John 17:17-19

Third Avenue Baptist Church

Sunday School — The Gospel of John Series

March 28, 2021

Let’s pray. Our Father, we are just so thankful that you have given us every word of Scripture, which begins with, “in the beginning, you created the heavens of the earth” and goes all the way to the end with, “even so Lord come quickly.” Father, we pray that you will bless our study of your word every time we open it. May your word, this living word, take hold of us, guide us, illuminate us, and help us to see what it would be to be faithful to you in this life as we await the life to come. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

So in this priestly prayer of Jesus, this high priestly prayer, as it is often referred to, Jesus is acting–as he acts now–as our intercessor and great high priest. This is the Son praying on behalf of us. And, even as the prayer begins with Jesus talking about the glory that he had with the Father before the creation of the world, the entire purpose of the prayer is that he’s praying for his people. Just the existence of the prayer gives us the great, good news that our Savior cares for us, loves us, and prays for us. There’s also this incredible distinction, and it’s a very clear distinction, between the church and the world. And so Jesus actually speaks to the Father explicitly saying, “I am praying for those you have given me–I’m not praying for the world.”  And the phrase “those you have given me” comes up repeatedly. 

We see this incredible testimony to the sovereignty of God. To not only the doctrine of election, but also to the doctrine of perseverance and assurance. Because we have been given to the Son by the Father, no one can separate us. That, again, is just wonderful assurance and encouragement to us because if we have given ourselves to the Son, we can fail. But if we are given to the Son by the Father, then we actually are secure. But as we have been making our way through this prayer,  we look at the verses, in which we see in verse 10, Jesus says, “all mine are yours and your are mine. And I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am coming to you, Holy father. Keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you and these things I speak in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of this world just as I am not of this world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world, sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrate myself that they may also be sanctified in truth.” 

Now, sometimes in this prayer, as in other passages of scripture, we make our way word by word, phrase by phrase. And yet when we think we see a phrase and understand its placement, we get a little further in the passage and understand, okay, that phrase has come up again. Or, that phrase has now been addressed from a different angle or aspect. Then we realize we need to go back and understand what’s really going on here. That’s why we went back to verse 10 and began reading from there. Because again, we have this incredible emphasis from Jesus that he is going to the Father, but he is leaving his children in this world, in the world. 

Well, this turns out to be a bigger theme in this prayer than we might fully have recognized. So remember that Jesus was saying that he is anticipating after the cross and resurrection returning to be with the Father and receiving again, knowing again, the glory that he had with the Father before the creation of the world. Then he makes this statement just as he made to the disciples. But now he’s speaking to the Father. He says, “I am no longer in the world” because he’s looking in anticipation to that moment. But his believers will be left in the world. 

Now, remember the very last verse of chapter 16, what Jesus said. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me, you may have peace in the world. You will have tribulation, but take heart. I have overcome the world in the world.” In the world you will have tribulation. And some of you remember translations such as “in the world, you will have trouble.” And that is certainly true in the world. You will have trouble. So why are we in the world? Well, I guess you could state just a matter of fact, which is that if Jesus had taken the disciples out of the world then the end of the age would have been immediately inaugurated; we would not be here, and we would not be anywhere. 

One of the questions is why Christ has left his people in the world. Jesus says the world’s full of trouble. And by the way, that’s why he is praying for us. We’re no match for the world. To be honest, we aren’t in ourselves. We’re no match for the world at all. The world will not only give us trouble, the world will smash us and arrest us and persecute us and scatter us and silence us. The world is so powerful, in the grip of sin, that it would extinguish the gospel except for the fact that Christ will not let it be so. And so when Christ said “upon this rock, I will build my church and gates of hell shall not prevail against it” he didn’t say “you look really strong to me.” He just said, “I’m not going to let you perish.” Of course, it has an ultimate sense. He’s not going to let the gospel be extinguished. He’s not going to let the church itself be destroyed or extinguished. But then again, if this is such a difficult place, why are we here? 

Well, one thing to understand is that we’re here because we are the witness. We are the light of the gospel in the world as the body of Christ. We are left in the world. There is work for the church to do. And that’s a very important thing to recognize. We are not here merely to wait. There is a waiting, but we are not here merely to wait. As you look at the New Testament, there’s much assigned to us. We have the Great Commission. And Jesus himself will make reference in this passage to what he has given the disciples to do. First of all, this is the theme of the New Testament, in the sense of the gospels and the assignment to the apostles. But you have the Great Commission as you find it, at the end of the gospel of Matthew, and you have the Great Commission as we will find it in Acts chapter one, “you will be my witnesses first in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and then the uttermost parts of the world.” There is witnessing for us to do, there’s work for us to do. 

