Follow Up



The Posture of Disciple-making #1


Imagine three different kitchens: in each, a woman is tossing meat and vegetables on a fuming wok: the first is a foreign domestic helper; the second is a mother; and the third is a culinary student. One is drudging for a meagre living; one, nurturing her family; and one, chasing a dream.

All three are stir frying, but they are essentially doing different things. They will not produce the same dish: similar activity, disparate inner postures, and so disparate outcomes. This illustrates a biblical truth which poses a vital question: Is God’s work actually being done, when Christians are doing “god’s work”?

The Bible exhorts us to be discerning, because not all “christian ministry” builds His people (1Cor 3:12-15); not all “bible teaching” imparts God’s truths (2Tim 4:4); not all “evangelism” points to His Son (Gal 1:8); not all “prophecies”are from God (1The 5:20-21)... we can go on.

We must learn to constantly, even instinctively, assess both our own work, and others’, against the Bible. We must test our hearts and minds with God’s Word and allow His heart and mind to mould our inner postures.

The posture behind the work of disciple making must be the posture of prayer. No Christian will disagree. But what kind of prayer? Our Lord’s final instructions to His disciples was capped with the prayer which begins thus:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him (John 17:1-2, ESV).

We see Jesus, the man, looking up to His Father at a time of dire need: before Him, the cross; around Him, eleven confused disciples who seem hardly ready for the coming chaos, and, later, the monumental task of world evangelisation.

Surely, any man would cry to God for help. We would have. But Jesus did not.

In this most auspicious of prayers for the very first batch of disciples and the myriads, including us, who would follow Him through their word (Joh 17:20), Jesus gave Himself to be glorified by the Father through the painful miracle of the cross.

Our own discipleship and disciple making must be backed by the posture of prayer, this particular prayer; because having died, and buried, and resurrected with Him (Rom 6:3-5) we are the living succession of the same miracle: the cross.

As we delve into this Lord’s prayer, we will see why we can and must pray with Him: “Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”



The Posture of Disciple-making #2


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

John prefaces our Lord’s prayer with two crucial observations (17:1a).

First — “When Jesus had spoken these words, . . .” — this prayer flows inherently from the “Farewell Discourse” (John 13-16): Jesus equipped His disciples for post-pentecostal life, then presented the key themes of His teachings to the Father in prayer.

So the vision of this prayer, in effect covering the life and mission of the Church, is firmly grounded in the work and words of Jesus Christ. The vision is an integral continuation of God’s salvation plan as revealed in Scriptures. Discipleship and disciple-making, as embodied in this prayer, must thus be understood and pursued in careful harmony with God’s revelation.

Second, — “. . . he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father . . .” — this is the posture of a Jew in prayer. John bids us see God the Son as a teacher among His disciples, in all His humanness, in humble trust and consecration, before God the Father. This posture sets the mode for every believers’ approach to God, and it at once assures and beckons.

It assures us that the improbably fantastical vision about to unfold in this prayer — dead people will be given life to fellowship with God — this vision lives in the eternal communion between The Son and The Father, in the sanctum of the Trinity. So it is underpinned by the Almighty. Nothing can foil it. It is complete and sufficient. It needs no supplement. The yet-to-appear Church will be exclusively God’s doing, wholly His purview: never less than a living, ongoing, miracle. But can sinners enter this holy work?

Yes, because this posture also beckons. Jesus, the man, in prayer among His disciples is a graphic invitation that brings the inception of His Church within reach of every sinner. We have no way of making ourselves fit for life with God (17:2-3), but in His grace and with His help we can receive this life as a gift by yielding to Christ’s posture of humble trust and consecration: anyone who receives and believes in Jesus as the Christ of the Bible becomes a part of the relentless miracle of His Church!

Thus this prayer aptly begins with a request for glory, not the veiled glory of the incarnate Christ, but the eternal, heavenly glory that He shares with the Father (17:5).

Why should the Son of God, who is intrinsically glorious, asks to be glorified?

To “glorify” is to make the attributes of God visible. Jesus was committing Himself to the imminent, momentous manifestation of God’s power and love through His suffering, death, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. He said: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, . . . And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

Though this arrangement was birthed in eternity (1Pet 1:20), these words were spoken for the eleven — and all disciples to come (17:13). Every disciple of Christ must comprehend the cross, and all its marvellous reverberations, not as a symbol of suffering and shame, but as a supreme demonstration of God’s love and power.

Discipleship and disciple-making must be pursued within this frame! Always seeking the glory of the Father. Always aligned to revelation. Always in the posture of trust and consecration modelled by Christ when He prayed for glory.

A true disciple is one who lives in the spirit of this prayer: “Father, glorify your child, that your child may glorify you.”

But less we be lost in the euphoria of this war cry, we must ever remember that the glory of the cross is not the glory of the world, it is the glory of living God’s life amidst a fallen humanity. This will be neither pleasant nor easy.



The Posture of Disciple-making #3


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

God knows every heart.

Jeremiah 17:10 (ESV) “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The worthiness of our lives and service is weighed not outwardly but inwardly. Our inner postures — comprising our drives, plans, goals, hopes, and so on, not our achievements — are all that count before God.

Proverbs 16:2 (ESV) All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.

In Posture #1 , we noted that Jesus’ single request for Himself (above) provides a template to orientate our inner postures, our souls, after Him. This simple prayer, “. . . glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you . . .”, spoken from a contrite heart and a knowing mind, effectively surrenders the soul to our Father, and readies us for doing His work, His way.

In Posture #2 , we noted that John’s crisp preface to the prayer — “ . . . had spoken these words . . . lifted up his eyes . . . ” (above) — anchors the vision of John 17 to God’s Word, and thus to His authority, His resources, His programme, and His instructions; and at the same time beckons every believer to join Jesus in seeking the Father’s glory.

So our Lord’s prayer (above), first, leads us inwardly into a posture of consecration and commitment. Consecration is putting ourselves aside for God’s use. Commitment is constantly ensuring that we are being used by God for His glory — and not actually on our own trajectories that we have labelled, sincerely but wrongly, “discipleship” or “God’s work”.

This is the requisite first step in following Jesus Christ, because discipleship, in essence, is a life given to be lived out, not an undertaking to be pulled off.

Christian living and service must (and can only) begin with God’s gift of eternal life (embedded in Jesus’ prayer for glory, above); and thereafter preserved and sustained according to the promises of the Gospel.

“Eternal life” is life with the facility to know God in vital fellowship — as opposed to knowing Him in principle. This life is given by God in Christ and kept and nurtured by Him. As MacArthur explains, “This ‘eternal life’ is in essence nothing less than participation in the eternal life of the Living Word, Jesus Christ. It is the life of God in every believer, yet not fully manifest until the resurrection (Rom. 8:19–23; Phil. 3:20–21).”

Discipleship and disciple making, to be true to the Bible, must flow out of this life — out of each believer’s ongoing relationship with God — being like grapes nurtured through branches fed by the “true vine” (John 15:8).

The Apostle Paul clearly saw his calling and labour as gifts of pure grace: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1Cor 15:10, ESV, cf. Rom 1:4-5, 12:3-8, 15:15-16; 2Cor 3:5-6; Gal 1:15-17; Eph 3:1-3; 1Tim 1:12-14).

If Christian life and ministry flow from God’s gift of life, and are kept and sustained by Him, then the only way to respond to His call to salvation and service is to receive them as consecrated, humble, thankful, reliant beneficiaries, and never as workers charged with shouldering a staggering task.

So we must begin as Jesus did: we lift our eyes to heaven as Jesus did, and say as Jesus did: “Father, glorify your son/daughter, that the son/daughter may glorify you.” God glorifies us by adopting us as children, we glorify Him when the impossible actually happens: the life of His Son is manifested in communities of redeemed sons and daughters of God (local churches).

We will see how every believer is a part of this astonishing vision as we follow our Lord’s prayer.



The Posture of Disciple-making #4
More Than Existing Forever


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

If we time-travelled back to John 17, we will come upon a commonplace scene: a rabbi, his eleven disciples, in an upper room (a roof-top guest chamber in Jewish homes), around a table holding the remains of a passover meal. The master, in the Jewish posture of supplication, face lifted heavenwards, is praying audibly.

The eleven are nondescript. The rabbi, though he seems to almost glow with a nobility of bearing, and his voice somehow wraps the men to himself from the rest of Jerusalem, is an ordinary man. We will be hard put to light on any intimation of the momentous gravity of this gathering.

Yet here is the very Son of God consecrating Himself to the ancient world’s most shameful and torturous execution: crucifixion (verse 1b, above). And listen . . . He prays about this as a time of glory for both himself and the Father (verse 1b, above). This one particular crucifixion will be different. The reasons will unfold as He prays.

First, His death will ratify the Father’s purpose to offer salvation to a race whose only hope is to be given eternal life; because humankind, being dead in sin, is utterly unable to help itself (verses 1b-3, above).

But God did not give His Son just so that we may exist forever. Eternal existence is not the Bible’s “eternal life”. God gave His Son so that anyone who, by faith, receives Christ (who holds the authority to give life) may “know” the Father, that is, live in relationship with Him (verse 3, above).

We notice Jesus using a form of address unique among Jews of His time, Jesus calls God “Father” — patēr in Greek, and Abba in Aramiac. One commentator explains:

“There is no real precedent for the use of this word in addressing the Godhead, whether in Old Testament prayers, or in the extensive liturgies which have come down to us from first-century Judaism, . . . . Abba means ‘Daddy’, or ‘my own dear father’. . . .. To Jesus’ predecessors and contemporaries it was an overfamiliar and hence unseemly term to use in addressing the Almighty. But Jesus uses it constantly, a significant witness to his unique sense of intimacy with the Father, . . .. It is in the supreme confidence expressed in this word that Jesus goes to the cross.” As we have noted, in a posture of consecration, trust, reliance, and humble service.

To God whom He calls “Father” or “Patēr” or “Abba”, Jesus prays: “this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (verse 3, above). The vision of this prayer is that God fully intends to gather other children into relationship with Him as “Abba” (cf Romans 8:15).

