Calvary Road Baptist Church

“The Lord Jesus Christ Praying For Future Believers” Part 4

John 17.20-26 

My text for this message is John 17.23. Please turn to John 17, where we will begin reading from verse 19 to the verse which will serve as my text: 

19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. 

May I spend a moment or two refreshing memories of what we learned from verse 22? 

“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.” 

The Lord Jesus acknowledged to the Father, in verse 22, that the glory He gave Him He had, in turn, given to future believers who would come to believe in Christ following the fruitful and faithful ministries of the eleven men listening to Him pray these words.

Why so? Why did our Lord give them, which is to say us, the glory He had been given? To enable their unity, which is to say our unity, reflects the Father and Son’s unity. So, glory was given to them, which is to say to us, for their, which is to say our, unity.

The challenge before us, especially during these present distresses, and as the institutions of our nation are being eaten away by collectivist termites gnawing away at the foundations, and as the cause of Christ is assaulted by seducing spirits advancing the doctrines of demons to confuse, distract, and deprive us of access to the means of grace, is to preserve our unity by fixing our gaze upon the Savior.

Looking now to verse 23, it seems that Christ in future believers, and the Father in Christ, produces two results in their, which is to say our, lives. Let us use these indications, these results, to reflect on the integrity of our spiritual unity. Are the effects the Savior predicted results that can be seen in our lives, in your life, and in my life? I certainly hope so, since unity is crucial to exalting Christ in our present distresses.

What the Savior acknowledges about them, which is to say us, proves to be born out with all subsequent believers if we understand the Apostle Paul’s comment about glory to the congregation he wrote to in Colossians 1.27. He wrote, 

“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” 

Several notions to verbalize before we focus on verse 23:

First, it is interesting to observe that Christ gave the glory He had received from His Father, in turn, to His eleven men (and subsequently to us, Jewish and Gentile believers together in the same Church congregations). With initially Jewish believers and subsequently Gentile believers coming to be indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, Christ has given the Spirit to every one of His believers.[1]

The Spirit of God, of course, is a divine Person, while the glory Christ has given to us is a divine revelation. Christ in you is realized through the indwelling Spirit in each believer, with “the hope of glory” referring not to revelation but realization, not to understanding something but to arriving somewhere. Thus, the Father gave Christ glory, who then gave us glory, in anticipation of future glory with the Father in heaven. It began with God and it will end with God, through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Christ in us being the direct consequence of the Holy Spirit indwelling us while the glorified Son of God is presently enthroned at the Father’s right hand on high.[2] Jesus is in heaven. The Spirit indwells us. Therefore, in the Person of the indwelling Spirit we can say that Christ is in us.

Is this truth not also born out in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian congregation, particularly Ephesians 2.11-18, where he reminded them and us how it came to be that both Jewish and Gentile believers were placed as members of the same congregations, worshiping and serving God together in same body? 

11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;

12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:

17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.

18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 

Second, be mindful that the glory given by the Savior was a means to spiritual unity, but our spiritual unity is not an end in itself. Though marvelous and never diminished, unity is but a means to other ends. Thus, it is never about you or me. It being life. It being what happens to us and through us. It is always about God working in you, and through you (or sometimes working around you and accomplishing despite you) to accomplish His great and profound ends. As we look to verse 23, let us recognize how shortsighted we can sometimes be when failing to understand that we are in the midst of a process, a series of subsequent and complimentary developments, through which God seeks to arrive at a noble goal.

We now attend to verse 23, which can be logically divided into three parts, with the third part of the verse further divided into two parts that I will identify as Third Part A and Third Part B. Read verse 23 again with me: 

Part 1, “I in them, and thou in me.”

Part 2, “that they may be made perfect in one.”

Part 3A, “and that the world may know that thou hast sent me.”

Part 3B, “and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” 

Again, consider our text in three main parts: 

PART ONE 

“I in them, and thou in me.” 