You come to the book of James written to the early church and you’ll remember that we are told that true religion is to take care of widows and orphans. There’s work for us to do. There is work being salt and light. You take the letters of Peter in the New Testament, assignments to represent Christ, to live peaceably, or at least to seek to live peaceably among all. But very clearly by our conduct in the world, bear testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And you have the apostle Paul, you have an explicit missionary mandate: How shall they hear unless they have a preacher? And blessed are the feet of those who take the gospel. 

And so you put together the New Testament and there’s a theology of suffering. We are in the world. And part of our assignment is to suffer. And from time to time, the church has suffered horribly beyond our imagination. That too is witness, which is why the word martyrdom is actually taken from the same word as witness. That’s what martyrdom is. It is the ultimate witness. But when you think about Jesus here, speaking of his own in the world, there’s a remarkable statement. And we saw it before, but I wanna go back to it for a moment. 

“All mine are yours and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world but they are in the world.” Jesus says that in verse 10 and 11. So you’ll notice when you look at verse 15, Jesus says, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Now that’s a pretty astounding sentence and we’re gonna encounter it again. Jesus says, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world.” So we are not left here by the Father’s purpose. We are actually left here by the Father’s purpose and the assignment of the Son. It’s just one of those phrases where you think again how we have this intimate gift of a conversation, a prayer between the Son and the Father, and this most urgent of moments in the life and ministry of Jesus. 

And he makes clear what he is asked the Father to do, but he also makes clear what he’s not asking the Father to do. He’s not asking Him to take us out of the world. Now, as you think about that, I want you to think about another text and that will be I Corinthians 5; I Corinthians 5:9-10.  Now in I Corinthians 5, what’s going on? Well, Paul was writing to the church, admonishing the church at Corinth in which horrible sin had been found in the church. And that sin was hindering the gospel witness of the church. Things are found amongst you, he said, that aren’t even found amongst the Gentiles. He mentioned quite specifically some sexual sin. 

He goes on to say that in the church, we are to have nothing to do with a Christian who acts in such a way. We’re not to extend a hand to fellowship. We are not to allow them in our homes. And again, the key is that he’s speaking about someone who had been in the church who had been identified in the church. And he said you cannot act as if they are Christians. That’s the whole point. You can’t treat someone who is living in renunciation of the faith as if he is a Christian. You can’t give him the fellowship you’d extend to a Christian. But you really can’t have anything to do with him. But here’s what’s fascinating in verse 9 and 10. This is Paul. Paul said, “I wrote to you in my letter, not to associate with sexually imoral people, not at all, meaning the sexually imoral of this world or the greedy and swindelors or idolators since then you would need to go out of the world.” 

So there you have Paul echoing Jesus. Are we in the world? Yes. We are in the world by assignment. And does Jesus pray that we be taken out of the world? No, he doesn’t. He explicitly does not pray that we would be taken out of the world, but that we be left in the world. The apostle Paul, speaking of the church having to deal excruciatingly with sin in its midst, says, “Look, I’m telling you, you can’t have fellowship with someone who claims to be a believer and acts in this way. But I’m not telling you to have nothing to do with sinners out in the world. Because if I told you that, you just have to leave the world.”

I find that very, very interesting. To be in the world is to be in contact with those who are worldly. To be in the world means we’re living in a world in which yes, all around us there are adulterers and the immoral and cheaters and backbiters and all the rest. That’s pretty much what the world is like. If you can’t handle that world, you gotta leave it. But we’re not allowed to leave it. We’ve got to bear witness to the gospel and be salt and light in the midst of a world that is marked by all these things. This is not an accident; we weren’t left behind. We are here for a purpose and that purpose is work. That purpose is to be a witness. That purpose is to glorify God in this age until such time that it is right, according to the Father, that this age should end and the kingdom of Christ should begin in fullness. 

