John 17:17-18 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”
“Sanctify” is one of those five-dollar theological words that even Christians often don’t understand. “To make holy” is a basic definition, but “holy” means so much more than “moral” or “pure” or “lacking sin.”
When God makes something holy, he sets it apart for his special possession and use. We Christians are sanctified only because we are justified. By his perfect life and innocent death on the cross Jesus removed the sin that stood between us and God. He wiped our sin off our record so that God wouldn’t have reason to keep us away and condemn us. Jesus opened the way for us to belong to God once again by purchasing our forgiveness with the sacrifice of himself in our place.
God actually took possession of us personally when he called us to faith. Only one tool could make that happen, to turn us from unbelief to belief, to change us from people who were afraid of God, or resented him, or found him distasteful and unappealing, into people who trust him with our whole heart and soul. Logical arguments and the best of human science and research can’t do it. Great big entertainment spectacles and overwhelming emotional appeals can’t do it. Careful application of sociological principles and clever marketing can’t do it.
“Sanctify them by the truth,” Jesus says. “Your word is truth.” God’s words on a page, or preached from a pulpit, or wedded to water, wheat, and wine are the one thing that have the power to make us his own or keep us his own. When God has us, when our hearts belong to him, we are his personal possession because we have faith. Then we are not only justified, guilt-free, forgiven children of God. We are sanctified, holy children of God set apart from the world that does not believe what we believe or love the Savior that we love.
And God has set us apart for his possession and special use. “As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus prayer for you here, or God’s answer to it, give your life meaning and purpose. You have a mission, Christian. This is why Jesus said earlier, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world.” That would certainly make us safe, if God simply took us out of this world.
But then who would show your neighbors what living as a Christian really looks like–not sinless perfection or super-human niceness, but humble admission of our brokenness and genuine appreciation for God’s forgiving grace? Who would invite them to come and see what Jesus has done for them? Who would raise our children and pass the word on to the next generation? Who would pray for missionaries and bring the offerings that make it possible for us to send them? How could a lost world be found? How would we have ever been found?
Jesus prays for us to be set apart, to be sanctified, so that he can send us just as he was sent. That means that your faith and service is the answer to Jesus’ prayers.