Monday, July 13, 2015

Keep Them (John 17:9-12)

The great 20th Century preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse once told the story of a woman named Elizabeth who was a servant in the home of Martin Luther. One day, she had decided she had had all that she could endure of her role in Luther’s home, and left without any notice. Some time later, when she became terribly ill, she did not know who to turn to, so she called upon Luther to come visit her. Coming in to her side, Luther asked, “Well, Elizabeth, what is the matter?” Elizabeth replied, “I have given away my soul to Satan.” Luther responded compassionately, “Elizabeth, listen to me. Suppose, while you lived in my house, you had sold and transferred all my children to a stranger. Would the sale and transfer have been lawful and binding?” Elizabeth answered quickly, “Oh no, for I had no right to do that.” Luther said, “Very well, you had still less right to give your soul to the archenemy; it no more belongs to you than my children do. It is the exclusive property of the Lord Jesus Christ; He made it, and when lost, He redeemed it; it is His.”[1]

Like Elizabeth, I suppose every Christian has wondered at times if we have done something which severed us from our relationship with Christ. And like Elizabeth, we need to be reminded at such times that it is impossible for one who has been redeemed by Jesus Christ to ever be separated from Him. For that assurance, we must turn to the Word of God, which reminds us often that it is impossible for a genuinely born-again believer in Christ to ever return to a state of spiritual lostness. As Barnhouse says, “Anyone who believes that one who has truly been born of God can get out of relationship with God and be finally lost is blind to great sections of truth in the Word of God. They look at some experiences in life instead of at the Word of God; they judge the Word by what they see in life, rather than judging life by what they see in the Word.”[2]

Christians have used various expressions for what we believe about the security and assurance we have in our relationship with Christ. It has been called “eternal security,” “the perseverance of the saints,” or “the preservation of the saints.” Baptists have often used the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” Our confession of faith, The Baptist Faith and Message (2000), expresses the truth more fully:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.[3]

As we turn to the Word of God to find the assurance of these promises, one of the clearest passages we can find is the one we have just read. John 17, often called the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, contains the longest recorded prayer of Jesus in the Bible. Several weeks ago, we looked at the first five verses and saw how Jesus prayed for Himself to be glorified. Last Sunday, we looked at verses 6-9 and saw that Jesus prays this prayer for His disciples and not for the world. And here in these verses, we see that, among the thing He prays for His disciples, He prays for those who belong to God through Him will be kept by God.

Jesus is praying this prayer on the eve of His crucifixion. Knowing that His departure is imminent, He says in verse 11, “I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You.” The fulfillment of His purposes and the advancement of His kingdom in the world has been transferred over into the hands of His disciples and those, like ourselves, who would come to faith in Him through their message. Throughout the Gospels, we have seen how feeble, how fickle, and how frail these men were, and as we examine our own lives, we find that we are very much like them. Jesus knew that, left to themselves, His disciples would only make a mess of the mission with which He had entrusted them. And so He did not leave them to themselves, but prayed that they may be kept by the God to whom they belonged by their faith in Him.

Marcus Rainsford writes,

They had need of being kept. … [A]ll their own wisdom collectively and individually could not keep them for one moment; all their own watchfulness, all their gathered experience during the many months and years of their fellowship with Christ, could not keep them in one single difficulty; all their resolutions could not keep them for one hour; all their gifts—and many of them had great gifts—could not keep them in one solitary temptation; all their privileges, all their zeal, all their love, and the frequent warnings with which they had been warned, and the example daily before them utterly failed, and must fail, to keep them in one single difficulty or for one single moment.[4]

They had to be kept. And we have to be kept. And we are kept by Him to whom we ultimately and eternally belong. It is what Jesus prayed for us, and it is what the Father is glad to do in response to the prayer of His Son. I want to draw attention here to three elements of this portion of Jesus’ prayer, that we might draw encouragement and assurance from these words.