We, the time travellers, can only gape in awe and hope and worship and thanksgiving — and finally surrender — as we hear these words!

No, God did not give His Son so that we may merely exist forever. God gave the Son with every intention of bringing “many sons to glory”. Hebrews 2:10 (ESV):

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

In Christ, the perfect foundation of our salvation, God wants to adopt us into His glory. This should be the mind set for reading verses 4-5, above: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (verses 4-5).

The “work” is everything that Jesus had done, plus “his own death, resurrection and exaltation (cf. 4:34; 5:36; 19:30)” . Praying proleptically, as though all is accomplished, Jesus requests to return to His pre-incarnate glory.

The vision of Jesus’ prayer becomes even more marvellous as we remember what Jesus had said: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’” (Matthew 21:42)

Jesus had laid the foundations for His Church (cf Ephesians 2:20). He intends to supervise the building of His people in His pre-incarnate glory, from HisFather’s right hand. This is why we have practically harped on the posture of discipleship and disciple making. We are not building the Church. Our Lord is! We are not required to pioneer but to obey. How then should we serve? Answers will present themselves as we continue to follow our Lord’s prayer.

End



The Posture of Disciple-making #5
Discipleship Begins with God’s Name


John 17:1-5 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

The first five verses of John 17 positions us for the rest of Jesus’ prayer. Our inner selves, our heart of hearts, must be aligned with them, if we are to walk our Lord’s vision of discipleship.

In these first five verses we hear Jesus’ single request for Himself. But He didn’t pray for Himself, He consecrated Himself to His Church, which would soon rise from the bloody victory of the cross.

Jesus came to serve . But the cross was by no means the end of His service. His earthly ministry culminating with His redemptive sacrifice, was preparation for a new era. An era in which Jesus Christ would continue to serve — in the fulness of His glory (17:5, above), from the Father’s right hand, as Supreme Ruler, Head of the Church, Corner Stone, High Priest, Chief Shepherd, True Vine.

After praying for Himself, Jesus prayed for His disciples based on all of the above as accomplished fact. As we eavesdrop, the vision for His Church unfolds:

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. . . .. John 17:6-7 (ESV).

Why was Jesus telling His Father what He did? Didn’t His Father and His men know full well all that He had done? Remember that the twelve were within earshot (John 17:13). It’s unlikely that Jesus was simply recounting His accomplishments. The answer to our questions appears later in the prayer:

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. John 17:18 (ESV)

The disciples would be sent into the world in the same way that the Son was sent. They (and now us) would continue the Lord’s mission. Disciples through the Church Age would expand the mission, but it would be the same mission. The core of His mission will never change. We are sent to do His work, not ours!

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12 (ESV)

And what did Jesus do? The Father’s will: nothing more and nothing less:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19 (ESV)

The disciples must understand and discharge their mission in the same way. This was the intent of God the Father and God the Son. Disciples would be sent as Jesus was sent, never to do their own will but only the Father’s.

Milne puts it well:

The entire mission of Jesus in the world has in reality been the mission of the Father in and through him, the Sender in the Sent. The mission of the disciples, sent into the world by the Son, is likewise not theirs but his through them. The mission of the church is nothing other than the continuation of the mission of its Lord. Equally, however, the demand will be real. Being sent meant for Jesus his utter dedication to the claim and call of the Father. The disciples’ commission can mean nothing less.

No, Jesus was not recounting His accomplishments, he was defining the mission for His disciples. Disciples should never define, or formulate, their mission or calling. This is crucial. This is fundamental. Defining their mission is not within their purview.

The twelve must grasp and internalise the Church’s mission according to God’s terms. What better way to help them do this than to seal it in a prayer to the Father offered out loud in their presence. No wonder the Spirit moved John to record this prayer verbatim. It is now our turn to listen to this prayer and hear God’s voice.

Jesus’ prayer for the disciples, began with the name of God.

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. John 17:6 (ESV)

“Manifested” means: to make apparent, to make known, to show openly . The Apostle Paul used this word in Romans 1:19, when he wrote “. . . what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them . . .” (ESV, emphasis mine).

Didn’t the disciples know who their God was? Must they be shown? At least ten of them were from Galilee: a steeply and vigorously religious Jewish enclave during Jesus’ time. As a rabbi, Jesus would certainly had taught them about God, but why did Jesus have to show, or make plain, God’s name to men who had learned Scriptures since childhood?

Further more, Jesus prayed about this as an accomplished task, “. . . I have manifested your name . . .“ (see also 17:4, above, emphasis mine). Don’t believers know God progressively as they walked with Him? Is knowing God then a one-time work of Christ?

We will allow the prayer itself to answer us as we study John 17. But already this much is clear: making disciples is exclusively Christ’s work (in and through us), and if it begins with making known the Father’s name — “name” denotes the full and true representation of a person — then following Jesus calls for much, much more than a religious resolve. Perhaps, it is an entirely different kind of journey, not simply a religious one. May the Spirit teach us as we continue to listen to our Lord’s prayer:

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. Mark 4:23-24 (ESV)

End.



Knowing God by Name #1
Foundation for A New Race


John 17:6-7 (ESV Strong’s) “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Jesus’ prayer for His disciples began with the eleven, but He clearly prayed for all disciples through the ages — we were in His heart and mind (17:20-21). Indeed, we need to see our place in this prayer, and so to live out its vision, and to know all the blessings that Christ has for His Church. This is what Project John 17 seeks.

If Jesus’ prayer for Himself (17:1-5) prefaced God’s unimaginable sacrifice for human kind, would His prayer for disciples (17:6-19) anticipate anything less incredible and wondrous? Paul’s question in Romans gives us the answer:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 (ESV)

Paul also teaches that, in Christ, the full resources of heaven are available to us:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, . . .. Ephesians 1:3 (ESV, emphases mine.)

This does not mean that disciples should expect to be spared from any earthly trouble. Jesus, more than once, warned, “But those who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). If discipleship calls for endurance then it must be hard.

But this does mean that disciples should expect to experience the transcendent presence and power of Christ as they followed Him. The first sentence of Jesus’ prayer — “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (17:6) — at once offers hope, assurance, and instruction in this respect.

We will explore the Lord’s prayer for us by first returning to a question asked previously: Why must the name of God be manifested to the eleven? They were Jews and thus trained in the Scriptures from young.

The answer is already in the prayer:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3 (ESV)

Christ manifested the Father’s name to them, not because these Jewish men needed to relearn the rudiments of their religion, but because His resurrection would usher in an age in which men and women would know and walk with God as never before. This was announced centuries ago:

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV, emphasis mine.)

When Jesus manifested the Father’s name to His disciples He was laying the foundation for a new race. The disciples, and all others who would come in their footsteps, would be God’s children who bore His name, they would be His own peculiar, impossible, and miraculous people. So through Christ, God was inaugurating a new way for people to know Him: through a man named Jesus.

The “name” of God encompassed every aspect of God. Jesus Christ would give repentant sinners eternal life and would personally reveal the Father to them. The first disciples met Him in the flesh, and then more intimately walked with Him in the Spirit; through their witness, we too will know Him through the Holy Spirit as we obey Scriptures, and as we live in the company of the redeemed (1Peter 1:10-12; 1John 1:1-4).

This is why the very first words of Jesus’ prayer for us — “I have manifested your name . . ..” — offer every true disciples hope, assurance, and instruction: The hope of knowing God personally in this life and then through eternity. The assurance that this hope can and will be realised because it does not depend on on us but on Jesus Christ. The instruction as to how we may walk in this hope, beginning right now, because Jesus, after His redemptive work on the cross, serves us as High Priest and Shepherd.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:14 (KJV)

If we are not experiencing discipleship and disciple making as truly and joyously peculiar, impossible, and miraculous, then we are not believing right or not living right. We need to examine our faith and lives. This, again, is the object of Project John 17.



Knowing God by Name #2
Already But Not Yet


John 17:6-7 (ESV) “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

Jesus prays from a grand eternal plan, from a heavenly viewpoint, so we, the earthbound, keep tripping over questions even as we follow His prayer. But the questions that trip us also clarify His vision , and so help us find our place and work in God’s plan.

Thus when we previously asked why His prayer begins like a report card — needlessly recounting work that He had just done — we learned that He was defining the ministry for His disciples, for they would be sent into the world just as He was, and so they must do their Father’s work just as Jesus did. Personal schemes, no matter how well intended or “biblical”, will not do. This is crucial, if we hope to participate in God’s work.

And when we wondered why God ’s name had to be manifested to Jewish men who were trained in Scriptures, we realised that the Cross would usher in an era in which men and women would know God as never before, as Jesus revealed God as never before — as Emanuel, God with us, even to this day — and all at once the hope of eternity with Christ becomes a present pursuit, discipleship becomes a foretaste of heaven.

Now, we will ponder another question that will reap useful insights: Why does Jesus pray as though His work among the disciples is already completed. He says “I have manifested your name... they have kept your word” (17:6, above). Surely the men’s subsequent conduct — from their fearful desertion, to their doubt about the resurrection, to their misunderstanding of “Kingdom” , showed that they were hardly ready to be the vanguard of Emmanuel’s witnesses.

Moreover, at the end of the prayer Jesus says, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known,...” (17:26). So evidently, and rightly so, Jesus had no intention of ending His work, but every intention of continuing it — even up to our day . So why the air of job “accomplished” in His prayer (17:6-7, above, also 17:4). Was Jesus’ assessment of His men overly optimistic, or was he making altogether a different claim? The answer may be summed up by a slogan that almost every Christian will encounter — a slogan that, though bandied about, has refused to become a cliche because it is fantastically true: “Already but not yet!”

Jesus’ prayer seems internally contradictory because He is praying about a project that belongs to the triune God: call it what we will: Christian work, church building, the ministry, missions, disciple making, discipleship — all things that pertains to the realisation of the promises and fruit of the Gospel is the exclusive purview and work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus was not assessing the progress of His men, but claiming, declaring, the inauguration of the New Covenant, the age of the Gospel of grace!

Anything undertaken by God may be reckoned as done, even at the beginning! Indeed, His work is accomplished at the very point of inception.

