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Set apart by God


John 17:9-23
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, August 6


Years ago, a young lady in my church wanted to begin a new puppet ministry for our youth. She did her research. She started recruiting. She began her promotion. On the day the promotion began she put a big sign in the church foyer. At the bottom of the sign, in big letters, was the tag: Come and be apart!

While her grammar was off, her theology was right on target. The call to be “a part” of the believing community is a call to be “apart” from the unbelieving community. So, if you truly want to be a part, you have to be apart. Get it?

I understand. Easier said than done. The fact is, this is something with which the church has always struggled. We know the standard well: Be in the world, but not of the world. We just have a difficult time living up to the standard.

Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17 provides insight into God’s purpose for believers as they live in the world. God doesn’t intend that we be dead receptacles of his grace, but that we would be channels of His blessing to the world. To that end, he sets us apart.

How does God set us apart? Jesus said, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17, NIV). The NIV and the AV say, “sanctify.” The NLT says, “Make them pure and holy.” What the NIV translates as “sanctify” is a Greek word that means, “to set apart for sacred use.”

The word has an explicit message and an implicit message. The explicit message is that when a person (or vessel) is set apart, he or she is set apart for a purpose, for a task (sacred use). The implicit message is that when a person is set apart for a purpose or task, he or she will be adequate. God has seen to it! This is not a time for false humility. If God has set you apart, it is for a purpose and you are adequate. So stop whining and get to it!

The vehicle for God’s setting us apart is “the truth.” I enjoy woodworking. Many projects call for repetitive cuts. For example, I may need fourteen pieces of 1x2s, 12 3/8 inches long. What I use to do is, measure the first piece, cut it. Use the second piece to measure the third piece, cut it, and so on.

What I discovered is that the fourteenth piece is NOT going to be 12 3/8 inches long, because each time the measuring stick changes a little. So in our culture today, we end up with what Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness.” “Truthiness” is believing what one wishes to be true, rather than what is true. The only safeguard against that happening is an unchanging measuring stick. That is the unchanging word of God.

How can you get in on this setting apart?

1. Respond to divine initiative. (See v.6) His disciples obeyed the word of truth they received; they accepted the word of truth (v.8). God always takes the first step. He calls those willing to say, “Yes” to him. Saying “yes” to His initiative, obeying, accepting His word of truth, gets the process started.

2. Dedicate yourself to reflecting well on the Savior. Jesus said, “And glory has come to me through them” (v.10). When the patient, the student or the athlete excel, it should reflect well on those who have intervened in their lives (the doctor, teacher, coach). Do you remember the movie, The Karate Kid? Mr. Miyagi was supposed to be training Daniel in marshal arts. But instead, he had him waxing his collection of old cars. Not only that, but he had a certain way Daniel was required to do it: “Wax on, wax off.”

Daniel did it, hour after hour, day after day. But he soon came to resent it. He felt he was being treated like a slave. Finally, after a confrontation and a challenge, student and teacher spar. The student excels and quickly realizes he has been preparing and growing all along. The exercises that seemed pointless had actually made him adequate. When you don’t get the big picture, trust the one who does, and determine to reflect well on Him, in all things.

3. Go into the world. (See vv. 15, 18). God does not set us apart so that we will withdraw into an all-Christian parallel universe. Remember, this is the world “God so loved.” He sets us apart for service within it.

4. Prepare to be blessed. When we allow God to set us apart, he has great blessings in store. He promises unity (v.11). When there is continual disunity in the church, it’s a good indicator that there are too many believers who are not allowing God to set them apart. He promises protection (vs., 15). It’s not just, “Good night and good luck,” and we’re on our own. Jesus literally advocates on our behalf, calling down the power of the Father for our benefit.

He promises judgment (v.14). “The world” is John’s way of describing “society organizing itself without God.” If we are doing the other things we should be, then this “hating,” this rejection, judging, is simply validation for us. It is simply an extension of God’s blessing. He promises joy (v.13). Of course, this is the real payoff for allowing ourselves to be set apart: the joy of the master. This immediate benefit and pleasure is a foretaste of the final “well done” we all covet on that final day.