I think we need to admit there are times in which we’re ready to be taken out of the world. A part of this is the struggle of the church, understanding our own responsibility for holiness. And so just as you think about the church and the world, we’re in the world, but we’re not the world. I used to hear it said, “we’re in the world, we’re not of the world.” And that’s actually a summary of the high priestly prayer and its logic. That language, “being in the world, but not of the world” is a summary of the very prayer that we are reading. But it’s not just that we are not of the world. It’s that we are not the world. So there’s a distinction in identity between the church and the world. 

You also have in this passage the theme of unity, and we’ve arrived at that theme. And this is a precious thing. That theme is the fact that the distinction between the church and the world is to be one of holiness. Yet the church is to be marked by a unity. So he prays that we’ll be one, even as he and the Father are one, and it comes fairly early in the prayer as a theme, but it becomes very clear in the passages, the verses that we just read. He prays that we will be one. He also prays that we will be consecrated in the truth. What does it mean that Christ prays that we will be one? What kind of one are we to be? When you think of unity in the church there have been several attempts to try to create an institutional unity. There are actually several different models of unity in the church. The first most obvious model in church history would be Catholicism. By that I don’t yet even mean a capital C. The C becomes a capital C. But as you look at the early centuries of the church, the unity was institutional. 

And very quickly that unity took the shape of bishops. And the bishops were under the unity of the prime Bishop, who was the Bishop of Rome. So over time, this became more and more institutionalized, and so much so that in the early centuries of the church, the church was defined not by the presence of Christians, but by the presence of the Bishop. Where the Bishop is, there is the church. So you have this institutional unity. And of course that becomes absolutely crucial. And is unquestioned through, let’s just say, a millennium. Now let’s just kind of fast forward to the fifth century and then take it to the 15th century. For that millennium of time, the church is considered to be one thing. Now that gets a little complicated when in 1050 and the 11th century, there’s a breach between the East and the West. 

So, Catholic means universal. It means everywhere. And so that institutional unity is fractured when you have the Eastern church, it goes off under the patriarch. But still in the West, in Western civilization, and Western Europe, that is Europe, primarily as it is culturally defined, the church is just one thing. Rome is the headquarters of the church. And so now we have Catholicism with the capital C. And of course then comes the Reformation in the 16th century. In terms of the history of the West, it’s hard to come up with a more decisive event than that. Because up until that time, it was not just the unity of the church that was absolute and structural, it was the union of crown and altar. 

So it was not just the unity of the church, it was the union to the church and the monarchy in whatever respective realm. And so they were increasingly seen as sharing a common authority. The reformation breaks all of that. The reformation broke the structural unity of the church. And now you have church in plural, and that was unthinkable. As a matter of fact, even for quite a long time after the Reformation on various sides, you did not have any recognition of churches, it’s still just church. There’s not time to trace all of this, but very early in most of Europe, given the conflict that included the 30 Years War, which just minute for minute was probably the deadliest war ever fought on European territory, the basic concept came down to the fact that the religion of the state is the religion of the ruler. 

So if you had a Catholic prince you had Catholic church. If you had a Lutheran prince, you had a Lutheran church. This was not acceptable to Baptists because that doesn’t even work, it’s historically anachronistic. It wouldn’t have worked to have a Baptist king (there weren’t any really) andthen to have a Baptist church in the realm. It took centuries after that for the idea, and Robert Wilkin, I had the privilege of doing a Thinking in Public program with him. He said the language change came much later when people would speak of one realm with a plural word churches. A place to look for that, by the way, would be someplace like Prussia, where you had a very strong Catholic presence, very strong Lutheran presence, and very strong Reform presence. Eventually just to keep peace and to have a national identity larger than what would’ve been a Catholic state or a Lutheran state, or a Reform state, you end up with speaking of the churches.

Institutional unity doesn’t work. Let me just put it that way. It doesn’t work. And even as you look at Catholicism, I mean, right now in Catholicism, you have the German bishops at war theologically with the Vatican. The German bishops are going ahead with plans to have a sacrament, or a form of blessing, for same-sex unions. The German bishops are moving in radically liberal directions. So they’re looking at schism in the Roman Catholic church because the German bishops, even this week said, we’re not turning back. And the Vatican said a definitive, “No.” So it’s going to be interesting to watch those developments in the Roman Catholic church. 