...I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ Isaiah 46:9-10 (ESV).

God’s sovereignty makes our contradiction a miracle: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (17:6).

God did not choose the disciples because they had kept His word. Having been chosen by the Father and presented to the Son, they were already God’s people. This is why Christ manifested the Father’s name to them, and why they had kept His Word. They did God’s work because they were God’s work.

All these must have been in Paul’s mind when he wrote: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6 (ESV).

Thus we — being those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ — may participate in His victory at every step in the arduous journey of discipleship. This, again, is the purpose of Project John 17, to seek and to walk the hard, but joy filled, way of discipleship. Come... join the journey.

End



Owned by God #1
Call to incarnation.


John 17:6-7 (ESV) “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.

How did you become a Christian?

Answers can vary widely. Conversions are uniquely personal. The story of my conversion is the story of how God’s love found me, touched my soul, and met needs that only He and I knew. Every conversion displays the infinite wonder of God’s love drawing believers to Himself one-by-one.

Conversely, however, in praying for His disciples, Jesus kept referring to a commonality in God’s dealing with them (and so with us):

“Yours they were, and you gave them to me, ....” (John 17:6, above).

This is conversion in a nutshell, from God’s perspective — conversion is something that He does. A person turns to Christ because God the Father chose to own him or her, and to give him or her to His Son.

Our predestined ownership is a work of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No one can earn it. No one can contribute to it. Every believer participates as a beneficiary. There are no exceptions.

God knows us individually by name (John 10:3,14), but predestined ownership grafts us to a common life in Christ — we are branches of the true vine (John 15:1-11). This theme must be important because it weaves through our Lord’s prayer:

17:2: “. . . to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
17:6: “. . . the people whom you gave me out of the world.”
17:6: “. . . Yours they were, and you gave them to me, ....”
17:9: “. . . I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”
17:10: “. . . All mine are yours, and yours are mine, ....”
17:24: “. . . Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, ....”

Instances of this theme abound in Scriptures, here are a few examples:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, . . . and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1-3 (ESV)

We were spiritually dead. Our very nature tended only to incur God’s wrath. We belonged to this world. We experienced new birth when we turned to Christ.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (ESV)

The right to become God’s children, to receive eternal life from Christ, was given to dead people through faith. So in truth, our turning was all God’s doing. We were born of Him: our conviction, faith, and new birth came about through the Father’s election and the Son’s gift of life — our conversion was predestined ownership in operation:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. John 10:27-29 (ESV)

This is how you became a Christian: God chose you, claimed you from the world, and gave you to Christ, who gave you eternal life. This is how you became part of this prayer: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, ....” (above).

Christians are owned ones, and must serve God as such. We must not only seek to do things but to be a people. Discipleship is living our Christ-given life in the world — incarnation — for we, in conformity to His image, are sent into the world as He was sent.

Therefore the appropriation of Jesus’ vision in John 17, must be first and foremost a desire, an urge, to be, rather than to do. One scholar describes this stance well:

“Furthermore, what is first required of the Christian is not action (although that cannot be neglected) but a presence, a style of life, an attitude, a special mode of existence. .... By incarnating their God-given identity as light, salt, and sheep, Christians effect a present reality of the kingdom of God which will be culminated in the future.”

In this series, we have repeatedly insisted that God’s work must be done God’s way. It’s time to amplify thus: God’s work must be done God’s way by God’s people who are living God’s life. The urge to serve (God) must be driven by the urge to live (in Christ). True disciple making can only issue from true disciples.

End.



Owned by God #2
Disciple making is God working in His own.


No one likes to be owned — be someone’s possession. The idea is at odds with our prideful self-sufficiency. This is likely why many of us, in our very heart of hearts, do not gratefully embrace Christ as Master and see His Lordship as a great gift of pure grace.

The Bible does not want us to forget that we are owned, it keeps reminding us:

. . . I know my own . . . John 10:14.
. . . you who were called to belong to Jesus Christ, . . . Rom 1:6.
. . . so that you may belong to another . . . Rom 7:4.
. . . we are the Lord’s. Rom 14:8.
. . . You are not your own, . . . 1Cor 6:19.
. . . a people for his own possession . . .. Tit 2:14; 1Pet 2:9.
. . . kept for Jesus Christ: . . . Jud 1:1

God’s ownership must be important for this was also Jesus’ central theme when His prayer turned to His disciples (17:6-7, above). If the vision of this prayer is to power our lives, then many of us may need to take the Bible’s reminders to heart, embrace God’s ownership, and make every effort to live as owned ones.

Let’s recap what Jesus prayed about the the men whom God gave Him: first, that He had manifested the Father’s name to them; second, that they had kept the Father’s Word; and third, that they had grasp who He really was.

The first point (17:6a), about manifesting the Father’s name, had been explored previously. By revealing the Father to His disciples Jesus had inaugurated the promise of the New Covenant: “for they shall all know me . . . declares the Lord” (Jer 31:34).

Now to the second point: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (17:6b, above).

The first half of this prayer: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me . . .” succinctly describes conversion, a person turning to Christ. Conversion is God’s work, and it happens whenever the Father claims a sinner for Himself by calling her to and through His Son.

The second half of this prayer: “. . . and they have kept your Word” succinctly describes discipleship. The word “kept” indicates a more personal and deeper commitment to Jesus than just complying to His teachings: “kept” includes: “. . . watch, and hence to guard, keep, obey . . .” . Further, note that they had kept the Father’s word and not Jesus’. During the intimate hours before the prayer of John 17, in the Farewell Discourse, Jesus had taught them:

“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me” (John 14:23-24).

Thus Jesus’ prayer acknowledges that His men had shown a more profound response than just receiving a body of religious teachings. He saw that something much deeper, and actually unprecedented, had taken place: in keeping Jesus’ word as the Father’s, the men had accepted Christ’s messianic claims! They were ready to follow Him as the Christ of God. They had embarked on Christian discipleship.

His prayer, “they have kept your word” (in perfect active tense), does not refer to the men’s spiritual maturity — as impending events would soon testify, they were far from being established believers. Rather, Jesus was referring to their decisive step of faith. They had stepped from unbelief to belief, thus from death to life. Since no one can do this “unless the Father who sent me draws him”, and “whoever believes has eternal life” . God had effected their conversion and also set them on the narrow road of discipleship. They were the first fruit of God’s new-covenant work!

This was why Jesus prayed for glory first (17:1-5): the time for Him to pay the price for their redemption had arrived. The New Covenant would soon be ratified on the cross. Walking with God would soon become a miraculous possibility — for them and for us!

The writer to the Hebrew Christians asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (2:3). We follow with this question: What then shall we do: how should we live after we have received the Father’s word and experienced His salvation? Answers will be harvested in our next study — Jesus’ third prayer point: “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.”



Owned by God #3
Into the Holy of Holies


I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. John 17:6-7 (ESV)

It’s a matter of time. Sooner or later, If you have trusted Jesus Christ as Lord, you will discover His third prayer point , and you will begin to comprehend the full blessing of New Testament discipleship.

His first prayer point is (above): “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world”. This is about His work of revealing the Father to sinners who had repented to follow Him as disciples.

His second prayer point is (above): “Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word”. This is about God the Father and God the Son taking ownership of believers, the in-gathering of those whom they had redeemed: God choosing, converting, discipling sinners. This work is both established and also on-going in the life of every true disciple.

Now, our Lord’s third prayer point (above) — “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you” — sums up the result of Christ’s work in His disciples: their acceptance by faith of His incredible revelations about Himself: His person, His mission, His work.

Note well that Jesus describes the eleven with “they know”, not “they believe”. Jesus is not referring to objective knowledge, His prayer is still about faith; but their response was concrete, much more than just giving assent, they acted on their belief: they left their lives and followed Him. Years later, all except John, died for Him.

Carson describes it thus: “they had come to the deep conviction that Jesus was God’s messenger, that he had been sent by God and that all he taught was God’s truth.”

A belief so deep that life-altering decisions are hinged on it is practically knowledge — subjective certainty planted through faith that God supplied. At the time of John 17, this belief was no doubt incipient, but it was there, wholly formed, ready to be quickened by the Holy Spirit: so Christ had considered His work accomplished (17:4, 6-7). Soon enough, this seed would sprout, and spring into the full-bodied, all encompassing, all compelling, conviction that drove The Acts Of The Apostles.

To review: this is how Jesus began to pray for His disciples (read it again, above): He laid before His Father the elements of church building, or a vision of disciple making, God’s way: The Father would call His chosen ones to His Son (verse 6a). The Son would manifest the Father to them (verse 6b). In following the Son, these disciples would eventually learn that they were knowing the Father as well — while they were fellowshipping with His Son (verse 7).

Since to be knowing the Father is eternal life (17:3), they had begun eternal life here on earth — after Pentecost (Acts 2), powered by the Holy Spirit, they would become the first company of a massive army of witnesses who would testify to the presence of the Kingdom of God on earth (17:20). In this sense, disciples do not point to the Kingdom, they are witnesses for the Kingdom from within the Kingdom:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV).

Since this deliverance is all God’s work, every true believer can fully realise John 17:6-7, and join this throng of Kingdom witnesses. To be knowing the Father as we fellowship with the Son is also to be admitted into the intimacy of the Trinity.

Is all of the above really possible — today . . . now . . . on earth? Or is this vision a wishful prayer request from Son to Father? John 17 clearly presents it as a real live outcome of the Cross. This is confirmed a few verses down when Jesus prayed: “. . . that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me,. . .” (17:22-23, emphases mine).

Many biblical passages teach this intimacy. An example: In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul describes the church as a “holy temple” with believers “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”. Paul uses the Greek word “naós” for “temple”: picturing, not the whole temple, but the Holy of Holies where God meets His people. Every disciple is being fitted into this naós .

Such knowledge makes following Jesus at once glorious and daunting, both exciting and fearful. Coming articles will follow this prayer into the fullness of biblical discipleship.

End



Owned by God #4
Ready for the Mission


“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. John 17:6-8 (ESV)

In the first creation, God took dirt from the ground, fashioned a male form, breathed into it, and “the man became a living creature.”