I. We belong to God for the glory of Christ (vv9-10)

In verse 6, which we looked at last week, Jesus says of His followers that they were the Father’s, and the Father gave them to the Son. Here in verse 9, Jesus says that His disciples were given to Him by the Father, and they still belong to the Father. By giving to the Son those whom He had sovereignly chosen out of the world as His own, the Father secured them for Himself in an eternal covenant bond. We belonged to Him in eternity past, He gave us to Christ, and we belong to Him for eternity future. Jesus said, “All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” This is one of the clearest claims of deity that Christ ever made. All of us could, and should, say that all we have belongs to God. That is a proper declaration of Christian stewardship. But no sane man, who is merely a man, can say, “All that belongs to God the Father rightly belongs to Me.” For Jesus to say this, He must be more than a man, or else a complete madman. As C. S. Lewis rightly said, if Jesus’ claims are not true, they are the claims “of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men.”[5] In saying that we belong to the Father, and to Himself, Jesus was ultimately saying that we who believe in Him belong forever to God.

If that were not enough, He says, “and I have been glorified in them.” We belong to God for the glory of Christ. It is nearly unfathomable to consider that Jesus, who is infinitely glorious in Himself, actually uses the likes of us to bring glory to Himself in the world. These original disciples were not extraordinary men, nor are any of us. Like them, our faith is often weak, our obedience is often imperfect, and our failures are known all to well to ourselves and those around us. But, Jesus is not ashamed to call us His own and, moreover, is actually able to bring glory to Himself through us. Our lives are on display for the world to see as trophies of His grace and glory.

Notice that He does not say He is glorified by us. Rather, He is glorified in us. It is not what we do for Him that brings Him that brings Him glory, but rather what He has done in us. It is not what we display of our own nature that glorifies Him, but what He displays of Himself in us. In our weakness, Christ is glorified for His matchless power. In our faithlessness, Christ is glorified for His infinite faithfulness. In our failures, He is glorified for His gracious mercy. As He bears with us in longsuffering patience, He is glorified by His enduring goodness. As Rainsford so wondrously stated,

Angelic might cannot display Christ's strength so much as our weakness does; the riches of heaven cannot display Christ's fullness so much as our poverty does; the holiness of archangels cannot speak His praise so much as the covering of our unrighteousness does; the anthems of the seraphim cannot utter His glory as shall the praises of His redeemed; and not all the worship of heaven's hosts can render to Him so grateful an offering, or crown Him with so rich a crown, as the love of His pardoned people.[6]

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” Having been bought with the price of Christ’s blood, you belong to Him, and belong to God forever through Him, and He can and will bring glory to the name of Jesus through you – through your successes and failures, your strengths and weaknesses, your victories and defeats. You are His for His glory. This should be of great encouragement to us, especially in those frequent moments of failure. Failure does not mean that we have been severed from Christ. It means that we have the opportunity to come to Him and repentance and ask Him to redeem the failure and turn it into something glorious for Himself. Would that we would all give Him our success and failures alike to bring glory to Himself, because we belong to Him for this purpose. He is committed to us, to ever be glorified in us. We ought to be encouraged by that, and commit ourselves therefore to bring glory to Him through every experience, good or bad, that we endure in life.

II. We are kept by God for the purpose of unity (v11)

Have you ever had a hard time getting along with someone? I’m sure we all have. It is part of life. Because we are all corrupted by sin, our thoughts, words, and actions are often at odds with each other. I have often said that people are like porcupines. If you get close enough to them, you are going to get pricked. We see it in our dysfunctional families, in our politically divided nation, and, sadly, even in churches. It is impossible to gather a group of people together and have identical opinions and preferences on everything, but hard enough to find agreement on even a few important things. And yet, Christ’s burning desire for His church is that it be united. Later in this prayer, He will pray that the church united would prove to the world His power to save. So a divided church is counterproductive to the spread of the Gospel in the world. And yet it happens so often, does it not?

Now, in His omnipotent power, Jesus could speak a word and obliterate all differences in His church immediately. He could eliminate our unique personalities, opinions and preferences, and program us like robotic machinery to conduct ourselves in a state of uniformity. But Jesus does not seek uniformity in His church; He seeks unity. He desires for His church to be filled with a diversity of people who are unified under the banner of His Gospel. We need differences among us: different gifts, different strengths, different abilities, different styles, different methods, and so on. But we need those differences to complement one another, not compete with one another, that where one is weak, another is strong; where one is poor, another is rich; where one lacks ability, another has it. And thus, we would have unity in the church that conveys to the world the greatness and glory of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.

