“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 also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:17-19 ESV)
There’s a popular song from the 70’s written by John Lennon and recorded by the Beatles titled, “All You Need Is Love.” It doesn’t take much to get that song stuck in your head. In fact, as I write this I’m singing it to myself… not only does it get stuck in your head, it also gets stuck in your heart. If you ask most people today about the condition of our world, you’ll find they think man is basically good with just a few minor faults. While they certainly recognize that there are always exceptions, like mass murderers or homicidal sociopaths (or some brother-in-laws), people are generally good and we should all just get along.
There’s little doubt that our modern culture thinks the greatest message the Church has is about God’s love. There’s even a book by a pastor from the so-called “emerging church” called “Love Wins” in which the author, Rob Bell, expounds on how God’s love triumphs over everything, including the world’s rejection of Jesus (this is generally known as universalism – everyone is ultimately saved and spends eternity with God). While I can certainly agree that God’s love does triumph over many who once rejected Jesus, His love doesn’t negate man’s free will. I can certainly understand the desire to place an emphasis on love but it is really empty and meaningless without God’s truth.
Truth! Now that’s a subject that elicits a response from everyone. We either think we possess it, or we doubt its existence. Our modern culture doubts the existence of truth, especially absolute truth. What’s really ironic is that they claim to know the absolute truth about truth all while rejecting truths existence. Now that’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one. But here’s what I find most fascinating, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify the disciples in truth and not love. We will be known by our love for one another, but we will be, indeed we must be, set apart from the world by the truth of God and His Word.
This is where we rub the world in the wrong way and cause the irritation that results in hatred and, eventually, persecution. You see, I don’t think our world has really rejected the idea of truth as much as they’ve rejected the “restrictions” of divine truth. In reality, you can’t live in a world devoid of truth or it becomes chaotic and uninhabitable. If the laws of physics didn’t exist, we couldn’t exist. If gravity just stopped working at random times then we wouldn’t exist for long. It is the very existence of these laws or truths that make life not only bearable but even possible. However, as our world begins to strip away these fundamental truths and basic laws of life then we begin to see the results and reap the rewards.
For example, as our culture began to reject the restrictions of a Christian view of marriage and sexuality then the freedom to love anyone in anyway has cheapened human sexuality and reduced it to an animalistic urge to be filled. Then we are shocked at the results when we see these urges being filled in ways we find appalling and morally repugnant. We stress sexual freedom and then are disgusted by the way Hollywood executives have taken advantage of young women (and young men – see Rom. 1:24-25). There used to be what I would call a morality barrier in our culture. It was based on a generally held Judeo-Christian viewpoint of right and wrong. Our so-called progressive culture found this morality barrier sexually restrictive and once the barrier was breached by the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s then we’ve begun to see a downward morality spiral that shows no signs of slowing, much less stopping.
So, what does this have to do with today’s passage under consideration? Jesus says that His followers will be sanctified, set apart, or separated from the world by God’s truth and that truth is found in the person of Jesus Christ (the living Word of God, see John 1:1-14) and holy scripture (the recorded Word of God, see 2 Timothy 3:16). There is a growing tendency in the modern church and Christ followers to reject certain passages or portions of scripture with which we disagree. For example, we are seeing a growing number of churches and believers who have rejected the historic Christian view of sexuality, marriage and gender identity. To do so, they either reject scripture as infallible and inerrant or they try and interpret it in a way that is inconsistent with the rest of the Bible or historic Christian beliefs and teachings.
Some even go so far as to say that since Jesus didn’t explicitly speak against homosexuality, same-sex marriage or gender issues then we are free to interpret these issues in whatever way we desire or is consistent with our cultural viewpoint. I seriously doubt they recognize the lunacy of their logic and are willing to accept the results. Jesus didn’t explicitly speak against many issues including slavery, but I doubt they are willing to say that slavery is acceptable regardless of the culture in which it exists. I can give many other examples, but suffice it to say that their logic fails on many levels and many other issues. As followers of Christ, we must be willing to embrace the truth of scripture and to be sanctified by its presence in our hearts and lives. When the power of scriptural truth begins to permeate our lives and pierce our hearts it yields the fruit of godliness (see 2 Timothy 3:1-9).
Now, Jesus says that when they’ve been sanctified by the truth then He is sending them into the world just as He was sent. It is vitally important to catch the order of that process… set apart by the truth of God and then sent into the world in the same manner as Jesus. I want to take a moment to clarify something. While we are sent in a manner similar to Christ, our service and sacrifice in Christ’s mission purposes are NOT redemptive. The cross stands unique and solitary in its power and purpose of redeeming mankind. Our service and sacrifice should and, in fact, must point to the Cross of Christ as the power of God in redeeming mankind. Our work is reflective, not redemptive.
But don’t miss this point… our works of service and sacrifice are not reflective of Christ if they are devoid of God’s truth. It isn’t enough just to love or serve someone if your love or service is devoid of truth. John tells us in his first letter to the church that “God is love” but he NEVER says “Love is god” (see 1 John 4:8). But, that’s precisely what our culture is saying. They’ve made human love the definition of goodness and godliness and rejected God’s love as the definition of goodness and godliness. They love Christ as long as He conforms to their standards of right and wrong, but reject Him or His Word as soon as it conflicts with their viewpoint or actions. In other words, Jesus is great as long as he’s a good moral teacher, but when he becomes the authoritative and sovereign God of the universe they quickly back away and reject his claim of moral authority and truth.
This is where things ought to get serious for a true believer. We are sent into the world, but we are set apart from the world by God’s truth. It is when we begin to live our lives in obedience to God’s truth and the world sees the results empowered by the neighborly love that flows from a heart that loves God above all else, that the true power and miracle of Christ’s life, death and resurrection becomes seed for the Gospel’s transforming power. By contrast, when we claim to be transformed by God’s power but continue to live according to the world’s truth claims then our lives do not sow seeds of truth but seeds of destruction.
Finally, Jesus says that He consecrates Himself for this very purpose. He consecrates himself so that they might be sanctified in the truth. While the ESV translates Christ’s actions as “consecration” and the result being the disciples’ sanctification, the words come from the same root word. Christ’s separation from man’s expectations and surrender to God’s purpose through the cross results in our separation from the world’s expectations and surrender to God’s purpose. This separation isn’t really something we achieve, but is the action of God’s Spirit upon us and our hearts. Just as your salvation is the result of Christ’s redemptive work on your behalf, so your separation/sanctification is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in your heart.
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 ESV)
So, let me conclude by pointing out that if you aren’t being sanctified or set apart from the world’s expectations and set apart for God’s purpose and use by the Holy Spirit then either you don’t belong to Christ or you’re resisting or just outright ignoring the Holy Spirit’s work in you. Is love all you really need? Yes, sort of. Yes, if it is God’s love as demonstrated and fulfilled by Jesus and empowered by the truth. I pray my simple words will move you towards seeing the truth of your sin and embracing faith in Christ and His plan for your life. Or, for those who are believers and are resisting or ignoring the Spirit’s work, I pray my words will move you towards obedient surrender to Christ’s purpose and the pursuit of truth, God’s truth.