So even the Roman Catholic church, as it exists now, is not unified except supposedly organizationally under the Pope. Well, on the other side of the Reformation, there have been efforts to create something of an ecumenical church. And so the ecumenical movement, and the economy of pulling everybody together, in this common and unity in one. The ecumenical movement especially took root in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And in the late 19th century, you had communications, you had transportation, you have trains, and you’ve got all kinds of things developing to the extent that you’ve got people moving all over the place, and you have to realize that’s a part of what really came out of all this. You have people moving all over the place. So you used to have Catholic communities, Catholics live there. And you had Lutheran communities, Lutherans live there. But once you got people moving all over the place, well, then you got all kinds of people everywhere. 

By the way, you look at a map of the United States, you’ve got Scandinavian churches all over the great lakes; and you’ve got Congregationalists and Anglicans  in the Northeast; you have patterns of Catholic immigration that come into cities like Boston and New York and then later cities like Chicago. And so you’ve got Polish and Lithuanian and Irish, big Irish immigration, and a lot of German immigration. The city of Louisville is very interesting. You have the patterns of both early Irish and then later German Catholic immigration moving here, which even explains some of our neighborhoods and explains two Catholic boys schools. So it’s not as unified as it looks. But once you have all these, these churches in a city like Louisville, I don’t know how many there are, but the claim was, we just need to create out of this one church. 

And so originally that was basically just a Protestant issue and the Catholics were watching with interest. So let’s just get the Protestant churches together. We’re supposed to be one. Okay. But the quick thing to speak of here is the fact that number one, not everybody bought into the ecumenical idea in the first place. The Baptists at the top of that list were Congregationalists. Furthermore, we’re not joiners, Baptists are horrible joiners for this kind of thing, for theological reasons. But the reason, first of all, that this won’t work is that the only way to make this happen is with some kind of “lowest common denominator” theology. So the ecumenical movement quickly moved into theological liberalism. Every time it started. Every major effort towards an ecumenical unity led to theological liberalism to a theological minimalism. 

They just kept dumping doctrines overboard, because we are going to stand in common, and we’re going to have a common statement. And so you have the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ, as it was known in the United States. And Southern Baptists, we theologically could have nothing to do with that. By the way, you hear almost nothing of that now, because the churches that did become a part of the World Council, those churches are now so weak and empty, hardly anyone even thinks of them or speaks of them. So it turns out that an institutional unity really doesn’t work. It turns out that an ecumenical experiment really doesn’t work. But the church of Christ is to be one. So, in what sense are we one? Well, this is where Baptists would argue, and this is really a traditional evangelical argument, that it’s in doctrine and it is in spirit. 

It is a spiritual unity, and it’s a doctrinal unity. Let me go back just a minute, by the way, and say one other model of unity that some have tried is liturgical unity, where people have argued that the actual center of unity in the church is the fact that we have, for instance, the Lord’s Supper. But then again, just ask the churches to describe the word “Supper.”  And then you understand that doesn’t work either. Is it a mass? Is it a Eucharist? Is it a sacrament? Is it an ordinance? So the liturgical unity was an early effort. And people thought, well, you know, if it’s a liturgical unity, it might be that the Eastern Orthodox could join in, if not the Roman Catholics. Well, I’m not gonna go further there. I’m going to say where unity is. The unity is spiritual and it is doctrinal. 

So let’s take doctrinal first. So the evidence of that unity Jesus gets right here in John 17:17. Jesus says, “sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrated myself that they also may be sanctified in truth”  So it is sanctification in the truth, sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth. So it turns out that our unity is in truth. And that is what doctrine is. Doctrine is what the church believes, confesses, and teaches on the basis of the word of GoD. That definition comes from Jaroslav Pelikan, a great historian of doctrine who taught at Yale for many years. And it’s worth it just to be able to say his name, Jaroslav Pelikan. He was a titanic scholar and one of the greatest historians of history and one of the most important historians of theology and doctrine and dogma. 

He actually was a historian of the history of theology, but nonetheless, he defined doctrine in the beginning of his great five volume history in the history of doctrine as what the church believes, confesses and teaches on the basis of the word of God. Why three words: Believes, confesses and teaches? 

Belief is what actually resides as the conceptual convictional belief of the church. And as Pelikan understood, that’s found in theology books, and that’s found in creeds. It’s very importantly found in hymn books and it’s apparent in prayer. And so if you want to know what the church believes–in fact, Roger Scruton, the late British philosopher, great loss to us when he died last year, Roger Scruton said, “if you want to know what people believe, do not ask them doctrinal questions, but rather listen to them, pray.” It’s a keen insight. He was at that point, an unbelieving philosopher. That’s what the church believes. 

