In the World. Not of the World - John 17:6-19

During Jesus’ life and ministry, there were several Jewish sects in vogue. Each group was wrestling with the question of how to respond to Roman occupation. How were good God-fearing people to live in a culture that denied him? I want to highlight three of these groups. The Herodians were a group that thought they could accept all the niceties of Roman living (entertainment, comfort, etc.) without compromising their commitment to Yahweh. Yet too frequently their boundaries crumbled, and they compromised their faith in order to embrace what the world had to offer. One could say that they were “in the world and of the world.”

Another group, the Essenes (famous for preserving the Dead Sea Scrolls), were 100% committed to God’s law, with strict boundaries of learning and obeying the text. To maintain those boundaries, the Essenes lived in enclaves completely separated from the Roman world all together. They were not of the world and they weren’t really in the world either.

In the second portion of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, he prays that his followers would be in the world, but not of the world. He makes clear that his desire is not that they should separate themselves from the world, but that they should engage it. At the same time, Jesus prays that they would remain faithful to him without being snared by the evil one.

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of this world, just as I am not of this world. Sanctify them in the truth: your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:15-18

Interestingly enough, a third Jewish group seems to have been trying to live this way. The Pharisees, the most familiar sect to us, were famous for the devotion to the truth of God’s word. And unlike the Essenes, they did not seek to separate themselves from the world around them. The Essenses formed their own communities, but the Pharisees lived right in the middle of it all. Despite this, the Pharisees are famous for their clashes with Jesus and his frequent criticism of them. So where exactly did the Pharisees go wrong?

I would suggest that the Pharisees forgot their purpose for being in the world. They believed they could achieve righteousness through their strict obedience, but in their efforts to remain pure, they harshly judged those who didn’t live up. They lacked compassion.

Earlier in John’s gospel, we’re told that Jesus’ way was different. His motivation for being in the world was compassion not condemnation. He knew the people around him weren’t righteous and that they couldn’t be on their own and yet we’re told that “God so loved the world” that he gave his son. We’re told that did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:16-17). His distinct purpose for being in the world was to offer forgiveness and reconciliation, to pave a pathway for people to be right with God.

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. Our way of being in the world is to be the same as Jesus’. Upon his resurrection and ascension he passed the torch of his reconciliation ministry to us. We must be in the world and not of the world without sacrificing compassion. John 15 taught us that the way we achieve this is through abiding. It’s our abiding that keeps us pure. It’s our abiding that maintains our compassion. When we abide in Christ, we can live as light in a broken and sinful world without being compromised by it. 

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Megan Bonanno - June 15th, 2021 at 6:06am

I really appreciate this insightful and relatable piece!

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