In the second creation , God takes spiritually dead people, and gives them new hearts to begin living forever as “sons of the living God”.

If you are a Christian, you are a fruit of the second creation. Not only this, but you, and your spiritual siblings, are central players in this continuing miracle.

Miracles, by definition, are God’s exclusive purview. You cannot contribute to a miracle. You can only participate as servants of the Most High. Servants need to thoroughly understand the intent and modus operandi of their Master. In three short verses, 6-8 (see above), Jesus lays out a concise, clear, and comprehensive summary of the fundamentals . Our study has come to verse 8 .

At first blush, verse 8 appears to be a rewording of 6 and 7, but crucial elements are being introduced.

First, Jesus said, “I have given them the words that you gave me. The term ”words” here is rhema in Greek, which means the actual utterances, or the things spoken (different from “word”, in verse 6: logos referring to the discourse in what has been said). Jesus not only taught about God the Father, but actually spoke what His Father desired. Setting a precedent on how disciples should be taught — that is, in scrupulous faithfulness to the Bible. This is how He describes it:

For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” John 12:49-50

Second, the disciples, had “received them” — that is, received His teachings. “Receive”, lambano, is different from “kept” in verse 6: tereo, referring to the keeping of commandments. Lambano may be thought of as deep, heart-level, transformative, obedience. The disciples had listened and then taken ownership of, or entrusted themselves to, Jesus’ teachings. Establishing a model of how disciples should follow Christ: not only by keeping religious precepts, but by laying down their lives as He did — by denying self to incarnate His life in the world.

Third, Jesus said, “they have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me”. As they took Jesus’ teachings to heart, they came to “know in truth”, truly know, with the certainty born of faith, not only that Jesus was from God, but that He was the Christ, the Anointed of the Father: they began to see that God, the Father and the Son, in absolute consonance — “I came . . . you sent” —, were fulfilling the mission promised long ago through the prophets.

Honouring Jesus’ teachings as the Father’s own utterances, assimilating them into their lives, seeing the divine plan of salvation, the disciples were ready to be used by God in His plan. As Zuck writes:

The disciples were not perfect, but they had the right commitment. Their faith in Jesus was a trust in His union with the Father (17:8). This faith in Jesus was manifested in their obedience to His words because they believed in His divine mission (cf. 16:27).

They had the picture, though not yet in sharp focus. This would take time and the power of the Holy Spirit. True enough, Christ would very soon give them, and every disciple after them, the commission that contains all the element we have discussed in this and previous articles:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.

The conviction of the disciples was immature at this time, but the requisite work had been done. The next step would be empowerment, and this would be poured out by grace after sin had been dealt with on the cross. As Milne describes it:

‘The glorified Son of God has completed his work by bringing into concrete existence in the world the messianic congregation of the faithful disciples. Thus the work of Jesus is not defined as a general proclamation of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men, but rather as the creation of the Church, consisting of men and women of flesh and blood extracted from the world to which they had hitherto belonged, by the “power of God”.’ End.



Owned by God #5
The Declaration


I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. John 17: 9-10 (ESV)

What a sharp declaration of exclusivity! The above scripture will not sit well in today’s social climate of tolerance, non-discrimination, and so forth. All the more reason why these verses should be studied carefully, less coloured by the mood of our age, we fail to grasp what may well be the heart of John 17.

We have seen that God’s ownership of His people is an important theme of our Lord’s prayer. It appears early in verse 2, “to give eternal life to all whom you have given him”: Conversion happens when the Father takes ownership of a person, and draws him or her to His Son.

We see ownership again in verse 6: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.”: Discipleship is the Son shepherding His own, leading them in ever deepening knowledge of the Father, “and this is eternal life” . So God’s ownership is fundamental.

Nonetheless, the above bald assertion, just three verses later, can seem jarring: Not only does Jesus say that He is praying for the disciples, He makes it clear that He is not praying for the world. Why stress the exclusion of the rest of the world in such a momentous prayer, at such a pivotal time?

We have noted that John 17 was prayed out loud for the disciples. This was not only a prayer for them, but a lesson to them . . . and so to us.

God’s ownership is a key theme in Jesus’ prayer, but we must be careful to understand it only in God’s terms because “exclusivity” can very much be defined by social mores. For this reason, whether it is the eleven Palestinian Jews listening to our Lord then; or you and I hearing Him through scriptures now, we are all liable to get it wrong . . . but in very different ways.

Exclusivity was a national characteristic of the Jews: they prided themselves on being God’s chosen people. This was, at least partly, why the Gospel remained in Jerusalem until persecution dispersed the early disciples, and “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). This was also a reason why Saul was violently called and commissioned “to carry my name before the Gentiles . . ..” (Acts 9:15). Jewish exclusivity had to be corrected practically by direct intervention from God.

We, 21st Century disciples of Christ, live in a milieu where exclusivity is considered vulgar. Even as I write, massive public demonstrations against discrimination are happening world-wide. We may well put ourselves in danger, if we proffered truths such as this: “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). So our exclusivity, or more accurately anti-exclusivity, may need to be corrected.

The first thing to understand, to confirm and settle in our hearts, is that our Christian distinctiveness is real. It is not just a theological concept. Neither is it only a conferred status, a new name, given by grace through faith. Christians are called children of God not only in name, but also because they have been actually, constitutively, made new. Exactly as Isaiah had pronounced:

“. . . bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:6-7 (ESV)

Indeed, Jesus constantly stressed that His followers must live out their distinctiveness. Once, He used salt to help us understand: He warned that if we loose this, we become totally useless, we loose our very purpose for living. Our distinctiveness, as followers of Christ, must never be compromised:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.” Matthew 5:13 (ESV)

Note that we are “salt of the earth.” Our saltiness must be stirred into the world, not kept apart from it! This teaching of our Lord leads us to another important point. While popular culture commonly associates exclusivity with separation and discrimination, the Bible teaches the opposite: our exclusivity is our very reason and drive for incarnation, for outreach, for inclusion, for service!

Jesus prayed: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them” (above). To glorify Christ is to make His attributes visible. Christian distinctiveness is never meant to be cloistered within buildings and institutions and organisations, . . . much less veiled in, and often distorted by, the trappings of religion and clerical orders; it is meant to be lived in the world, to show that Christ, the hope of glory, is indeed alive in us (Colossians 1:27).

In today’s culture exclusivity is to be eschewed, but for disciples of Christ, exclusivity, in all its biblical glory, is to be properly understood, faithfully embraced, conscientiously appropriated, and courageously lived out . . . in the world!

Paul had to explain to the Corinthians that separation from sin did not mean separation from sinners:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 1Corinthians 5:9-10 (ESV)

Earlier, we asked why Jesus made this declaration of exclusivity in such a momentous prayer, at such a pivotal time? The answer has actually been in construction through previous articles.

Jesus Christ declared the sharply delineated object of His prayer, because this prayer is for disciples only, all disciples, as represented by the 11: this newly created band of His men, soon to be given life by the Spirit of God, soon to be sent into the world to show and tell people about the Son of God. This would always be the exclusive work of the triune God. This exclusivity will never be compromised. We will further explore this critical theme as we continue to listen to The Son praying to The Father about us.

End



Owned by God #6
We, the Glory of Christ


I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. John 17: 9-10 (ESV)

Do read verse 10 again: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them”

Only someone who claims equality with God can say this prayer . Hendriksen’s explanation is worth noting at length:

This last statement is astounding. It makes sense only if the Father and the Son are one in essence. For a creature to say to the Creator — or even for a believer to say to God — “All my things are thine,” is not marvelous. But for any one lower than God to add, “All thy things are mine,” would require explanation. . . . Jesus has in mind not only the fact that all things promote his glory, but also that he is actually the owner of all and as such has authority over all. The One who is here addressing the Father is the same One who was face to face with the Father from eternity (17:5). All things in the entire universe belong both to the Father and to the Son. Hence, what is of interest to the One is of interest to the Other. This is the reason why Jesus is able to pray so fervently for his disciples. They are his, his very own. Hence, he loves them. But whatever is his, is also the Father’s. This mutual ownership implies mutual interest, and this mutual interest assures mutual action.

Carson rightly concludes that John 17:10 is a “Christological claim of extraordinary reach.” CS Lewis made famous this argument: the historical Jesus — to have made the claims He did — must either be a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. If our knowledge and experience of Jesus Christ preclude liar and lunatic, then here is God the Son praying for us.

In the previous article we discussed verse 9 (above) as Christ’s declaration of exclusivity. Two points were made. First: this exclusivity is real, not a religious concept. Followers of Christ are transformed into members of His Body: the Church.

Second, we must understand exclusivity in God’s terms. In today’s parlance, the term connotes segregation and discrimination. Jesus’ declaration of exclusivity denotes the opposite: incarnation and service. His disciples would be men and women chosen, transformed, and sent to carry God’s image and message into the world — a unique band serving a unique mission. Now, in verse 10, Jesus affirms, guaranties, the power and resources that would launch and sustain this miracle:

“All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”

Petersen’s paraphrase is helpful: “Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, And my life is on display in them.”

These two statements, in effect, undergirds the first portion of the prayer. The words may seem repetitive, tautological, but they provide the necessary confidence that God, all His power and resources, is behind the astonishing programme laid out in verses 1 through 8; and the assurance that He is committed to an equally astonishing follow-up in verses 11 through 19 — as we shall see in subsequent studies.

First, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, . . .”: here, Christ avows His divinity, authority over, and ownership of, His people. Jesus Christ “the image of the invisible God”, who is “before all things”, in whom “all things hold together” claims us for His own!

It is good to revisit a point made previously: In order to fully live the blessed life of the purchased and owned, some of us may need to adjust our hearts. I suspect that for many Christians (I was one) the thought of being owned will touch off an inner stir of defiance in the old self. We will thus acquiesce to Lordship, rather than gratefully embrace it. No matter how minuscule this defiance, it should be rooted out, resolved through prayer and study of the Word. It is a falsehood that can shackle our walk with the Lord.