Our Lord’s words in Part 1, “I in them, and thou in me,” echo the True Vine and branches allegory of John chapter 15 and our Lord’s intimacy with the Father. I invite you to read John 15.1-17 with me, remembering that the words we are about to read were uttered bare minutes before the Lord Jesus Christ’s prayer that we are examining: 

1  I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2  Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3  Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5  I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6  If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7  If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8  Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

9  As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

17 These things I command you, that ye love one another. 

Using the allegory we just read the Savior forever imprinted in the minds and hearts of His remaining apostles a vision of the words He prayed to the Father at the beginning of John 17.23: 

“I in them, and thou in me.” 

The vine and branches imagery of Christ’s allegory and the conciseness of His prayer, “I in them, and thou in me,” speaks of the union of every believer with the Savior and of the Savior with every believer. I would use the words “experience” or “enjoy” to describe this union, but we often under-appreciate or completely unappreciate this astonishing reality. How is it that the child of God can actually come to experience that which is true whether we recognize and experience it or not? What makes our union with Christ a communion with Christ? The Apostle Peter tells us in Second Peter 1.3-8: 

3  According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

4  Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5  And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6  And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7  And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

8  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

There is a reality that Christians sometimes perceive and experience. The reality of our spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ is analogous to the relationship of a grapevine to a fruitful branch. The Savior speaks of it but saves for the ministries of Paul and Peter in their epistles to more fully explain to us how to experience and enjoy our union so that it becomes communion.

Pause for just a moment, if you will. What is suggested by the Savior and further elaborated by apostles later writing the New Testament is that those eleven men (and subsequently you and me, as well) have something in common with God the Father. Will you let that sink in for a second or two? I have just indicated that the believer in Jesus Christ has something in common with God the Father. I speak not of the fact that both the believer and God the Father are beings. I speak not of the fact that both the believer and God the Father are persons. Neither do I speak of the fact that both the believer and God the Father exist. These are interrelated truths, but I refer to something else entirely. What could the omnipotent have in common with the impotent? What could the infinite have in common with the infinitesimal? What could the omniscient have in common with the ignorant? What could the holy have in common with the sinner? Can you guess? What you and I have in common with God the Father, which is a commonality impossible for the unsaved, is a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a union. Between the Father and the Son it is a union that is a communion. For the child of God it is a union that can be a communion.

Our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is not the same kind of relationship God the Father has with Him, but it is a relationship nevertheless. The Savior’s relationship with the Father has always been, while our relationship with the Savior began when we were born again. The Savior’s relationship with the Father is a relationship of a single essence, a divine nature, while our relationship allows us to be partakers in some measure of the divine nature. The Savior’s relationship with the Father is a relationship of two holy Persons, while ours is a relationship existing between One eternal holy and another made clean by the blood of Christ. So, while there are differences between Christ’s relationship with the Father, that we have a spiritual relationship with Christ, as does the Father, is profoundly significant.

What an astonishing wonder the Christian faith is that a believer can have in common with God the Father (though, admittedly, not in the same way) a relationship with the eternal Son of God! 

PART TWO 

“that they may be made perfect in one.” 

Notice the word “that,” translating the little Greek word ina, which serves as a marker to denote purpose, aim, or goal.[3] “That they,” which is to say Christ in us, and also the Father in Christ, for the purpose of, having the aim of, or with the goal being we, which is to say “they may be made perfect in one.” May I state two truths for your edification before proceeding?

Truth #1, God always has reasons for what He does, and He never does anything without good and valid reasons. God’s reasons for doing what He does are never at variance with His nature. Truth #2, God does not always declare to us His reasons for doing what He does. This is because, being God, He is sovereign and does what He chooses to do. This is also because, Truth #1, He has good reasons for sometimes not telling us why He does what He does. We now proceed with the knowledge that, in this case, He decided to inform us why He did what He chose to do.

