John 17:14-19 – “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. 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 also may be sanctified in truth.”
Next time you are standing in line at the store, take a look at the magazine covers. Each magazine cover is someone’s idea of heaven. Everyone believes in heaven, by the way. It is just that for some people, heaven is a cat or a cigar or six-pack abs. For some people, heaven is their family or their entertainment or their stock portfolio. Jesus sent us into the world to get people who are chasing the wrong heaven that never satisfies and always ends, to start chasing the real heaven that only satisfies and never ends. But, if we are not careful we too start falling into the same trap that we are trying to rescue people from.
Jesus calls us to be in the world, but he calls us to be on mission in the world, which means our purposes for being in the world are different from the world’s purposes. And indeed these purposes will not be fulfilled if we become “of” the world while we are becoming “in” the world.
Jesus declares that he was sanctified from the world even though he was sent into it (John 17:19). Jesus is not saying that he was growing in holiness and diminishing in sin; no, he was perfectly holy and altogether without sin. Rather, what Jesus is saying is that he was set apart for the purposes of God and sent by God the Father into the world. To be set apart solely for God’s purposes in the world is what it means to be sanctified.
Sanctified in this context means “set apart.” Think, for example, about place settings in your home. The ladies reading this, especially the wives and mothers, will know exactly what I am talking about. Single guys, I know you are currently eating Hot Pockets with a spork, but when you get married, you will discover that there are special plates and special utensils for special occasions. In most family households, there are the dishes and utensils for common everyday use, and then there are the nice place settings for when company is over, or for holidays or anniversaries. These are special things set aside for special purposes.
If we are sanctified, we will go into the world on mission while not becoming “of the world”. Christians engage in sex, money, alcohol, community, and any other good thing the world abuses differently. This sort of living is often called counter-cultural living, and the gospel of the kingdom creates a counter-cultural community of missionaries.
For instance, Jesus is a friend to single women, but he does not lust, fornicate, or commit adultery. Jesus goes to parties, but he does not do Fortnite dances while drunk or high.
In one of my favorite missional verses in all of Scripture, Jesus prayerfully warns Christians that not only do they have two purposes in the world—to be sanctified (or set apart by God for his purposes) and sent into the world—but they also have two pitfalls in the world. There are two enemies of being a good missionary: being religious (too conservative) or rebellious (too liberal).
When Jesus prays, “Don’t take them out of the world,” he prays against religion. In our misunderstanding of sin and holiness, we think that if we don’t want to be tainted, we had better disengage from the world. So we separate ourselves. This disengaged kind of living only gets it half right. It takes the command “Be holy” very seriously, but it then takes this command and further extrapolates it into all kinds of man-made rules for holiness.
Furthermore, Jesus was hated by the world precisely because he was separated from the world while submerged in the world. His efforts were intended not to capitulate to the rebellion of the world, but rather call the world to repentance. Subsequently, those people in the world who remain unrepentant hated Jesus in his day and continue to hate him in our own day. They hated him because He stood against the world, even though He was only doing so out of love for people, inviting them to a better way of life through Him. Think of it this way, Christianity is a boat that moves through the water of this world but should not be taking in water. This is what it means to be in the world but not of the world.
Are you more prone to be rebellious and like the world or religious and not a missionary in the world?