To be “called to belong to Jesus Christ” through the “obedience of faith” is to be drawn by the love of God to Himself: to live as “saints” in His grace, and peace:

. . . through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith . . . including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, . . . who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:5-7 (ESV)

We should embrace Christ’s ownership and Lordship as a gift of grace and love. God is love, and to be called to come under His authority is to be folded into His loving care. The apostle John writes:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Secured in His love and Lordship, we are ready to be His Church, to live as those who display His image. In Christ, you and I, sinners sold to the world, can become God’s presence in the world as we reflect His image. Thus Jesus caps His proclamation of divine authority with: “I am glorified in them.”

This is at once a declaration and a commitment. A declaration that the miracle of the Church has commenced, and a commitment that He, Christ is consecrated to be Her redeemer and shepherd . . . from then . . . into eternity.

So John 17:9-10 at once redefines my person and my purpose. In Christ, I am God’s child and a bearer of His image — His presence in the world. No wonder Paul exults:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

My new me and my new purpose is absolutely secured in this declaration of exclusivity that concludes Jesus’ review of His work on earth. With our souls secured in Christ’s ownership and empowered to glorify Him, the miraculous discipleship pictured in verses 1-8, the first portion of His prayer, can begin to take shape in our lives.

In the coming episodes of this series, we will consider the second part of the prayer (verses 11-19). We will see how the Father and Son will keep His new creation — the Church — alive, and growing, and bearing fruit in a world bent on rebellion.

End.



In The Care of The Almighty #1
The Fathered answered The Son


And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:9-11 (ESV)

It is possible to overlook the weight of John 17:11 because this verse records a commonplace: A person soon to leave His loved ones is entrusting them to a guardian. But consider:

● Who is leaving? Jesus — Son of God — The Word — Wonderful Counsellor — Mighty God — Prince of Peace — Christ (the Messiah) — Immanuel — Founder and Perfecter of our faith — Firstborn among many brothers — Great High Priest — Chief Shepherd — Head of the Church.
● Where is He going? Hebrews 1:3 tells us: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, . . ..” He “sat down” because sin had been vanquished, His redemptive work was done, and all was ready for a new era.
● Who are the loved ones? His eleven disciples — plus all disciples through the Church age (John 17:20). You and I are included.
● Who is the guardian? God the Father.
● What is requested of the guardian? Here it is:

“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

One does not need biblical training to see the momentous vision of this prayer. The Father will certainly answer the Son, and will take over the care of all disciples! After the cross, as we have mentioned repeatedly in this column, the eleven would be the vanguard of a new creation.

We have come to a new phase of our Lord’s prayer. Here is a very quick review:

● In John 17:1-5, Jesus Christ consecrates Himself to the Cross.
● In 17:6-8: He accounts for His three years with His disciples.
● In 17:9-10: He proclaims the exclusivity of all disciples by virtue of God’s ownership, and the unique mission of the Church.

Now in John 17:11, our Lord turns to the daunting prospects ahead of His beloved ones. After more than three life-changing years together, He would very soon leave them: A nondescript band in the midst of hostile powers. According to the Book of Acts, they would still be struggling to make sense of His teachings and His resurrection. What would happen to them?

Jesus prays over this impending situation (17:11-23). Surprisingly, we will find not a trace of anxiety, but rather confident anticipation for the coming age, an era of faith, hope, love, security, fruitfulness . . . perhaps, summed up by this remarkable possibility in the midst of the prayer:

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:13 (ESV)

Joy — not the brief happiness, or merriment that we know — but heavenly joy, in all its fullness, would be available to all disciples. We will learn much more about this joy in coming studies as we examine Christ’s vision for His Church. For now, two points need to be settled:

First, the incarnate physical presence of Jesus would end. This does not mean that God will never again manifest Himself materially. God is sovereign in all that He choses to do; but in general, our experience of discipleship will be different from that of the eleven’s. We will follow Christ in a different mode.

Though this is made clear in John 17 and the rest of the New Testament, I think we need to settle this truth in our hearts because I do at times envy Jesus’ men.

When the going is tough, I wish I can lean into Jesus’ bosom as John did (John 13:23 NASB). When I am puzzled, I wish I can just query Him as the disciples did (Mat 13:10). When I slip, I wish that He would always be close by to pick me up (Mat 14:31). In other words, I sometimes feel that I lack something that the first disciples enjoyed.

We need to understand that God has ushered in a new era, in which the physical, immediate presence of Christ is no longer with us: Jesus is in heaven.

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11 (ESV)

I believe that my wistfulness is not unique. I have heard similar laments from good Christian brothers.

The danger of eying what the eleven had is that it will keep us from fully employing and rejoicing in what we do have! A vague sense of lack will nag at us. Do spend some time with these scriptures:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4 (ESV) . . . so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 1:7 (ESV) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 (ESV)

If we find ourselves not rejoicing in eternal life now, today . . . it is not due to a lack in God’s providence, but to our failure to properly understand and conform to discipleship in our time according to His terms. This is one core purpose of the John 17 Project: to study and understand and apply Christ’s own vision for His people.

The second point we need to settle is that the Cross is not a spanner that Satan managed to throw into God’s salvation work. Even a modicum of this notion will tempt us to add our own “wisdom” to God’s plans . . . especially during troubled times.

God’s schedule is always on the mark and every detail is working according to plan. This was so at the time of John 17 and it is so today. God has saved us. He is also saving us moment by moment: enabling us to begin eternal life now on earth. As the early Christians saw it, the Cross was a seamless part of God’s purposes:

. . . for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Acts 4:27-28 (ESV)

Christ was crucified by men, but men were simply fulfilling God’s intent. The above prayer was said just after Peter and John were arrested and threatened by authorities.

These two beliefs — that God’s providence is abundantly sufficient, and that He is bringing His sovereign plans to completion — must be foundational for our discipleship and disciple making. We must believe with all our hearts that the Father has answered the Son’s prayer, and we are in the care of the Almighty.

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In The Care of The Almighty #2
An impossible vision unfolds in an impossible prayer.


And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11 (ESV)

Read the above prayer again: Jesus was asking for the impossible! Keep the disciples loyal to the Father’s name? So that they might be united as one?

Why . . . just before their last supper, Jesus had warned that the weakness of their faith would be painfully exposed that very night:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. . . . “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Matthew 26:31-34

And not very long ago His disciples were quarrelling about greatness.

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Luke 22:24

Keep them in the Father’s name? Expect them to be one? Surely an impossible prayer looking to an impossible vision. This prayer was tantamount to asking the Father to raise the dead!

But giving new life to the dead was exactly God’s plan. That very night men would arrest the Son of God and crucify Him . . . this turned out to be the Father’s payment to redeem the world so that He might justly and freely offer life, abundant and everlasting life, to dead sinners:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. Romans 5:18

We are about midway in our study of our Lord’s prayer, John 17.

After praying about the calling of the His disciples (17:6-10), Jesus now talks to His Father about discipleship after the Cross. This prayer begins with a request: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me,”, and a consequential vision: “that they may be one, even as we are one.” Let’s begin with the request.

“Holy” means “separation, consecration . . . sharing in God's purity and abstaining from earth's defilement” .

No where else in the Bible is God called “Holy Father”. This uncommon address should flag us . . . signal us that Jesus’ prayer is leading us onto holy ground. Like Moses before the burning bush, we should take off our sandals as we eavesdrop on this prayer. A mighty work of deliverance was about to begin!

Since the Cross would allow sinners to return justly to God: the Cross would empower all believers for Kingdom living now — in this world, even before we go to heaven:

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14.

From the Cross onwards: everyone who believed would join God’s assembly of the elect: His very own chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, a people of his own possession. Jesus was asking God to realise this impossible vision.

We are on holy ground because only the Holy Father can offer this kind of discipleship: Deliverance from sin’s slavery and embarking on the life for which we were created, life as a citizen of God’s Kingdom.

Christianity is not a religion, a system of beliefs and practices through which followers find favour with their deity. Christianity is our Holy Father choosing, and literally re-birthing each believer, that we may truly know and forever live the life that sin robbed from us:

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10.

Kingdom life is not being busy in religious activities such as Bible study, or sharing the Gospel, or prayer, and so forth, although true disciples will do these things. Kingdom life is encapsulated in the prayer we are now studying:

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, . . .. John 17:11.

Kingdom life is being kept in the name of the Father and the Son. Redemption has been completed. Believers who repent under the Cross will have life. But they need to be kept in this life. What does this mean? The answer is in the next verse, John 17:12:

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. John 17:12.

Jesus told His Father that He had kept and guarded His disciples. What did He actually do? The four Gospels give us every detail we need to know. Simply put: He called them to follow Him, and kept them as His disciples.

Now Jesus prayed that God would do the same. The Father even now is fulfilling the Son’s prayer! Yes, God, our Holy Father, is keeping all believers in the same way that Jesus kept the disciples. Here is their plan — read carefully:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:15-18.

Our Holy Father is keeping all disciples just as Jesus kept the first eleven: through the knowledge of His Son . . . but we are more intimate with Jesus than the eleven. Jesus was with them physically, but now He lives in us in the Holy Spirit. It is a simple, miraculous, astonishing plan. We will follow this vision as it unfolds in this impossible prayer.

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In The Care of The Almighty #3
Into The Holy of Holies


And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. John 17:11-12 (ESV)

"Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one." ~ John Lennon

These words, full of longing, are from John Lenon’s 1971 hit song: “Imagine”. It quickly climbed the charts in multiple countries, and its popularity has yet to wane. Since 2005, the song has been used for New York City’s new year’s eve countdown. BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) named "Imagine" one of the 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century.

It’s easy to understand why: Our world yearns for peace, and this song artfully captures this yearning — “I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one.”.

We all ache for oneness, not only among nations, but in our communities, among our colleagues, friends, kinfolks, and, much more so, and often painfully so, among people we love most: our siblings, our children, our spouses.

Lennon’s song resonates widely because the world pines for oneness. The title “Imagine” is poignantly accurate: the closeness that we long for has been relentlessly and stubbornly elusive — “Imagine . . . dreamer . . . I hope someday . . . the world will be as one”.

