The Challenge of Being in the World

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

March 19, 2023 – John 17:14-19

            This is the fourth Sunday of Lent, and we have been working our way through Jesus’ prayer found in John 17.

            I don’t know if you have noticed, but the church has a public relations problem. When Christians are portrayed on television, they are either naively stupid, out of step with the times, hypocrites, or just plain evil. When Christians make it into the news, it usually isn’t for anything good. If you ask people who are outside the church what Christians are like, words like judgemental, hypocritical, bigoted, and misogynistic come up. If you probe a little further and ask if they know any Christians – the answer is often “no.”

            My daughter would often run into this with her university friends. They would talk about how people who were Christians we these awful kinds of people. Amy would say – I’m a Christian. They would reply – “We don’t mean you, your not that way.”

            The sad thing is that most Christians I know are really good people. But I have seen a few bad apples in my day. I have witnessed evil done in the name of God. But for the most part, the people who claim to be Christ followers are good people. But I think we are often known for what we are against rather than what we are for.

            We here at Asbury should be known for being For Perth. We want to see our town and our county flourish. We are for real love. We want to see people and families have strong ties and good relationships. We are for the poor and people struggling with mental illness or physical handicaps. We are for the hurting and the vulnerable. We serve a God of love, and one of our prime directives is to love our neighbour as ourselves.

            I used to think, and sometimes still do think, that if only people got to know us, they would like us. Then we come to Jesus’ words, the words of today’s scripture.

John 17:14 (NIV)

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

            What is up with that? I thought if we loved our neighbours well, that that would provoke a positive response. What are you talking about, Jesus? I have given them your word, and the world has hated them?

            You may remember a couple of weeks ago, I talked about how Jesus uses the word “world.” He is not talking about the earth. He is talking about a place that takes no thought of God. He is talking about a place where sometimes knowingly but most often unknowingly, sets itself up against God. He is talking about people who ignore God at best or are rebelling against God.

            Even though people take no thought of God or rebel against him, this is what God thinks of the world.

John 3:16 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

            God loves this world, even when it takes no thought of him. He does his best to help the world see who he is. But Jesus continues…

John 3:17–21 (NIV)

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

            God loves the world, so he sent his only son to save the world. Jesus, God’s son, said, “I am the light of the world.” But the verdict is this.

: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

            Back to our passage in John 17

John 17:14–16 (NIV)

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

            For those of you who are Jesus followers, part of your identity is that you are not of this world.

            Paul puts it this way

Philippians 3:20 (NIV)

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Peter puts it this way

1 Peter 2:11–12 (NIV)

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

            You are not of the world. Your citizenship is in heaven, in the Kingdom of God. While you are here in the world, amongst the world, you are spiritual foreigners and exiles. That is who you are.


            Why am I spending so much time on this? As a pastor, it is my job to prepare you to live well in the culture you find yourself in. Our culture has changed rapidly.

            Back fifty or sixty years ago, we lived in a country where most people agreed on what was good and bad, right and wrong. The reason for that is that our definition of those things came from an external authority. It may have been your parents, or your church, or your teacher, or your community – or even the law. At one time, many people believed if it was legal, it must be moral – but I digress.

            But there was a loss of faith in public institutions in the States with the war in Viet Nam in the 60’s and Watergate in the 70’s. That was mirrored in Canada, especially Quebec, with the Quiet Revolution, which was a loss of faith in the Catholic church.

            Rebellion against authority was brought into mainstream culture. It was reflected in songs like Pink Floyd’s “We don’t need no education.”

            So, if external authority was where we learned what was right and wrong, good and bad – but we decide to rebel against authority, where do we find out what was good or bad. How do we discover what is true?

            The first thing we did was turn to deconstructionism and post-modernism. This was really big in the 1990’s. I lived in the middle of a university setting at this time – and this was all the rage. Now I am simplifying this, but what was taught at the time was that the idea of good and bad, right and wrong, were just constructs. The idea of good and evil are just what we make them out to be. There is no such thing – they only exist because we think they exist.

            That philosophy lasted until September 11th, 2001. 9/11. When we witnessed on television airplanes crashing into the twin towers in New York City. It was really hard to say that there was no such thing as evil when we all saw what was blatantly evil.

            It was funny how the tenor of the conversation quickly changed. Before that, it seemed that the world was revolving around the idea of post-modernism. A year after 9/11, the idea hardly came up at all.

            So, people had to go back to the question, how do you know what is good and bad or right or wrong? How do you discover truth? We have jettisoned external authority, and we have found that there are actually such things as good and bad. So, how do we figure out what those things are? The discussion quickly turned toward feelings. My feelings determine what is good and bad, right and wrong. My feelings determine what is true.

            Now everyone has their own truth. If it feels right, it must be right. If it feels wrong, it must be wrong. If I feel like the elections were rigged, they must be rigged. If I feel like the world is flat, it must be flat. This idea of truth goes to what shapes our identity. The internet has accelerated this because you can find a group of people to validate any feeling you have.

            The problem comes when we run into people whose feelings validate a different version of reality. Now, to calmly disagree with something another person believes can get you labelled as an unsafe person. After all, if you call into question my version of reality, it doesn’t feel good. If what you do is making me feel bad, then you are the problem. You are unsafe.

            I have summarized the last 60 years of history in about five minutes. As you might have guessed, I have had to leave some things out. Here is the point, we live in a world where truth is determined internally. But we are followers of Jesus who said

John 17:14 (NIV)

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

            Our authority as to what is right or wrong, good or bad, what is truth, is still external. It comes from the word that Jesus has given us. It doesn’t agree with everyone’s feelings. That may cause you problems.