The short version of what this suggests? The glory given to them (and us), verse 22, for the unity that results, and the believers and the Father both having a relationship with Christ, has as one of its aims and purposes the perfecting of the believer. The phrase translated “they may be made perfect in one?” It is a more difficult phrase than you might expect, so I will present my opinion concerning the meaning of the phrase. The unity of our congregation in Christ is neither self-generated nor an end in itself.[4] You don’t work unity up with choruses, cheerleading, or manipulative sermonizing or youth rallies. That we have Paul’s first Corinthian letter and his letter to the Philippians establishes that unity is not automatic but is a treasured accomplishment by means of God’s grace.

The words “they may be” illustrate that unity is not automatic. Unity is achievable, but our unity will be opposed by our spiritual adversaries. Are we not presently experiencing serious challenges to our unity? So we must focus, avoid distractions, and tenaciously avail ourselves of the means of grace. Why should we? Because the word translated “perfect” is the Greek word that refers to completing an activity, to finishing, or to accomplishing something.[5] So, what is accomplished? That is where the prepositional phrase translated “in one” comes into play. But “in one” what?

“In one” has to do with our credible, authentic testimony to this evil world. Thus, important to our spiritual maturity, our completion as Christians involved in an ongoing process of spiritual growth, is our congregational unity and the shared benefit of Christ in us and the Father in Christ.

The profound implications unity has for our spiritual well-being, our development and maturity as believers, and the cultivation and enjoyment of our relationship with God and Christ. Two things about unity before we move on:

One of the significant implications of this word translated “perfect” is the notion of maturity. There is a correspondence between a Christian’s involvement in the Church of which they are a member and the maturing process in the Christian life, as well as the unity that is cultivated and contributed to in the congregation. You cannot be a very mature Christian or a growing believer if you cannot develop and display unity with others in the body. Those who stand off and isolate themselves from the body consign themselves to a slower than is necessary progression toward spiritual maturity.

A second significant implication of this word “perfect” is the suggestion of how crucial to our success in the Great Commission our unity is. Once you understand that unity is the consequence of intimacy with the Savior (more than intimacy with each other), you can see that the vital union of the branches with the vine is what produces fruit, not how much branches get along with each other.

What does disunity in the body demonstrate? A lack of focus on and attention to Christ, the Head of the body. Though we are very much in this together, our focus is Christ and not each other. 

PART THREE 

Part 3A, “and that the world may know that thou hast sent me.”

Part 3B, “and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” 

Part 3 has its own word “that,” translating ἴna. But this third part of the verse is, as I indicated, divisible into two parts for better understanding and clarity.

Part 3A, “and that the world may know that thou hast sent me.” You may already have noticed that Part 3A has two words translated “that.” The first is ἴna, and the second is ὅti. With ἴna referring to purpose, aim, or goal, ὅti is a marker word to explain or provide cause.[6] The explanation to the world for a congregation’s unity, the cause to the world for a congregation’s unity, is the sending of Jesus Christ by God the Father.

How is the world to understand the unity of our congregation that they see by our behavior, conduct, and ministry? First, we must have unity, mustn’t we? There is no need to provide any explanation for what does not exist. Unity must first be achieved by God’s grace. Do you think any lost folks in the city of Corinth wondered about the unity they noticed in the Corinthian congregation while those Church members were fussing with each other, openly displaying their envying, strife, and divisions? How about when that young member was romancing his daddy’s wife? I could go on. And then in Philippi. Whereas the Philippian congregation had once enjoyed a wonderful testimony in the city, how widespread do you think their credibility as believers was once Euodias and Syntyche started fussing with each other?

The point I seek to make is that our message is based upon God the Father sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to save sinners from their sins. No one expects or demands sinlessness from God’s people, but they do expect unity. And so long as our unity is shot, there is no credible message to a lost and dying world that the Father sent the Son. This the Savior meant when He said, 

“that the world may know that thou hast sent me” 

But that is not all, is it? The second part, Part 3B, reads, 

“and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” 

Here we are provided a second explanation for giving a congregation spiritual unity. Please remember, unity is not uniformity. The Lord is not addressing the notion of spiritual unity as being different individuals thinking or acting in lockstep. This is spiritual unity, not uniformity.