Jesus prayed about oneness in John 17:11: “that they may be one, even as we are one”. Every follower of Jesus Christ knows full well that our Father has answered this prayer. They have discovered a oneness with other believers that they never knew before they met Christ. When faith came, a deep sense of oneness, followed. This reality appears in Paul’s letters time and again, here are three examples:

- For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, . . . Ephesians 1:15
- He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. Colossians 1:7-8
- . . . because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, Philemon 1:5

It is most important to understand the oneness Jesus prayed about as distinct from the worldly, human attempts at love and peace we do see in the world. We all know, for example, how quickly worldly peace can dissipate: an errant driver, a difficult child, a misunderstanding, . . . even just a crude remark between friends can almost instantly dispel our “love” for fellow human beings . . . even for our “loved ones”. It is a mistake to settle for worldly peace, even peace from superficial Christian piety.

This article begins our study of oneness as a theme in Jesus’ prayer. First, notice that oneness is not a prayer request per se, it is the consequence of the preceding request: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, . . ..” (John 17:11b).

Oneness is the result of being kept in the Father’s name. What does this mean? The answer comes in the next verse, Christ said: “While I was with them I kept them in your name.” Jesus was keeping the disciples, now He asked the Father to keep them.

In other words, Jesus asked the Father to keep them in the same way that He had kept them: if the Father preserved their relationship with Christ, oneness will ensue even after His ascension.

The key then is to truly understand what Christ had done with His men in their three years together. We have dealt with this in previous articles (John 17:6-11). In the most succinct terms: Christ personally discipled the men that the Father gave Him by sharing His life with them.

But how can they remain in this master-disciple, life-sharing relationship they had with Christ after Christ had returned to heaven? This is the miracle of the Church. This miracle was symbolically and dramatically announced when the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jerusalem temple split from top to bottom immediately after Christ suffered and died for our sin (Matthew 27:50-51). The price was paid. Peace between God and humankind was restored. God could now dwell in men and women!

Post resurrection discipleship is still following Christ in a master-disciple, life-sharing relationship, only now in a more intimate way through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This salvation plan was foretold by Christ:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:15-18

Jesus was confirming this plan with His (and ours) Holy Father, within earshot of His disciples, when He prayed John 17:11.

When we live by the Bible we are following Christ and being discipled by Him, because Christ is the Word (John 1:1), and because Scriptures is all about Him (John 5:39). This miracle is taking place today among all true followers of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit:

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. John 15:26

By the power of the Holy Spirit true disciples of Christ have together become the sanctuary in which God dwells, the Holy of Holies:

In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:22

Dear Readers, hold this thought in your mind. Allow it to capture your heart. Allow it to lead you to your knees. Allow it to arouse new tears of repentance and joy and hope. For this is the oneness that Jesus was praying about to our Father, not human attempts at love and peace as imagined and offered by the world.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3

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In The Care of The Almighty #4
Realising our wholeness and our joy.


And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:11-13 (ESV)

Every disciple of Christ is a constituent . . . a part of a wondrous, miraculous whole — like one piece of a jigsaw, each of us is incomplete until we return to God. Our wholeness is found only in being one with Him and His people.

We are about mid-way in Jesus’ prayer: He is talking to our Father about unity . . . looking first at His eleven men, and then to all future disciples (verses 20-21). We are certainly in this prayer!

It is useful to briefly revisit truths we studied previously : The oneness in Jesus’ prayer is not a request, but a result: unity with God and His people is a gift from God the Father and the work of God the Son. Oneness is what happens to sinners when they receive Jesus Christ and are given life in the Holy Spirit:

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV)

The Christian’s calling is to maintain the unity of the Spirit. We are not called to create or to formulate it:

I . . . urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, . . . eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (Emphasis mine.)

Thus we urged against a contrived oneness: fleshly attempts at peace and harmony (footnote 1), because human endeavours can be effectual and attractive, and may be mistaken for Jesus’ vision. Sadly, this is not uncommon among churches . . . but outside of God Himself calling us to Christ, and Christ working in us to effect this calling, oneness will always be an an elusive lack as portrayed in John Lenon's song “Imagine” (footnote 1).

The present article continues along the same vein: we will explore the oneness which Jesus bought for us on the cross, a birthright for every believer, a miracle we often neglect because we are busily fabricating our own unity.

Jesus’ vision of oneness is not of this world and cannot be achieved by worldly means; this is made clear in His prayer:“. . . that they may be one, even as we are one.” (above). The template for our unity is that enjoyed by the Trinity! As Milne comments: “This unity will be patterned after the unity of the Father and Son . . .. It is therefore a vastly richer reality than social camaraderie, . . ..”

Christian unity is a miracle, created and kept by our “Holy Father” through His Son Jesus Christ, and extended to us by the Holy Spirit. We must not settle for anything less . . . human-made substitutes that sometimes surface as herd exhilaration at mass meetings, or bubbly conviviality whenever Christians come together . . . not even for the generous empathy that we do see among believers. Such efforts are by and large well intended, even laudable, but Jesus’ prayer concerns not what we might do but what God has done and will preserve. Our efforts must therefore be focused on how to participate in His miracle and abide in His keeping, and not creating our own.

Here, I humbly submit that to realise what God has vested in us, we must look beyond the “richer reality” that Milne suggests (above) . . . and our honest but ultimately worldly efforts at Christian fraternity. We must understand that God is not out to bless or enrich what we can and might do, but He is doing something that we can never do. We must therefore not miss the latter (His miracle) as we mistakenly strive for the former (contrived unity).

How do we participate in this miracle of oneness? The answer is in the prayer (read John 17:11-13 again, above).

God himself will keep the oneness that is our birthright (verse 11) . . . but we must work to claim and realise it by trusting Jesus, following Him, learning from Him, walking by His Word, and growing to know the Father through Him, which is eternal life (verse 12). This was demonstrated by Jesus for three years, and crisply summarised earlier in the prayer:

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. John 17:6-8

God’s plan is for all disciples to continue the above after Jesus’ ascension: with the Bible as their Word from God, with Christ leading them through the Holy Spirit, and as per the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the consequence will be a miraculous, unearthly, heaven bound unity. In John 17:11, Jesus committed the keeping of this miracle to the Father, so “that they may be one, even as we are one” (17:11).

In short, we claim and realise our oneness with God and His people not by striving for oneness, but by being disciples who make disciples. Here’s how Peter describes this paradox (excerpted from 1Peter 1:3-11) :

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, . . . has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, . . .. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith . . .. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, . . .. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (emphases mine).

As disciples live and grow together as one in God (John 17:11-12), they will discover the truth of another consequence: Joy (17:13) . . .

But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.

Please ponder the following: Even as Jesus prays about joy (above), He knows full well that Judas, who is selling Him to His enemies, will soon return with armed guards. A sham trial will be forced upon Him, then mockery, abuse, and the agony of crucifixion. Our Lord has already predicted Peter’s miserable betrayal, and the terrified, wholesale fleeing of His beloved men. Under these circumstances: What joy is our Lord seeing in his prayer? What vision of joy was He hoping to offer His disciples?

Our answer is at the very beginning of this prayer:

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, . . .”. John 17:1 (Emphasis mine.)

Christ was praying about the joy of total consecration to the Father’s glory: the joy of completely giving ourselves to display our God and Maker . . . thus the joy of fulfilling our destiny . . . the pure joy that only wholeness can issue. This joy is unfettered by circumstances. This is a mystery that no one can understand until brought into the sanctum of the Trinity, the Holy of Holies (see footnote 1), where each person seeks only to love and glorify others. Jesus promised that true disciples will know this joy (excerpted from John 15:1-11):

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. . . . Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing . . . . 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (Emphases mine.)

Here is the possibility of heavenly joy on earth. We cannot manufacture it. We do not need to pursue it. We must follow Jesus into it. Such marvellous thoughts begs elaboration . . . which we will present here next month.

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In The Care of The Almighty #5
Walking in Eternal Joy


And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. John 17:11-13 (ESV)

Please reread the above passage, especially the last verse.

Joy? When our world is being upended by a raging pandemic, catastrophic weather, political chaos, moral collapse . . .? Can we draw comfort from John 17:13 for our fearful, turbulent times? It does appear so! Midway in our Lord’s prayer, He envisions transcendent joy for all disciples, through all time.

But we must apply the Bible with care; particularly so at present, when more than ever, we need reminders like 2Timothy 2:15:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

People are anxiously casting about for answers, directions, and reassurances, so we need to rightly handle the word of truth . . . being very careful not to read into scriptures according to our fears, our aches, our yearnings . . . but according to God’s mind.

What is this joy anticipated by Jesus as He prays to our Father for His disciples? Is it a concrete life experience or religious metaphor? Should we, as today’s disciples, expect it?

Let’s read John 17:13 one thought at a time.

- “But now I am coming to you . . . “: our Lord was referring to the post-ascension future — as already noted in verse 11 (see above): “. . . I am no longer in the world . . . “. This is the era of the Church: it started in Acts and will continue till Christ returns in glory.

We are in this era, and it is critical for us to believe that God does have a full-fledged plan in place for all disciples through all time. Christ’s departure will not leave His disciples in any lack.

As a younger believer I tended to think that the first disciples enjoyed an advantage over us: they had our Lord's immediate presence. Such thinking can cause a sense of lack, particularly during hard times. John 17:13 should dispel this error. It is astonishing but true: our Lord’s ascension to the Father, will mean a more powerful and intimate presence with His people because the Father will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus was with the disciples, but He is among and in each of us, through the Spirit.

John 17:13 records the intimate moment of prayer when the Son and the Father together envisioned disciples in the joy of the Son. What a concrete assurance of His love and care! Immanuel’s presence in His people is not a religious concept, we will know His joy . . . in all its fulness!

- “ . . . and these things I speak in the world, . . .”: This joy will not be the result of any form of retreat, or dissociation, or insulation from the hardships, struggles, and pain of living in a sinful, broken world. God desires us to be His witnesses in the world.

