“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.” (Jn 17:13-19)
“They are not of the world.” Yet they will be in the world. “Be in the world, not of the world.” I was raised with that understanding of being a Christian. I think a lot of people are, but are often confused as to what it might mean. Honestly, it is a lot harder than what the well-practiced words might say. But Jesus offers a few answers to this dilemma.
We can’t leave the world. This was the answer of monasteries in medieval Europe. They ended up becoming a sanctified way of divorcing your wife and abandoning your children. This sort of illustrates the whole problem. You can’t run from your sin, or hide from it. Your sin follows you, and taints everything you do. Ironically, it is a worldly thought to want to leave the world and find Shangri-La. It is also one that infects the church, as people shop around looking for the perfect church, where all the people are happy and friendly, there is a great youth group, the pastor preaches correct doctrine in a vibrant way and keeps his hair perfectly quaffed, never having a bad day himself. It gets worse when pastors start looking for the perfect congregation, or church body. It doesn’t matter where you go, you are going to find sinners.
So we are in the world but not of the world. Jesus doesn’t pray that we would be taken from the world, but that we would be preserved from the Evil one. Not being of the world, it means not being taken along by the Zeitgeist, but rather being shaped by God’s word. The problem comes in when the world shapes our understanding of what God’s word says. This happens to both liberals and conservatives in different ways. It is one of the reasons I love church history and books by Peter Brown. But it is also a reason I like that the Missouri Synod is active in world missions, and I also enjoy studying the works of men like Bo Giertz and Sasse. It gives a grandeur scope to a person’s understanding of Scripture. Reading church history you can see how a person in the middle ages began to understand a passage in one way, that was not previously understood that way, and how that understanding has now effected your own understanding, which may need to be corrected even if it was codified in a CTCR document. Sometimes you can speak to pastors elsewhere in the world and see how their churches are trying to remain faithful to God’s word and handling a particular issue slightly different from the way you are trying to handle a similar problem. But then through all of this, if you want to be “not of this world” then it means being sanctified in truth, which is God’s word. A constant reading of God’s word, active participation in the church and partaking of the sacraments. If you see the liberals veering off the path to the left, know that this world’s zeitgeist is multifaceted, and there is a ditch to the right also. Rush Limbaugh is just as much “of this world” at least politically speaking, as is “Al Franken.”
So first Jesus prays for his disciples. He knows that they will error one way and another in life. But he prays that the Evil One will not get them. Finally that they would be sanctified in truth. Jesus consecrates himself, he makes himself a sacrifice for them, and in that sacrifice, we and the disciples are sanctified. This is the only way to avoid being taken by the Evil One, it is by living on the forgiveness of sins. The disciples would have to do this also. They would have to live on the forgiveness of sins they preached to others. This is the only way for a pastor too. Paul asked Peter how he could tell others to live like a Jew when he himself did not live like a Jew. The same should be asked of pastors, how can you tell others to live on the forgiveness of sins, when you yourself do not? We preach with our actions. When we ourselves refuse to be forgiven, our people will refuse to be forgiven. Then they will not only be in the world but of the world, for the world is not forgiven, and does not live by forgiveness. This is the one thing true of both sides of the ditch, whether the right or the left, forgiveness is lost. And when forgiveness is lost, problems ensue. So be above reproach, be forgiven.