            When Jesus was speaking with the disciples, he was talking about two different external authorities. Jesus taught that we are called to have a relationship with God the Father. The religion of the time taught that your life centred around fulfilling the law. He said if you follow my way, it is going to cause you to be hated. After all, Jesus was crucified.

            Now the authority is different. It is an internal authority versus the way of Jesus. But, just as in Jesus day, having an authority that is different from the cultures caused the disciples problems – having an authority different from our culture causes us problems.

            A few years back, Trinity Western University in Langley B.C., which is a Christian Liberal Arts College, went to court because they wanted to start a law program. The province and the law society argued that they are should not be eligible to grant law degrees. Here was the issue. Trinity Western asked students to sign a community covenant that while they were students that they refrain from having pre-marital or extra-marital sex or homosexual sex.

            On the basis of that, the province and the law society said that they didn’t have the right to grant law degrees. After all, a community that asked for that kind of commitment while they were students – must be bigoted and homophobic. The Ontario law society went as far as to say if they did graduate people from their school, that the Law Society would refuse to call them to the bar.

            Now please note they were not asking students to force these views on others. They were just saying as part of a Christian Community, this is the way we choose to live. The court ruled against the university. It said while this community covenant is in force, you cannot grant law degrees. They essential said, that if you are choosing to be part of a community that chooses not to have sex outside marriage, in university, you are not moral enough to practice law.

            I get that not having sex outside marriage is a weird concept to most of our culture. But that is a choice we make because of Jesus. It is a choice that can get a lot of shade thrown your way.

John 17:14 (NIV)

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

            Christians can apply for medical school. However, if it comes up in your interview that you will choose not to participate in abortions – your chances of getting in become minuscule. I am not talking about thwarting people from having an abortion. I am just talking about choosing to participate in one.

            I could go on about the shade thrown towards Christians in university or in a lot of different professions. But you get the idea.

            I know a number of you have to tolerate disrespect from family members because you follow Jesus.

            So, how do we handle this? Let’s go back to Jesus’ prayer.

John 17:15 (NIV)

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

            We live in a world where hate begets hate. But Jesus’ way is to love. Love your neighbour. Love your enemies. Love always. So, when the world hates you if you are walking with Jesus – you love them. Be wise – but love. You see, if Satan had his way, we would return hate for hate. That is why Jesus prays, “Protect them from the evil one.”

            Jesus isn’t praying that you will be taken out of the world. He is praying that you will be delivered from the evil one while you are in the world.

            He goes on to pray something else.

John 17:16–19 (NIV)

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

            Sanctify means to be made clean, to be purified, to be made holy, to be set apart for God’s use.

            Jesus’ prayer in the face of hatred is Father protect them from the evil one and make them holy.

            Jesus says, “They are not of the world, but I am sending them into the world.” What they need, Father, is your protection and your cleansing.

            In fact, I sanctify myself – I am setting myself apart. I believe that is a reference to the crucifixion and resurrection – so that they may be truly sanctified. So that they may be truly cleansed.

            What you see in verse 16 is that we are sanctified by the word of God. What you see in verse 19 is that we are sanctified by the work of Christ. This happens so that you may live well in this world.

            At the beginning of this sermon, I noted that Christians have a public relations problem. Some of our problems stem from the fact that we have not leaned into what Jesus has prayed for us. We have stepped out from under his protection, and Satan has had his way with us. We have not allowed him to make us holy by his word or his work on our behalf.

            We have given into hatred or fear or insecurity and responded to others out of that. It’s a problem.

            My read on the world is that, at least in the short term, our world is not going to respond any better to Christians. In fact, it will probably get worse. I don’t think we are headed towards persecution like Christians face in China or Iran. But I suspect that it will become much more uncomfortable to be a Christian.

            When that happens, your only hope is that you have leaned into the protection of Jesus so that you have learned to love in the face of hate. You have learned to be so empowered by God’s spirit that that is possible.

            You have also learned what it means to be cleansed by the word and by the work of Christ. This is why we lean into discipleship around here. Learning to hear God’s voice and learning to grow in character. That is the only way to live well in a world in which you are strangers and aliens.

            That is why we teach a Grow Character course. We need Jesus to do a deep work in our lives to be able to meet the challenges of the future. If you haven’t taken the Abide and Grow Character courses, I would encourage you to do that when they begin again in the fall. If you have taken them in the past, I encourage you to review them.

            It is a lot easier to prepare to meet challenges before the challenges happen than to try to handle and grow when the challenges occur.

            Hear the words of Jesus.

John 16:33 (NIV)

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Sermon Questions – The Challenge of being in the World

John 17:14-19


1. What are you celebrating this week?

2. What are you praying about this week?

Digging in

3. Read John 17:14-19

4. What three things do we learn about a disciple of Jesus in verse 14? What does each of those things mean?

5. Read John 3:16-21 What is the difference between those who trust in Jesus and those who don’t in this passage? How does this factor into the previous verse in John 17:14

6. Read Philippians 3:20 and 1 Peter 2:11-12. What does this tell us about the identity of a believer in Jesus?

7. The sermon talked about how we know what is right and wrong is different in believers because our authority is found in the words of Jesus, and the world’s authority is found in their feelings. How might this lead us into conflict with the world?

8. Have you found yourself being disrespected because of your beliefs?

9. Read John 17:15-19. Jesus prays for two things – what are they, and what do they mean?

10. How do you get ready for the hatred that might come from the world?