John 17 records Jesus’ beautiful prayer to His father shortly before His crucifixion. In this prayer Christ prayed for all His disciples and set forth at least four principles to be used as a guide for us concerning our relationship to the world.
1. Christians are in the world (Jn. 17:11,12). Jesus prayed, “Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world… Keep them through Your name.” Since the kingdom has not yet been delivered to the father (1 Cor.15:24), and entered into its eternal, glorified state (2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 21:9-11), God’s people have work to do while here in the world. While we are in the world, we will be surrounded by temptations and distractions that tend to pull us down. The apostle Paul stated the only way to truly escape the sinful nature of the world is to leave this world (1 Cor: 5:10). So as long as we are living in this world, we will be faced with these sinful temptations.
2. Christians are not of the world (Jn. 17:14, 16). There is certainly a difference between being “in the world” and being “of the world.” God’s people are “in the world” in that they physically inhabit it, but we are not “of the world” sharing its same desires and goals. John told Christians “not to love the world, or the things in the world… The world is passing away in the lusts of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:15,17).
3. Christians are to remain in the world (Jn. 17:15). Jesus prayed to the Father, “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one.” While we are sojourners and pilgrims in this world (1 Pet. 2:11), and our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) we have work to do while here on this earth (Mk. 16:15,16). Christians must constantly guard their hearts from the evils of this world while they do the work of the Lord (Tim. 1:19; 2 Tim. 4:10).
4. Christians are to be sanctified from the world (Jn. 17:17). Jesus prayed that His followers would be sanctified through the truth, namely, the truth as revealed by God. While we face the trials that come to those who desire to live godly (2 Tim. 3:12), we can rest assured that our efforts in the kingdom will work to our sanctification.
If we keep the principles of our Lord’s prayer in mind, we will be equipped to fight the growing tendency in the Lord’s Church to conform to the temporal image of this world, we will instead be transformed to His image, from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). As long as the world stands, it will not give up in its effort to convert God’s people to its losing cause, but Christians are to equip themselves with their infallible weapon, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). We are assured the victory if we live in the world but not of the world.