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In the World But Not of the World

October 18, 2020

Teacher: Daniel Baker
Series: The Big Picture
Scripture: John 17


2020 is a year we won’t soon forget. Just since January 1st we’ve had a president impeached, a global epidemic, social justice demonstrations, race riots, and we’re just a few weeks away from an election. And of course, this year’s elections are what they say every four years: “The most important ever.” They always feel that way.

National unrest isn’t a new thing. What feels new is how much these national issues have impacted us as a church. The issues aren’t just “out there.” In various ways, they’re “right here.”

Over the next several weeks we’re going to hit a few topics relevant to this season of the church:

  • What it means to be “in the world” but not “of the world” (John 17; Oct 18)
  • Ian McConnell from Eph 1:3–14 next week (Oct 25)
  • How “love your neighbor” gives us a framework for how we relate to our communities and civic engagement in general. Our politics (Nov 1)
  • The reality of the spiritual real from the book of Ephesians (Nov 8)
  • A powerful picture of the Christian life in this age from 1 Peter 2:11–17. We’re “sojourner citizens.” We are fully engaged in the world around us, but we’re also aware that we’re “sojourners.” This isn’t our real home (Nov 15).

Topics like race and politics and COVID we’ll hit in the context of these sermons.

The point of these sermons is to get a better sense of “The Big Picture”— principles and ideas that help us find our bearings. That help us make decisions about the specifics of our lives.

We start with John 17 on being “in the world” but not “of the world.”  

These are some of Jesus’ last words in the gospel of John. They give us the words of Jesus he spoke to his disciples just hours before his crucifixion. By the time of this prayer Jesus has washed the feet of the disciples, he’s shared the Last Supper with them, Judas has left them to bring the soldiers to arrest Jesus, and he’s given several chapters of teaching in what’s called the Upper Room Discourse in John (14–16).

Now he prays. He’ll pray again his prayer at Gethsemane. John 17 is a different kind of prayer, as much a teaching as a prayer.

Think about the scene. These very disciples will be the ones to carry the most important message ever to people who will hate the message enough to kill them. These very disciples will lead the first generation of the church, where it will spread from dozens in Jerusalem to thousands spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

As we read, we’ll see Jesus is speaking to a people who will experience the same challenges you and I face.

They are given with the big picture in mind. What do disciples of Jesus need to know about themselves as they enter into a life without the person of Jesus there beside them?

Sermon and Prayer:

  • Us and God (17:1–5)
  • Us and the World (17:6–19)
  • Us and Each Other (17:20–26)

I. Us and God (17:1–5)

Jesus prays to “Father” (vv. 1, 5, 24), “the only true God” (v. 3), “Holy Father” (v. 11), “O righteous Father” (v. 25). But most of the time it’s simply, “you” and “I.”

His appeal in this opening of the prayer, which is then repeated:

  • “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (v. 1);
  • “Glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”

How will he be glorified now? By his death, burial, and resurrection. But even more. Also his ascension and exaltation in heaven.

The glory he is to receive is a special kind of glory. Not just the praise of all God’s people. He is to receive “the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (v. 5).

The Son of God is the eternal Son of God. In contrast to so many heresies and wrong views of Jesus there was no moment when he began to exist. He has always existed.

And in that eternal existence “before the world existed” he was clothed in divine glory. The same eternal and infinite glory that the Father himself has. The same as the Holy Spirit has.

In other words, this is no Mormon Jesus. Joseph Smith: “It is very plain if men will comprehend, firstly, the fact, that God is the Father of man, spiritually, and that God is the Father of Jesus Christ, both temporally and spiritually, and that Jesus Christ is nothing more nor less than the Son of God, begotten of His Father, as absolutely, and as truly as any child was begotten of his earthly father. You don't need to mince the matter.”[1]

This week for a class I was reading the Athanasian Creed (ca. 5th century AD), where the church definitively stated

The deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,

equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

What the Father is, the Son is, and so is the Holy Spirit.

Uncreated is the Father; uncreated is the Son; uncreated is the Spirit.

The Father is infinite; the Son is infinite; the Holy Spirit is infinite.

Eternal is the Father; eternal is the Son; eternal is the Spirit.

The Athanasian Creed (ca. 5th century AD)

Jesus in John 17 is saying this “equal glory” he had before the world was will once again be his—after his resurrection and ascension to God’s right hand.

But as is always true of the persons of the Godhead, just as soon as the Father glorifies the Son (v. 1), the Son will turnaround and glorify the Father—“glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (v. 1). Each of the three seek to glorify the others.

How will Jesus glorify the Father? By completing the covenant of redemption. The plan of the triune God where Jesus is “given…authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him” (v. 2).

This is another glance into history past, that agreement or covenant made between the Father, Son, and Spirit where the Father designates some to be saved, the Son redeems them, and the Spirit applies this redemption on them.

Then he says something surprising. He defines what “eternal life” is. Looking at the phrase, “eternal life,” you’d expect that it means you live forever. You never die. And that’s true. “Eternal life” does mean that.