Left to ourselves, however, we would never be able to manufacture this kind of unity. In verse 11, Jesus says, “I am no longer in the world, and yet they themselves are in the world.” And this world is no place for the unity He desires and prays for to arise organically. Because we are in the world, we are still subject to that inherent sinfulness in each of us that strives to be right, that seeks the first place, that craves power. Our opinions, preferences, and tastes are corrupted by our inherent sinfulness so that we bicker and grumble with each other over our differences. Also, in the world, we are subject to all the attacks and temptations of the devil and his forces, and the world’s ways which are always at odds with God’s. Thus, for the kind of unity that Jesus desires and deserves to arise within the church, He prays for His people to be kept by the Father. “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.” The unity is a result of being kept in the Father’s name.

As we examined before, the name of which Jesus speaks, the name which He said in verse 6 that He had come to manifest to us, represents God’s nature and character in its fullness. We can only be united with one another as we are transformed by God’s grace to reflect His own nature. This is something that only God can do by His power. Left to ourselves, we would not manifest any of God’s nature within ourselves, we would not remain faithful to Him, and we would not be united with one another. But Jesus has not left us to ourselves. He has left us to the power and grace of His Father by praying that we would be kept in His name. As each of us undergoes this gracious transformation, the nature of God comes to bear within and through us. We begin to love each other with His love, we begin to show one another the grace and forgiveness that He has shown us, and treat one another with the patience He has lavished upon us. Our priorities are shaped by His priorities, and we are able to move beyond differences over secondary matters in order to be united on the primary ones.

The unity that Jesus prays over us is the same unity that has been eternally enjoyed between the Father and the Son. Though co-equal, co-eternal, and of the same divine nature, the Father and the Son have different personalities, different responsibilities, and different roles in the singular plan of the united Godhead. The Son is not threatened by the Father, and the Father does not consider the Son a rival. There is a mutual cooperation between the distinct persons of the Trinity that leads to the fulfillment of His purposes. So, Jesus prays that we would be united in the same way. The uniqueness of our individual personalities, our gifts, and our responsibilities come together in harmony to advance the purpose of God in the world through His church. Simply put, as Christians living in this fallen world, we need each other far more than we need to be right, to get our way, or be in charge. We simply cannot exist as Christians in the world apart from the support of our fellow believers in the body of Christ.

I imagine all of us know someone who is a “church dropout,” who says that the reason that they no longer participate in the life of any church is because of the infighting that they experienced or observed. This is certainly an indictment on the church. There is really no excuse for a church which is being kept in the Father’s name to experience this kind of disunity. Ironically, however, the person who has removed themselves from the fellowship of the church for these reasons is also unwittingly indicting themselves. In Scripture, there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger Christian.” In fact, the only so-called Christians in Scripture who are not faithfully involved in a local church are those who have been kicked out because of their unrepentant sin or false teaching. In other words, they were removed because their testimony as a follower of Christ was suspect. In First John, the author of this Gospel also writes that one of the evidences of our faith in Christ is a love for the brethren (1 Jn 3:14). When one turns his or her back on the body of believers and walks away, there is good reason to question the genuineness of their faith.

Unity in the church flows out of our being kept by the Father. An evidence of our security in Christ is our endurance in faithfulness to God’s church and love for the brethren. When we demonstrate unity in the body of Christ, we are demonstrating that the Father is keeping us, shaping us by His very own nature, to make us a unique and united people in the midst of corrupt and dark world. We are unable to have this kind of unity on our own or in our own strength and power. Left to ourselves, we wouldn’t even want it! But we’ve been left to the Father’s power to keep us, and thereby to unite us with one another under Christ our Lord.

III. We are kept by God so we shall never perish (v12)

When our children are young, we take them by the hand as we walk across busy streets and crowded parking lots. We know that, given a moment’s distraction, they can dart off in a dangerous direction, and so we safeguard them by keeping us close. We reach out for them and we say, “Hold my hand.” We know, even if they do not, that it is not their holding of our hands that keeps them safe, but our holding of theirs. Neither their grip nor their resolve is strong enough to keep them hanging on, but the grip of the stronger mommy and daddy, and the resolve of parental love, is what keeps them safe and secure. And it is the same for the child of God. If it were up to us to keep ourselves holding onto Him, we could never do it. Thankfully, His grip is strong and sure, and we are secure in His grasp so that we shall never perish.

Here in this prayer, Jesus commits His followers to the safekeeping of His Father, pleading that He would keep them. He says, “While I was with them, I was keeping them.” He is the One Who pursued them, Who sought them and called them to follow Him, Who taught them and trained them, and Who would ultimately lay down His own life for them. And on the eve of that fateful day, He says to the Father, “I am no longer in the world, and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You.” He is leaving them. Who will keep them? The Father will keep them, that none should perish.