Then what the church confesses. And yes, that is the creeds and confessions. So where the church says, this is what we believe. Well, okay, listen to the church. It’s telling you what the church believes. So whether it’s the Apostles Creed, or  our Baptist Faith and Message, or when we, as a congregation, have a members’ meeting and we say the covenant together, we’re saying, this is what we believe. So Pelikan would say, listen to them, they’re telling you what they believe. What the church believes, confesses, and teaches. Where do we teach? Well, that’s the preaching. What’s actually preached. 

I was reading a great scholar of the Reformation just a few days ago and he said, if you had just known nothing of Luther and you’d known nothing of Calvin, and you’d known nothing of any kind of theological controversy, if you went out of Germany in say 1520, and came back in 1570, you would be hearing preaching so different you would know something had happened. The preaching makes a difference. Luther was turning out preachers and having turned out all these preachers they went into the pulpit. They were preaching the word. It was a completely different event. The church in Germany, under the power of the Reformation, had been turned from, as Luther said, an “eye house into a mouth house.” You no longer come to see things. You come in to hear things. You no longer come into the church to watch priests, even behind a screen, performing a mass. 

No you’re not there to watch anymore, you’re there to hear. It’s a “moot” house. It’s a mouth house. So we look to what the church believes, confesses, and teaches on the basis of the word of God. 

But the word there becomes so important because actually that’s what Jesus says. Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth. Now is he referring to Scripture here? The answer is yes. Clearly he’s referring to Scripture here because Scripture is included in God’s word. But when Jesus speaks of sanctifying believers in the truth, “your word is truth,” that includes by his own designation, everything that he has said, and that’s also been in this prayer. I gave them your “word,” or just earlier, just verses earlier, I gave them your “word.” It’s one of the great identifying marks of the church. Where’s the church? Well, it is where Christ is. 

Where’s the church? Well, it is where is the word now? Now, remember in the institutional unity model. Where’s the church? It is where the Bishop is. That’s not the way we answer the question. Where’s the church? Well, number one, where are the Christians? Where’s the gospel? Where’s the word? This is also why the Reformers in talking about the marks of the church identified the first two marks in this summary, often attributed to Luther: It’s where the Word of the God is rightly preached and the sacraments, that is the ordinances, are rightly administered. 

The first thing is where the Word is rightly preached. And as Luther said, if the word is not rightly preached there, “I don’t care what it calls itself. I don’t care about its architecture. I don’t care if it has a Bishop. (If it has a Bishop, it becomes less likely). I care about what’s preached.” And so that’s the unity of the church. That’s the truth. That is the deposit at the center of the church. And here’s the thing, Jesus, doesn’t just say, “teach them thy word is truth.” He says, “sanctify them.” 

So here’s the other revolutionary reality that jumps out at us from this prayer: Doctrine is sanctifying. God’s truth is sanctifying. The Scripture is sanctifying. That’s an amazing thing. We are to be holy, as God himself said: “As I am Holy, you be holy.” It’s picked up by Peter in the New Testament. We’re to be holy. We’re to be the holy ones. We’re to be Christ’s holy people. We’re to be holy in a sinful world. How are we going to be holy? How are we made holy? Well, the answer according to Scripture is by the indwelling spirit and by the power of the Word, that’s how we are made holy. There are disciplines of holiness, yes, but the source of holiness is truth. 

And so, by the way, this means something. It means that holiness has to begin in truth. And as truth works its way out, gospel truth, Christ’s truth, as the truth works its way out in our lives it produces holiness. This is a warning to us unless we try to find some other means of holiness. That’s also been a temptation throughout the history of the church. We want some kind of instantaneous holiness. We want some kind of declaration of holiness.

By the way, there is an instantaneous declaration of holiness, which is once we are united with Christ, we are his and Christ is not united to sin. In other words, our eternal holiness is guaranteed and secure because we are united to Christ. But there is nonetheless, in this life, and certainly is revealed in Scripture, a continuous testimony to the need for us to reveal holiness, to display holiness, to be holy, to grow in holiness. And that’s going to come only by the Word. Your word is truth. Sanctify them in the truth. There are no other means of holiness. 