- “. . . that they may have my joy . . .”: This joy is exclusive. Only “they” — the chosen ones of the Father, given to the Son, God’s very own people — would know “my joy”. The eleven had been given eternal life through faith in Christ, they were growing in the knowledge of God by keeping Christ’s Word, and they were being kept in the Father’s name. In short, they were subjects — as is every true believer — of God’s work of salvation and sanctification as described in John 17:1-12. Such people will know this joy.

- “. . . that they may have my joy . . .”: The verb “they may have” is in the subjunctive mood. This means that although this joy is available to all believers, not every one may know it. Even true believers who fail to align their lives to the salvation plan laid out in this prayer will not fully know the blessings of their new lives.

- “. . . that they may have my joy . . .”: Note this well: Christ is not saying that our joy will be increased. He is saying that His joy will be in us. Many Christians are being led along a massive error which teaches that God will meet our earthly desires (basically encompassed by the universal hope for health and wealth) so that our joy may be complete.

John 17:13 tells the opposite: as believers grow spiritually, the things of Christ will supplant their earthly desires, they will more and more desire what He desires, and rejoice in what He rejoices in.

And what does Christ rejoice in? There is only one place in the Gospels that records Jesus rejoicing: Luke 10:21-24. Christ rejoiced when people were led to know Him and His Father. The word used for rejoice in Luke is akin to the word for “joy” in 17:13: it is the kind of elation that moves our very being. It is a word we use to describe people jumping with joy. Jesus’ vision of joy among disciples is certainly corporeal not a religious metaphor.

All believers working with Christ in building His Church, which is making disciples, will know this joy. This joy will not depend on the vagaries of our broken world, but on the ongoing work of Christ. This is a joy that the world cannot know and cannot disturb.

- “. . . fulfilled in themselves.”: This joy is not an empathetic feeling: that is, disciples are happy just because their master is happy. No! This joy will be the disciples’ very own: it will flow from within themselves. They exult in eternal, heavenly things because they are more and more like their Lord.

Finally, please refrain from picturing disciples living in perpetual elation. Even a cursory acquaintance with Christ’s earthly life as described in the Gospels will dispel this notion. Remember too that Christ was described as “a man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3).

But John 17:13 promotes an important truth: Christian discipleship must never be seen as a religious experience: it is rather God creating, raising, and nurturing a brand new life. Every follower of Christ is an ongoing work of God: created, and being kept and tended by the Father towards the likeness of His Son. Christian disciples are not ordinary people with stronger religious leanings, they are extraordinary new creatures being transformed at their very core so that they rejoice in eternal things even as they endure this present evil world.

Jesus, in the next part of His prayer, commits His people into the Father’s keeping. Coming studies will be about God’s preservation of His own peculiar, impossible people.

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In The Keeping of the Almighty #1
Mission accomplished — Mission begins
#19 in Project John 17: our series on the Lord’s prayer.


But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 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. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. John 17:13-15 (ESV)

“But now I am coming to you . . .” (17:13, above): Here is Jesus, the Servant of God , signing off on His earthly ministry.

For three years, He had poured His life into His men. Now, He sees decisive evidence that His followers have become disciples. They confess Him as the Christ from God (17:8). They share His joy (17:13). Though called out of the world, they have become like Him: not of the world. Indeed, they are so deeply transformed that the world will hate them (17:14). So as Jesus told His Father earlier:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4

Mission accomplished! He will soon return to His Father’s side (17:13a). But mark this well: our Lord is in no way relinquishing His involvement with His disciples. He had already told them that He, Himself, would build His Church (Matt 16:18).

His “signing off” demonstrates how ordinary men can be transformed into servants of God, thus providing a model for disciple making. But no, our Lord is not winding up His earthly ministry, but in effect consecrating Himself to the coming mission.

Mission accomplished . . . mission begins! Christ is with us today!

The Son only and always does what the Father does; similarly here, when He asked the Father to keep His disciples through the coming Church age, He was also consecrating Himself to serve them according to the Father’s will (John 5:19-20; 17:19). Christ fully intended to shepherd His Church. We can, today, be assured of His presence in the Holy Spirit (John 16:19-20)

As He prayed towards the inauguration of His Church, He made two requests: (1) that the Father would keep us from the evil one (verse 15); and (2) that the Father would sanctify us in truth (verses 16-18).

These two requests still reside at the very core of Church life, and our participation in His Church pivots on them. Unless we understand and live and serve accordingly, we may not be truly doing God’s work, God’s way — we may even be in danger of devising our own Christianity.

Let’s look at the first request:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. John 17:15

We must not read this prayer through the filter of our worldly pursuit of happiness and well-being — which is not an uncommon impulse behind religious piety — as though Christ is asking the Father to protect Christians from all that is bad in this world. Note that Christ asked the Father to keep us from the evil one, not from the hardships of living in an evil world.

The Discovery Bible defines “keep” as: “active and strenuous care to preserve, not merely watching over . . . which ensures the final state of safe-keeping.” This prayer emphasised not protection but preservation. The former is keeping an object from harm; the latter aims to keep its state or essence, ensuring that it remains pure or unchanged. In this prayer, the object of preservation were the disciples, or more essentially, the work that Jesus had accomplished among them . . . His prayer was for the Father to keep them true and faithful to this discipleship.

Every true disciple is a miracle: chosen by the Father from the world, and given to the Son (John 17:6-12). How does this even happens? How can people come to know God the Father through the Son whom they have not seen (17:3,6)? Or how can they come to know, not know about, the Son by receiving the teachings of an ancient book: the Bible (17:8)? Or how do they taste transcendent joy by staking on promises about their eternal future . . . things yet to come . . . things still unseen (17:13)?

Yet those of us who have turned from our old lives to follow Christ as personal Saviour and Lord know that these are not religious concepts but spiritual realities that have upended our lives. At our conversion, we may have thought that we were just turning over a new leaf, but Christ honoured our fledgling faith and gave us new lives.

We know what each other means when we talk about these things. We know what it is to be in the world and not of the world . . . because we are longing for a world yet to come. We have become new. This is the miracle that Christ asked our Father to preserve. This is the miracle that Satan seeks to disrupt, disable . . . destroy.

This battle between the Church and the evil one is amply documented in scriptures. The recurring scenario is that Satan will not obliterate churches, but he will strive to eviscerate them: leaving forms without substance, facades without foundations.

Humanity’s religious impulse is deep, pervasive, and strong; and Satan will not leave it unattended, otherwise it may well drive people to the one true God. To satiate our need for spirituality and transcendence, Satan allows human religion to remain, even to thrive, often even with sincere diligence and good intent, as long as religion, including Christianity, is being formulated and led by human wilfulness and wisdom.

The churches cited in Revelations 2 and 3 are apt examples. They were functioning churches. If we time-travelled to them we will likely find them bustling, active . . . even doing much earthly good. But more than half were gravely sick. The Ephesian church had left her first love. False teaching was assailing truth at Pergamum. Thyatira was tolerating immorality and idolatry. The Sardis church was practically dead.

Satan’s goal is for human souls to be occupied by religion, while he blinds them to the discipleship portrayed in John 17. Mark this well: Satan may hinder our participation, but never the Church’s mission. Christ had pronounced: “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” — His Church (Matt 16:18). Paul was chained in a dungeon awaiting execution when he wrote: “But the word of God is not bound!” (2Tim 2:9). Satan cannot thwart the onward march of the one true Church. But Satan can derail your participation.

John 17, our Lord’s prayer, shows us what to do. We do well to make Jesus’ humble dependence on the Father our constant posture, and His opening prayer our constant refrain :

. . . he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, . . .. (John 17:1)

When we pray thus: we make God’s glory our chief concern, and we offer ourselves to be servants for His glory: we are thus surrendering to the continuing work of God in us and through us. In Biblical terms we are giving ourselves to sanctification. Sanctification is the focus of Jesus’ second prayer for His Church . . . our study next month.

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In The Keeping of the Almighty #2
Sanctification: on the narrow road to eternity.
#20 in Project John 17: our series on the Lord’s prayer.


I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19 (ESV)

His disciples were “not of this world” . . . so Jesus prayed (above) that God would sanctify them.

Just as we need special equipment to explore the oceans because we don’t belong there; we need special equipment to live in the world because we don’t belong here. God equips us to live where we don’t belong — and the Bible calls this work sanctification. But this metaphor breaks down rather quickly: because while undersea gear enables us to survive in water, God does much more: we do not just survive, we grow, we bear fruit . . . we even prepare for eternity! Indeed, God promises life abundant in the here and now!

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

Here is another useful take of sanctification:

The generic meaning of sanctification is "the state of proper functioning." To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. A pen is "sanctified" when used to write. Eyeglasses are "sanctified" when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God's design and purpose.

Sanctification is not the making of new people. We became new when we received Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Sanctification is God empowering us, His new people, to live His will . . . to assume His image . . . to thus fulfil the purpose for which we were created!

Jesus made this clear early in His prayer: every disciple’s destiny is to belong to God and to glorify Him — which is, to know and walk with our Creator as our Lord.

All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. John 17:10

As a yong Christian, I struggled with the idea of Lordship. If my God is God of all, then I should follow Him as Lord of all . . . rightly so. But why does God insist on a heavenly standard when we are not yet in heaven? So scriptures such as the following used to make discipleship seemed all but impossible for me.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48

My understanding of Lordship matured gradually through the process of sanctification — a deeply personal work that God started when I repented to Him — whereby He led me graciously, patiently, and mercifully from milk to solid food.

Today, I embrace Lordship as a gift of grace. Is it not a gift of grace when the Lord covenants with sinners to be their God?

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people. Hebrews 8:10

Is it not a gift of grace when the Lord Almighty adopts sinners as His children?

Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17-18

Let’s read Jesus’ prayer again:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (Above.)

Jesus had called and given His disciples new beliefs! Now Jesus prayed that the Father would sanctify them: that is, to do the work that empowered them to live their new faith, to become new people, to fulfil their new calling. Lordship is a gift of grace!

Earlier we noted that “A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God's design and purpose.” This fits well with the dictionary meaning of “sanctify”, which “preeminently refers to the Lord transforming believers so they are unlike sin and like Himself.”