Jesus says that while He was in the world, He was keeping them. He says, “I guarded them, and not one of them perished.” In John 6:39-40, He had said, “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” That is a promise that all whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him and believe upon Him, and He will be faithful to keep us in the grip of His grace throughout our lives, even to death, and beyond, for He will raise us up in a glorious resurrection like His own. If you want evidence of your security in Christ, look not to your own ability to be faithful to Him, but to His faithfulness to His promise and His prayer to never let any of His own perish.

But someone may wonder, “Are there any exceptions to this?” After all, what about Judas Iscariot? No need to wonder, for Jesus Himself brings up the subject of Judas Iscariot. There have been two common errors people have made about Judas. One is to assume that, on the basis of “once saved always saved,” that Judas Iscariot only had a momentary lapse of faith and is ultimately and eternally saved. The other is to assume that, on the basis of the example of Judas, that none of us are eternally secure. Jesus corrects both errors here. Make no mistake about it, Judas died a lost man, and on the words of Jesus we can be assured that he will perish eternally in hell. Jesus said, “Not one perished but the son of perdition.” That word “perdition” means “destruction,” and is often used to describe the horrors of an eternal hell. In fact, in the book of Revelation, this is said to be the fate of the Antichrist, who is called “the beast” in Revelation, and who is called “the son of perdition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Judas’ fate is the same as his. Jesus is clear that he perished. But Jesus is also clear that Judas is a unique case. Not one perished but this one, and he did so “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.” In John 13, Jesus applied to Judas the words of Psalm 41:9, which says, “Even my close friend in whom I had trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Judas was unique, and was set apart by God from eternity past to fulfill the role of the betrayer, albeit not against his own will. He was a willing party in the betrayal of the Lord Jesus, and stands judged under his own culpability for his sin. It wasn’t that Jesus had him, and then lost him. No, in the case of Judas, Jesus never had him. Not once in all the Scriptures did Judas ever call Jesus Lord, and never in his life had he turned to Him in saving faith.

If there is a lesson for us in the person of Judas Iscariot, it is not that a truly born again Christian can lose his or her salvation and perish eternally. Judas was never a truly born again Christian. But herein is the lesson of Judas for us. It is possible to be closely identified with Christ and his followers, to be active in the Lord’s service, and even to hold positions of great responsibility among the Lord’s people and yet not be saved. Remember that Judas was the Lord’s treasurer! We are not saved by coming to church, by singing hymns, or giving our offerings, or by serving in important roles of the church. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And if we have never turned to Him in repentance and faith and called upon Him as Lord and Savior, then we are not saved, and we have no assurance at all. But if we have, then we know that is a result of being given by the Father to Jesus, who safeguards His own to the very end, and commits us to the faithful keeping of the Father, and He will never allow His own to perish. In the words of Hebrews 7:25, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him.”

In a world of hostility, a world filled with the temptations and snares of our enemy the devil, even a Christian may wonder if he or she has done something, or not done something, which has resulted in being cut off from the Lord Jesus. I have heard it said that the devil wants every lost person to think they are saved and every saved person to think they are lost. I believe that is true. But when fears and doubts assail us, when we fail the Lord, and find ourselves in defeat, God has given us promises in His word to assure us. Second Corinthians 13:5 says that we should examine ourselves to see if indeed we are in the faith. And how do we examine ourselves? We do it through the lens of God’s Word. And when we do, if we have believed upon Christ as Lord and Savior and committed our lives to Him, then we will discover that we belong to Him for His glory, He keeps us so that we might be united together with other believers, and because He keeps us, we can never perish. He holds us in His hand, and He has promised to raise us up glorified on the last day. Then we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted Him until that day” (1 Tim 1:12).

[1] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate (Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1967), 102.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Baptist Faith and Message (2000), Article V. “God’s Purpose of Grace”; bfm2000 /bfm2000.asp. Accessed July 9, 2015.
[4] Marcus Rainsford, Our Lord Prays for His Own (Chicago: Moody, 1950), 205-206.
[5] C. S. Lewis, “What are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”; God in the Dock (in The Collected Works of C. S. Lewis; New York: Inspirational Press, 1996), 406.
[6] Rainsford, 166. 

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