What binds God’s people together? God the Father has loved us while also loving His Son. Of course, the effect of the Father’s love is produced only with those who love God because God has first loved them, First John 4.19. The notion of unity falls completely apart with false hopes, does it not? There is no spiritual unity with professors who are not possessors. The world around us, meaning our lost family members, meaning our neighbors, meaning our coworkers, meaning the unsaved that attend our Church services, draw two conclusions about our displays of unity, draw two conclusions when our union with Christ is seen to be communion with Christ.

First, they stop denying in their minds that Christ has been sent by God the Father. Perhaps not consciously. But our unity establishes as credible our claim that God sent Christ to save sinners. Second, they no longer question God’s love for us as being somewhat analogous to God’s love for His Son. Thus, our unity also establishes our claim to being loved by God as credible. 

The Lord’s prayer for future believers is best understood and is most applicable when it is appreciated that the Savior’s prayer began as a prayer for Himself. He then prayed for those men who comprised His “little flock.”

From John 17.20, including our text for this message, He prayed for all Christians to follow. But this portion of His prayer is most applicable to Christians in community, believers in congregations.

The Father has a relationship with Christ, and we have a relationship with Christ, though it is not the same kind of relationship. The Father also gave glory to the Son, Who in turn gave glory to those men (and to us). The purpose was unity. But the purpose of the unity? Our perfection. And also to show the world that God sent His Son and display God’s love to us as He has loved His Son. That provides credibility in the eyes of the unsaved for our Gospel and for ourselves.

How important is the congregation properly understood to be, and unity within the congregation. Unity is most effectively and most thoroughly achieved in congregations. Desirable among all Christians, of course. Achieved to perfection once we get to heaven, to be sure. But most practically possible within the congregation.

How to achieve unity? Simple in concept. Greater intimacy with the Savior will result in more unity with others in the body. Without unity, since unity is the means to an end, our efforts to reach the lost for Christ will be hampered.

So, you see, it is all about Christ. Salvation is all about the Savior. Service is all about the Savior. What utter nonsense it is for someone to claim to be a Christian who will not attend Church, who will not seek Christ’s blessing as a means for unity with Christians, and who give no thought whatsoever to reaching the lost who will perish without Christ.

I thought it was an empty claim my mother made when she insisted she was a Christian who would not attend Church, would not submit to the authority of a Church, and would not collaborate with other Christians to serve God and exalt the Savior.

Despite my love for my mother, I could not allow that fiction to survive in my home. My love for my wife and my daughter made silence in the face of such inconsistency impossible. I could not abide the pretense of unity at the cost of Gospel confusion in my home. Don’t get me wrong. I did not argue with my mother over the issue. I honored her and treated her very gently. But I made my position clear to her in a loving way, and in a way that clarified Gospel truth to my wife and daughter. I could not allow my daughter to be so confused as to think one can be a Christian who never attends Church or serves God.

I could not allow my mother or daughter to imagine unity existed when unity was impossible. As when Paul confronted Peter over his compromise of the truth, not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel.[7]

Paul would not risk building again the things he had destroyed, and make himself a transgressor. How? By being silent in the face of Peter’s inconsistency with the Gospel.[8] Unity is important, but unity is impossible if the truth is compromised.

We dare not be silent. I am not suggesting that we be argumentative. I am not suggesting that we be rude or in any way dishonoring or dishonorable. But we dare not be silent to the confusion of our children and our loved ones. Unity is that important.

__________

[1] 2 Corinthians 1.22

[2] Psalm 16.11; 110.1; Matthew 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 20.42; 22.69; John 3.13; 13.1; 14.2-4; Acts 1.9-11; 2.33, 34-35; 7.56; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; 6.9; Colossians 3.1; Second Thessalonians 1.7; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 9.24; 10.12-13; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22; Revelation 19.11

[3] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 475-477.

[4] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), page 498.

[5] Bauer, page 996.

[6] Ibid., pages 731-732.

[7] Galatians 2.11-13

[8] Galatians 2.18

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