mentality we’re prone to fudge our stance on the authority of scripture and the high call of following Jesus. But other Christians have run so far from the world that they are neither “of” nor “in,” creating their own little Christian bubbles that are quietly or loudly antagonistic to the watching world. Both of these options are unfaithful to Jesus’s mission for us to be in but not of the world.
Jesus’s people can neither withdraw nor blend in, which means that in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and social circles we are perpetually other. “And the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (17:14). This presents all sorts of challenges for obeying Jesus rather than fitting in and loving the world despite being hated. As we’ll see next week in 17:20-23, this helps unite God’s people in the shared experience of being strangers and aliens til the day we die, a unification that cuts across all sorts of economic and cultural differences. And, as we’ll discuss this week, this reveals our deep need for God’s help in rightly relating to the world that he both loves and is in sharp disagreement with, the same world to which he gave his son (John 3:16). We need Jesus to help us live rightly within the “in but not of” tension, a tightrope that Jesus himself walked.
Finally, we’ll end on the topic of our neighbors, coworkers, and friends to make sure we catch the ramifications of this passage for our daily lives. All this talk of Jesus’s mission for his people can sound nice and theoretical, but we have to think in terms of our individual lives and ask ourselves, “To whom has Jesus sent me?” When we see our neighbor out walking her dog, when we play board games with a friend, when we chat with a coworker, what would it change about our thinking to pray in that moment, “God, I know you’ve sent me to this person; how might you be glorified right now?” And how might that change us as church and as a people, unifying us all in the same mission, the same “sentness”? As you close out your time in discussion, pray about those specific people God brings to mind, and invite Jesus to use you in their lives to his glory.
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• Look at verses 17-19—what does that word “sanctify” mean?
• How does this passage describe the relationship between God’s people and the world?
In what ways is that relationship challenging for you?
• How does that reveal your need for God’s help in relating to the world rightly?
• When you think about being sent by Jesus into the world, what does that bring to mind about your neighbors, coworkers, friends, etc.?
• Close with some time in prayer over those neighbors, coworkers, and friends that God is bringing to mind.