Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.
13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)
Pt. 1 -- The Church is Not OF the World
At least we’re not supposed to be. Praying, Jesus said that he was not “of the world.” And he said the same of his followers. If we too closely resemble the world around us, then something is amiss. If we so blend in that we are indistinguishable from anyone else, then it may be that we are not following in Christ’s footsteps and purpose quite as much as we might think.
Whether it is over-identifying Christianity with a political party, equating our faith with a particular country, or indulging in the sins of the surrounding culture, Jesus’ followers are clearly intended to be a distinct people.
In the same breath that he identifies his followers as not of the world, Jesus says that he has “given them God’s word” and that “the world has hated them.” The first is a strong reminder that we don’t create the Jesus we follow, but we follow his teaching (and more broadly, the scriptures). The second is a realistic acknowledgement that being distinct in this world may be costly. It certainly was for Jesus.
Then, Jesus says it again in verse 16: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” This time he speaks again of God’s word, identifying it as truth, and asking God to “sanctify” his followers in that word of truth.
This proves to be a key word in understanding the relationship with and role of the Church in the world. SANCTIFY can be translated as “set apart” or “make holy.” Certainly in the context of this prayer and the phrase “not of the world” we get a sense of being set apart and different. One logical conclusion might be to think, then, that the Church should withdraw OUT OF the world. That would certainly set it apart. But that proves not to be the case…
Posts in this series:
pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?