Now this leads us to some interesting observations. So, for instance, one of the issues that puzzled Christians, and I would say they were Christians evidently who have easily puzzled, one of the issues that confused many Christians was with the encounter of world religions in the 19th century in particular.  It came even earlier in terms of exploration, but primarily the 19th century is when people were thinking about this, there was even a parliament of world religions held in Chicago in the 1890s. It was kind of like, you know, here’s one of those, here’s one of those, here’s one of those, here’s one of those, etc. But what confused many confuseable Christians, let me put it that way, what confused many Christians were the holy men of other religions. 

I was just going through life yesterday and happened to see a news story where there was someone talking about having met with the Daaii Lama. And the Dalai Lama right now is, whether you recognize it or not, at the white hot center of international geopolitics. I don’t know that he really meant to be there, but he is there because the official, and I can’t go into this as much as I would like as fascinating as it is, but the Communist Party in China, which of course, has cracked down on Nepal and upon the followers of the Dalia Lama and is officially atheistic. I mean absolutely officially atheistic and nonetheless claims now to be in control of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. So you have an atheist regime, explicitly declaring legal rights to control the reincarnation of a priesthood. 

And if you’re a communist, you gotta control everything. Even the things you don’t think exist evidently. It is because it’s very political, as you can imagine, and all the rest. But you know, why am I raising this now? It is because Westerners have no idea what to do with the Dalai Lama. He’s a very holy man, according to worldly definitions of holiness. He’s an ascetic. He is deeply meditative. And he’s called holy because after all he is the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, according to tradition. I’m saying all this because I can understand why the particular Buddhism that he represents would consider him holy. But let me put it this way: This is the kind of holiness that Hollywood types are looking for. He looks the part. 

And so whether you’re the British Royal family, or American politicians of a certain stripe, or Hollywood celebrities, you want to go and seek an audience with the Dalai Lama. Or, to bring it closer to us: The Pope, one of his titles is “Your Holiness.” This leads to all kinds of issues for Protestants when we are in a Catholic territory. It’s because people just don’t know what to say to us. You know? Basically there’s not much you can say. You can’t say “your imminence.” You can’t say  to a Bishop, “your excellency.” You can’t say “your holiness.” All you can say is “you,” and that’s where we are. 

But people look at the Pope and they want to just touch him. You know, if you can just touch him, holiness will come to them. He’s the most holy of all–that’s even his title. And so, you know, if we can just get an audience with the Pope, if we can just go to a mass where the Pope is presiding, then holiness will come. And by the way he acts as if he is holy,  of course, with indulgences and all the rest of that system, it is still very much alive; the Roman Catholic church and all the rest. You look at that, and we go, “that’s a model of visible holiness.” Visible holiness, in that sense, it isn’t a holiness at all, according to Scripture. And this is where these issues get so confused. And I think even in many muddled minds of evangelicals, all of this is confusing. This is why I have evangelicals who will ask me, well, how do you explain someone like the Dalai Lama, who is so holy? 

Well, let’s back up for a moment and say, we only have one definition of holiness. And that is corresponding to the one true and living God. So are we clear about that? We’re not talking about asceticism. We’re not talking about meditative capacity. We’re not talking about sitting on top of a stone or a column in the middle of the desert. We’re talking about what holiness is, which is really clarifying and simplifying for Christians. All holiness means is corresponding to the attribute of the one and only holy God. And how do we do that? Only by His truth. That’s the only way we can do it. So here’s the radical statement. We actually believe there are nice people apart from the gospel. There are no holy people apart from the gospel. I know that sounds radical, but here we are in John 17, and here we are in John 17:17, and as we look at this passage, there are no holy ones. Apart from God, there are creatures, human creatures made in God’s image who reflect His glory. 

And some of them are very nice. I’d rather be around the nice ones. Some of them are very peaceable. I’d rather be around the peaceable ones. Some of the people in the world are very honest. I’d rather be around the honest ones. But holiness pertains to God alone and to that which He makes holy. Look at the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, even in the tabernacle, and later in the temple, instruments, vessels were to be made and what happened? They were made and after they were made, God sanctified them. He’s the only one who can sanctify them. And that meant not only making holy but reserving unto Himself for His own purposes. And that’s the other meaning by the way, that applies to us as the saints, those who belong to God, we’re made holy by Him. And we are His instruments. We are like the vessels in the temple, in that sense, we are now His. And because He’s holy, we’re to be holy. 