But “eternal life” is not just a statement about HOW LONG your life will be—it’ll be “eternal” and not “short.”

“Eternal life” is really a statement about WHAT KIND of life you will live. It’ll be an “eternal” KIND of “life.” Not the kind of life that’s part of this fallen world. But a different kind of life altogether. The kind of life that God alone can give.

You can see this in how Jesus defines eternal life: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3).

This is a powerful statement. Our world is filled with gods. Some of these people call gods and worship them in a religious way. The Muslim god of Allah. Or the thousands of Hindu gods. Then is the world of tribal deities with names and images we’ve never heard of. Those are the religious gods.

And then is the whole array of things we don’t label “gods” but we treat them like “gods.” We bow down and give our lives to…money or promotions or an idea of “excellence” we’ve come up with or a political hero or a sport or good grades in school.

We don’t call these things gods but give ourselves ot them as if they were gods. We give our time and money and energy and thoughts all in pursuit of something.

Jesus lines up all these millions of possibilities and says, “Nope. The Father is “the only true God.”

Eternal life is knowing this “only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The Father glorifies the Son by giving him the eternal glory he had in eternity past.

The Son glorifies the Father by giving the gift of eternal life—knowing God—to those the Father has chosen.

Application: What does this have to do with being “in the world but not of it”? Everything starts with knowing God.

Being in the world but not of it starts with receiving “eternal life” from Jesus.  

  • Starts with knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
  • Jesus as he’s presented to us in God’s Word.
  • All-glorious. Co-equal with the Father.
  • But it’s not just knowing ABOUT him. It’s knowing HIM.
  • What makes us distinct as Christians is first and foremost a relationship with the “only true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.”

II. Us and the World (17:6–19)

This section spells out several things true of the Christian and “the world.”

But we need to define what we mean by “world” first. D.A. Carson:

The ‘world,’ or frequently ‘this world’, is not the universe, but the created order (especially of human beings and human affairs) in rebellion against its Maker (e.g., 17:6, 9, 14).
D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John[2]

Our relationship with the world is a complicated one. Our calling is to walk a narrow ledge. Not fall off either side of the cliff.

  • One side = Run into the world and cut off anything that makes us different.
  • Other = Cut ourselves off from the world and focus only on what makes us different.

Church like ours that takes strict obedience to the Bible seriously, we’ll typically lean toward cutting ourselves off from the world. We keep our distinctiveness but we lose our impact.

Six things true of the Christian and the World:

Six Things True of a Christian’s Relationship with the World:

  1. Jesus took us “out of the world” (17:6).
  2. We came “out of the world” because we believed his word (17:8–9).
  3. We are still “in the world” (17:11).
  4. The world hates us because it hates our message (17:14).
  5. We are not “of the world” (17:16).
  6. We are sent “into the world” (17:18).


3 Petitions:

  • Keep them in your name (17:11) – “Holy Father…”
  • Keep them from the evil one (17:15) – Amidst animosity (v. 14), stand strong against “the evil one” (v. 15).
  • Santify them in the truth (17:17) – “Your word is truth” (v. 18). Sanctify = set apart for God’s purpose. Just like Jesus (v. 19). Has to do with holiness. Has to do with mission.


The Christian’s task, then, is not to be withdrawn from the world, nor to be confused with the world, but to remain in the world, maintaining witness to the truth by the help of the Paraclete, and absorbing all the malice that the world can muster, finally protected by the Father himself, in response to the prayer of Jesus. D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John[3]

Application: What does it mean to be “SENT” in a time of COVID? IDENTITY comes before MISSION. This passage redefines “us” and “them.”

III. Us and Each Other (17:20–26)

Opening petition in this third part of the prayer in vv. 20–21:

  • WHO: Prayer is “for those who will believe in me through their word” (v. 20)
  • WHAT: “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us” (v. 21)
  • WHY: “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (v. 21).

Then he’ll say almost the exact same thing again in vv. 22–23, this not as a prayer:

  • WHAT: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them” (v. 22)
  • WHY: “that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (vv. 22-23)
  • WHY: “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”


  • A unity like the Father and Jesus (v. 21).
  • A unity possible because we’ve received glory (v. 22).
  • A unity that results in gospel impact—people will BELIEVE (v. 21, 23).
  • A unity with Christians that leads to more unity with God (v. 21).

Application: The basis of our unity is far deeper than race or interests or our politics. Far deeper than our individual decision about masks.


Application #1: What does this have to do with being “in the world but not of it”? Everything starts with knowing God.

Application #2: What does it mean to be “SENT” in a time of COVID? IDENTITY comes before MISSION. This passage redefines “us” and “them.”

Application #3: The basis of our unity is far deeper than race or interests or our politics. Far deeper than our individual decision about masks.




[1] Joseph F. Smith, Latter-Day Saints Follow Teachings of the Savior, Scrapbook of Mormon Literature, [1838-1918], Vol. 2, p. 557.

[2] PNTC, 122–123.

[3] PNTC, 565.

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