God does this transformation through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who guides us into His truth compiled for us in the Bible.

So from the moment of conversion, God begins to align our new selves with His truth, leading us on an entirely new journey — while previously we walked with the world, now we walk with Him. We struggle with sin because we have been separated from the world, we are knowing God more and more, and we seek His goodness and pleasure. We loath sin because we now see the Kingdom.

The call to perfection thus is not a call to instant flawlessness, but to live out the perfect gift of a new life — the Bible calls this eternal life. Here is an explanation of “perfect” as used in Matthew 5:48:

. . . ("mature, fully-developed, consummated") refers to coming of age, like believers transformed by God's grace throughout their various stages of sanctification. . . . only means "perfect" in the sense of "fully developed" – not necessarily "flawlessly perfect.”]

So sanctification makes discipleship possible. Sanctification also makes discipleship desirable.

More than 50 years after I met Jesus Christ, I earnestly continue to choose the way of the cross. I continue to pursue holiness because God’s truth by the work of the Holy Spirit has led me into the relationship promised by Jesus:

In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:20-21

Here is one of those passages that through familiarity has perhaps lost its wonder. Christ in the Father and we in Christ and He is us? Can this really happen? Yes . . . through sanctification which makes discipleship, the hard and narrow way, possible, desirable, and much more!

We will continue to mine Jesus’ prayer for our sanctification in the next issue in Project John 17.

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In The Keeping of the Almighty #3
Ambassadors of a miracle.
#21 in Project John 17: our series on the Lord’s prayer.


I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19 (ESV)

I took part in a miracle last Sunday: I discussed life issues with a small group in my church. Yes, that was the miracle. Let me explain.

First, the make-up of my small group is unlikely. Age-wise, the seven of us span three generations: the oldest: mid-70s, the youngest: barely 30, with the others falling in between. One couple has grandchildren, the youngest is single. As to professional backgrounds, we are a mixed bag: a company executive, a retired missionary, a couple of full-time homemakers, a medical doctor, and so on. We came through disparate faith journeys: there are those who received Christ as teenagers, others in middle age, some grew up in Christian homes, others did not . . . and so on.

More unlikely than our random demographic, indeed an impossibility, was that our discussion was guided by an ancient document, written upwards of 2,000 years ago in a dated Greek dialect, in Palestine. This document started life as an untitled personal letter, today it is called The Gospel According to Luke.

Thus our group probably violated more than one fundamental rule of effective group dynamics, yet we shared a happy, lively, and useful time talking about personal struggles, and this happens week after week.

On most Sundays, about 25 of us gather to study the Bible, then we break into four small cells to discuss the week’s passage. For me, both the study and the discussion are not only interesting, but often touch core issues in my life. By all appearances it is the same for all the others. We have done this for years, and intend to do so for many more Sundays to come. After we complete Luke’s Gospel we will likely choose a book from the Old Testament; these documents are even more ancient, some from thousands of years before Luke’s time.

So Sunday after Sunday, folks from a hotchpotch of backgrounds, gather around an ancient book, and words written eons ago, stories from bygone eras and cultures, somehow stir their souls . . . inspiring them to look truthfully at themselves . . . urging them to question core values. . . to love and to give of themselves . . . to reach beyond themselves . . . in ways that they had always wanted to but never found enough strength to do so. Eventually they understand that they are being transformed little by little into the likeness of their Saviour, Jesus Christ, the central figure of the ancient book who lives in them in the Holy Spirit. In time, they realise also that in knowing Christ, through imitating Him, they have come to know their Heavenly Father . . . because Christ always works according to the pleasure of His Father who has also become their Father.

I was a part of this miracle last Sunday. It is our Father’s answer, to Jesus’ prayer:

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. John 17:15-17

In our previous article we started to explain sanctification . The preceding paragraphs describe this work of God in just one of its manifold ways, in one instance, in one tiny corner of His Kingdom. This work is going on massively, continually, lovingly in and among all disciples of Jesus Christ . . . in every heart that trusts, honours, and obeys the Bible as God’s Word, both individually and in communities.

Now we come to the next portion of this prayer:

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:18-19

Though “sanctify” does carry the idea of separation, the purpose of sanctification is never to separate disciples from the world (and so to preserve us while we wait for heaven) but to send us into the world. Christ will return and bring us to glory, but in the meantime God wants us to remain as agents in a magnificent rescue plan!

We often forget that our Gospel offers infinitely more than forgiveness and evading hell. The Gospel offers eternal life: LIFE that fulfils our personhood as our Creator intended, as we live in and with Him. We are sent into the world to be witnesses of this LIFE in the world. Many Bible passages explain this grand plan, each passage offering differing rich insights. Let’s look at one of such passages:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14

At this very moment in time, God is purifying for himself a people of His own possession. Consider Wuest’s explanation of “own possession”:

“This Greek term is made up of two words, one which means 'around,' as a circle, and the other which means 'to be.' It can be charted by a dot within a circle. This will help us to understand the meaning of the combined word. As the circle is around the dot, so God is around each one of His saints. The circle monopolizes the dot (has the dot all to itself). So God has His own all to Himself.

We, as disciples of Christ, are not left in the world but are sent into the world as God's own possession. The word “sent” used by Christ (John 17:18) is “apostéllō” (from which we get “apostle”). “Apostéllō” enriches the meaning of “sent”:

. . . (apostéllō) focuses back on the source (the one sending) to strongly connect the sender to the one sent (His mission). This verb accordingly is used for the close connection of the Lord (as the sender) to believers He commissions – as with John the Baptist (Mk 11:2) and the twelve apostles (Mt 10:5; cf. also with His holy angels, Mk 13:27). (Emphases mine.)

The wonder of “apostéllō” is that we have not been sent away from Christ but just as the Father who sent Him was with Him, Christ is with us (John 17:18). This is assuredly promised in His prayer and repeated in His commission to the disciples:

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:18-19

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b

The miracle described at the onset of this article shows one tiny clip of God’s working in and with His people in the world today. The Kingdom of God is embedded in the world, and God’s work goes on unceasingly and massively in and among every true disciple of Christ in countless, unimaginable ways. We are the ambassadors of this Kingdom.

The wonder of all these is ultimately beyond our comprehension. But in the next article we will review some crucial fundamentals, because God desires the full participation of every one of His children, and we need knowledge and understanding to do so.

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In The Keeping of the Almighty #4
Sanctification: our work or God’s work.
#22 in Project John 17: our series on the Lord’s prayer.


I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19 (ESV)

Good parenting begins before a child is born. Indeed, by the time the baby arrives much planing and preparation have been invested . . . all lovingly focused towards the richest possible fulfilment of the child’s potential.

God declared that He would be a Father to us:

and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18

We see God’s parenting heart in Jesus’ prayer (above) as God the Son talks to God the Father about the birth of the Church. After telling His Father that His men had received and believed His Word (17:6-14) — thus anticipating their “spiritual birth” — Jesus asks the Father to protect and sanctify them (above). Sanctification, as previously explained , can be understood as helping believers fulfil or realise their newly bestowed eternal lives:

In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A human being is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God's design and purpose.

So, like a parent, our Lord was praying about life ahead for His disciples after the cross, when they would be “born again”. Basically, Christ prayed for protection and sanctification (17:15-19, above) — these concepts were also explained in previous articles . This is how Jesus closed His prayer for His beloved ones:

And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:19 (ESV)

This closure begs two questions: (1) Christ has just asked the Father to protect and sanctify His men, why does He still consecrate Himself to this work? (2) If God is undertaking our sanctification, what part do we play?

The first question has been answered previously. When our Lord entrusted His disciples to the Father’s protection and sanctification, He was in no way “signing off” on His earthly ministry. Rather, as always, He was faithfully and lovingly committing to serve under the sovereign authority of the Father. We can be fully assured of His presence among us today in the person of the Holy Spirit, and always according to the Father’s will.

As to the second question — our part or role in sanctification — the Bible teaches that sanctification is both God’s work and our work. John Murray’s explanation is useful:

God’s working in us [in sanctification] is not suspended because we work, nor our working suspended because God works. Neither is the relationship strictly one of co-operation as if God did His part and we did ours so that the conjunction or coordination of both produced the required result. God works in us and we also work. But the relationship is that because God works we work. (Emphasis mine.)

This astonishing, mysterious spiritual reality — human effort infused by God’s work — described by Murray is a major biblical theme. Here is one passage where the dynamic is laid out:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 — emphases mine.

So while we work out our own salvation, it is God who works in us. This theme clearly undergirds John 17: Jesus prayed about what He had accomplished among the disciples, and consecrated Himself to the work of their sanctification, yet the disciples were to be sent into the world and it was through their word — neither the Father’s, nor the Son’s — that the world would believe; and it was through their perfect unity that the world might know God.

Our role in sanctification is specifically explained in the following much loved passage:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Galatians 2:19-21

Here is how we enter into the transformative power of the Gospel: We consider ourselves dead with Christ and “live to God” by “faith in the Son of God”. I am empowered to stop living for self because “I have been crucified with Christ”; and my death in Him has released me from the power of sin. I can start living for God because “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” as He indwells me in His Spirit. So, as we have seen . . . “because God works we work” (Murray) . . . and “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Paul).

Note well that this is a condition of grace. We do not work to gain righteousness because Christ has already secured it for us on the cross (Gal 2:21, above). Our performance does not affect our justification. We work because we have been delivered into this miraculous relationship whereby our Creator Himself is creating us anew. We work because we desire to be like Christ, and so to know the Father, and thus to fulfil His plans and purposes for us.

Our role, our participation in sanctification, requires real-life effort. In actual experience, it is hard work. Often it will feel as though we are going at it all alone. This is why words like “toil, strive, zeal, endure” appear regularly (and rather jarringly) in the New Testament. If almighty God is at work in us, why is sanctification such an arduous journey? How can we know that we are participating correctly? Why do we often feel powerless? Why does our performance often fall below even our own expectations? If our lives do not appear to match the promised glory of sanctification, how can we know that we can fully trust the Bible?

These and other questions will be explored as we continue to listen to our Lord’s prayer.

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