Separated and Sent

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. [John 17:16-19]

“The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back our spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as he is.”   A. W. Tozer

I remember attending my first movie as if it were yesterday. I remember who I went with, the theater I went to, the movie that was showing and even the jacket I was wearing. I was around nine years old. I was invited to go to a circus by my boyhood friend, Tom Bauer, and his aunt. What I did not know was that it was not a circus but a movie, the “Greatest Show on Earth.” Now, what you need to know is that I was raised in what is called a “holiness” environment. That is the kind of religion where what you “don’t do” gives the best evidence of the sincerity of your faith. Lists are drawn up so that you and the members of your church can keep track of how you are doing. “Don’t smoke, don’t chew and don’t go with the girls that do,” sums up the spirit of this religion. The list may include make-up, bowling, dancing and movies!

So, when we arrived at our destination and I saw it was a house of sin, I was scared spitless. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t ask to be taken home. That would ruin it for the others. We had to wait in line, so I put up the collar of my maroon jacket so no church member would drive by and report me to my dad. Once inside I was miserable. Wouldn’t you be if you were in the house of the devil? I imagined the Lord coming back and I would be left behind because I was sinning. When the aunt wanted to buy me some candy I refused. I couldn’t eat candy when I was on the verge of going to hell. Well, I made it through it but I never forgot my brush with eternal damnation. I didn’t go near another place like that until I was twenty-two years of age. I still feel uncomfortable going into a theater.

Now, most of you think that event was humorous and even ridiculous. To put a kid through such horror as that for such a small thing is just wrong. Movies are not that bad, do’s and don’ts are not that clear and God is not that mean. And I agree with that assessment. But, there is another side that must be faced by all those who call themselves followers of Christ. It is called holiness. God is holy. We are holy. There is a line that is drawn. On one side is holiness. On the other side is worldliness. We are called and commissioned to live in holiness so we must understand what that means. This article is intended to help us with that crucial issue.       

In the passage we have been studying, Jesus is about to complete his mission on the cross. He is praying for his disciples who will be left to carry on the mission after he has gone back to the Father. His prayer of intercession also includes us. [John 17:20] So, it is vital for us to hear what Jesus prayed on our behalf.
In verse 16, Jesus makes it clear that we are distinct from those who are not his disciples. Our nature, what constitutes the inner man, is radically different than our unbelieving friends who surround us. We have eternal life [2]. We know God [3]. We have the words of God [8]. We have been separated from the world [16]. We are hated by the world [14]. We are the object of the devil’s rage [15], all because we are holy.

“What does it mean to be holy? In its simplest form, it means to be separate, unique and set apart. God is like no other being. He is transcendent. He is eternal. He is self-generating and self-sustaining. He is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present. He is also holy, or better said, “Holy, Holy, Holy! His holiness includes righteous, meaning He is morally and ethically pure and perfect. It is this aspect of holiness that Jesus addresses in this prayer for us.

We are holy in that we have been set aside for his exclusive use. That is what holy means. It means to be owned and ordered. There is a holy temple, holy days, a holy land and a holy people. Our holiness has a moral aspect and a mission aspect. Jesus was holy in that he was without sin and Jesus was holy in that his life was dedicated to his mission. So, when Jesus prays for us, he is praying that we will live out what we are called out to be and do. He prays that we would live like we are owned and sent by God.

The opposite of holiness is worldliness. The world, cosmos, can mean the universe, which is made by God and to be appreciated and enjoyed by us. Or, world can mean “collective man,” as in “God so loved the world,” to be loved and served by us. Or, it can mean, the evil world system that is controlled by the evil one and is in direct opposition to the purpose and plan of God, to be avoided by us. It is that world that we have been separated from. It is characterized by “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” [1 John 2:16]

When Jesus said, “I sanctify myself,” he meant that he was consecrating himself to complete the mission the Father had ordained for him to fulfill. It was his determination to complete his mission on the cross that made a way for us to fulfill our mission. Through the word of truth [17] we have been made holy. We are different by nature. We are different in mission. By the Word of truth, as we saturate our minds and hearts with it, we will win over worldliness.

Now, what will that look like? Does it mean no movies? No dancing? No dinking? No chewing? It might. What we do know is that holiness means love for God. It means loving what God loves and hating what God hates. [Dt. 6:5; Matt. 22:37] Therefore, it has to mean that we will live our lives radically different from our unbelieving neighbors. The world does not know God nor love God. The crucial question we must ask ourselves is, “How does my life differ from the worldliness that surrounds me? How does my love for God affect the way I live? When we are selecting a movie or watching TV or spending our money or selecting our career or choosing our mate or planning our retirement- without asking that question, we are not a holy people!         

That is what Tozer was addressing in the quote above. When we lose a sense of the holiness of God, the witness and power of the church suffers because of it. When was the last time you heard a sermon on the hatred or wrath that God has for sin? When was the last time you turned off a TV show or walked out of a movie because it was promoting sin? When was the last time you didn’t buy something because it would keep you from giving to the work of the Lord? You protest: “It sounds like you are trying to promote a legalistic form of religion.” No I am not. I am trying to provoke a realistic assessment of our walk. Holiness is opposite of worldliness. Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified and set apart. What does that mean? It means we love what God loves and hate what God hates. It means knowing and loving the fact that we are soldiers and not civilians. It means that discernment, discipline, dedication, and determination should characterize our lives because we are holy. If there is no difference, we are deluded.

We must not end on the negative, for holiness is not a drag but a delight. It is not about walking around with your collar pulled up, walking in fear, waiting for the next shoe to drop. We are saved from sin for joy. It is about experiencing the joy of Jesus. [John 15:11] It is about living life to the max! [John 10:10] It is about running the race marked out for us. [Hebrews 12:1-2]. It is about pleasing the Lord with our one short life. [Col. 1:10] It is about walking with Jesus. [John 14:21] It is about joining Jim Elliot and asking, “God I pray Thee, light up these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.” It is about finding our joy in Jesus.