The point here is that there is no holiness apart from the one true and living God. There is no way to the one true and living God, but through Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. And there is no means of holiness other than Scripture. So that clarifies things enormously. Where do you find holy people? Those who belong to God through Christ made holy by the word of God. That’s it. That’s church, by the way, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to be made holy.. That’s kind of a tough promise because you guys don’t look a whole lot holier than you did last Sunday. I look in the mirror. I don’t think I look a whole lot holier than I did last Sunday, and this is God’s work. 

And we have to pray that over time, we do see that. We have to pray that over time, God sees that. But we understand that we’re not talking about a class of people. We don’t reserve the balcony for the most holy.. Those of us who sit up there like altitude, not holiness. We don’t have any special category. We don’t have orders of holiness. We’re stuck together. We have the body of Christ. That by the way, goes back to our church covenant. When a church covenant says we are covenanting to live together and to worship together in such a way that we encourage one another unto holiness and seek to grow holy together. And that takes time. By the way, we won’t be finished in this life. 

And all this, just in what? 17 verses of this prayer. Already just this morning, we’ve looked at Christ speaking of the unity of the church, and we’ve asked the question, how in the world does that unity exist? And what kind of unity should we look for? And we’re looking for a theological unity. We’re looking for a spiritual unity. And that spiritual unity means that wherever we find those who are united to Christ, there is unity with them. 

So that means every true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is our brother or sister. But we’re not members of the same congregation. Some of my best friends in the world are Presbyterian and we can preach the gospel together, but we can’t do congregation together. Just on the issue of baptism. Just take one issue. And so if we were forced at the point of a gun to some kind of unity, what would it be? Believers baptism by immersion, or would it be the baptism of infants as covenant children by sprinkling? What would it be? Well, unless you’re convinced together by the word of one thing, then that would be a false unity. We’re just put in the same room and be “baptitarian?” That just doesn’t work. By the way, I was asked by a high school student at an event this week as to whether or not the existence of denominations is a scandal to the unity of the body of Christ? 

I said, well, in some sense, yes, but the scandal is not the existence of the denominations, but the existence of the disagreement, that’s the scandal. The scandal is that Presbyterians are wrong. Don’t even talk about the Methodist. Seriously, yes, there is an embarrassment before the world. There’s an embarrassment before the world that we haven’t figured everything out to absolute unity among gospel Christians. And I’m just saying among gospel Christians, we haven’t figured everything out. I often quote Sidney Mead, the American church historian, because he wrote this in a paragraph and it made more sense to me as a seminary student forty plus years ago. It’s just one paragraph. And he said, look, it’s basically a mathematical formula: Religious liberty plus doctrinal conviction equals denomination. That’s it. If you have doctrinal religious disagreeance and you have religious Liberty, then you start churches that fit your convictions. 

Without religious Liberty, it might be very different, but since you have religious, you can do it. And I thought, well, that’s it. It is a mathematical equation. It doesn’t matter which one you put first. A difference in doctrine plus religious liberty equals denomination. So is that a scandal? Well, it’s an embarrassment. I’ll admit. A little bit of an embarrassment before the world. When I go on the television or I’m talking to the press and they say, well, what about the other? And the other? It gets complicated. I’d rather it be simple. And that simple would mean everybody’s a Baptist. But it’s not gonna happen apparently. So is that an embarrassment? 

Let me tell you what would be a greater embarrassment: We deny the truth in order to act like we agree. That’d be a far greater embarrassment. Or we create some kind of artificial unity that we know isn’t real. That’s more of an embarrassment. 

But coming to where we end this part of the prayer, and we’ll have an interruption, I believe, with the resurrection Sunday coming, But as we look to this section of the prayer and where we end, the two words that are put together are two words that Christians need to increasingly and urgently to put together: Sanctify. Truth. Why? Because his word is truth. Let’s pray. 

Father you’ve given us such glorious wealth, just in these verses and Father, I  am struck by how much we would lose in necessary knowledge for our existence as Christians if we did not have this prayer. Father, thank you for sharing it with us. And there’s more yet to share. And in anticipation of that, we pray that the Holy Spirit will apply what we now know and have read and have studied to our hearts, to conform us to the image of Christ. And if you give us breath and life, we shall pray for yet more. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.