The title of this article may sound strange, but it’s biblical, and from the very lips of Jesus. In His intercessory prayer as He was about to leave His followers and return to heaven, He spoke about them to His Father: “They are still in the world ... But ... they are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (Jn. 17:11,16 NIV). Kosmos, the most frequently used New Testament Greek word translated “world” (more than 170 times) refers to the created world (including its inhabitants) now alienated from God through sin, and under the dominion of Satan.1 Jesus’ very first reference to “the world” in His prayer gives us the key to our relationship to it. He speaks of His glory with His Father “before the world began” (17:5). All things human, of course, relate directly to the world which God created for human habitation. Our entire history as a race is inextricably tied to this world. But Jesus, though He entered human history, existed before the world; He created it.
Thus the story of God’s work with mankind is bigger than the world. And His solution to the fundamental human problem is found in Him who is infinitely greater in every dimension than the world in which we live and to which He came.
Jesus speaks of “those whom You (the Father) gave Me out of the world,” saying that He is “not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me” (17:6,9). Christians are a special race, born into the world but selected and separated out of it as God’s gift to His Son.
This is the essence of the term “saints,” which is so often applied to Christians in the New Testa?ment – not only faithful believers of the past now glorified in heaven and “sainted” by the Church, but real, living, faltering, flesh-and-blood humans on earth now, who in faith have cast themselves on God’s mercy and entrusted their lives and their eternal future to Jesus Christ. God has therefore set them apart from the world at large as His special possession,2 which He has then given to His Son. The word “saint” means “separated” or “set apart.”
Though in actual fact, we are still in this world, in terms of our identity and our citizenship, we are not of this world (Phil. 3:20). We are special objects of God’s attention and affection, chosen “out of the world” to become citizens and inhabitants of the infinite dimension of eternity, the environment of God and His Son.
Though Jesus has left this world, He “loved His own who were in the world … to the end” (Jn. 13:1 NASB). Thus He is always acutely conscious of us and pleads with God for our well-being as long as we’re here: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world”? (17:11 NIV). It’s safe to say that Jesus left His heart here with us whom the Father has given Him, whom He Himself rescued from eternal damnation through His sacrifice on the cross.
It seems, in fact, that interceding for us is Jesus’ job description, His full-time occupation until He returns (Rom. 8:31-39; 1 Jn. 2:1-2; Heb. 7:25). We’re not left on our own; He’s always watching us, supporting us in prayer, and keeping us constantly before the Father. This mighty intercession of Jesus is demonstrated in Peter’s life (Lk. 22:31-34), where Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” When Peter protested, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” Jesus responded, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Peter did deny knowing Jesus. However, he never denied his faith in Jesus, that he confessed clearly on three occasions (Lk. 5:1-8; Mt. 16:16; Jn. 6:68-69). His self-confident courage failed, but not his faith; Jesus’ intercession was effective.
By contrast, we do not read that Jesus prayed for Judas, the betrayer. Jesus said, “I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me” (Jn. 17:9), and soon after Judas committed suicide. He had no faith; his highest “confession” of Jesus was that He was “innocent” (Mt. 27:4). Judas was not one of Jesus’ “saints”; he perished.
Satan, the arch-enemy of God and His Son, masterminded Judas’ treachery (Lk. 22:3-4; Jn. 13:2, 27), culminating the evil work he had begun 40 centuries earlier when, through the serpent, he tempted Adam and Eve to defect from obedience to God’s rules. They – and we their descendants, right up to this 21st century – became alienated from the Creator. God, the source of all life, calls this alienation “death.” It leads naturally to physical death and ultimately eternal death. Paul wrote that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Sin and death are universal genetic defects inscribed in our DNA and spirit.
The alienation from the Creator that holds this world hostage is also felt between the people of this world and the people of God, whom He has separated from this world for His own pleasure.
God originally set up the first humans as lords over His earthly creation (Gen. 1:26-28). The “evil one” – who tempted them and subverted their loyalty and obedience through that conquest – now lords it over this world. Jesus defeated him by His substitutionary death on the cross (Heb. 2:14), but this illegitimate “lord” still vents his rage against God and His “saints” through his continued grip on the world, until his eternal prison sentence begins (Rev. 20:10).
Jesus prayed: “My prayer is not that You take them out of the world (physically) but that You protect them from the evil one” (Jn. 17:15). His almighty intercession or advocacy on our behalf is more than sufficient to frustrate and defeat all the enemy’s efforts against us, as we saw with Peter. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” asked Paul rhetorically (Rom. 8:31). And he continued: “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:33-34).
Another of Jesus’ prayer requests is: “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). To “sanctify” is the action of rendering His people “saints,” “setting them apart” practically in their day-to-day living. All true followers of Jesus are saints, but we don’t always behave that way. Jesus asks His Father to enable us to be saints practically in our attitudes and actions by means of His Word. As we connect with God by reading the Word, the Holy Spirit, who makes it powerful in our lives (Jn. 14:26; 16:12-13), is able to effect our “sanctification” or separation from the world and its corruption. Without this constant influence, or in-flow of the Word in our lives, we cannot live as set apart ones.
This Word that Jesus gave His followers (17:14) sets up the same tension between us and the world that existed between Jesus and His antagonists. The Word makes us conscious of our not-of-this-world character and equips us to live like “saints”, like Jesus whom the world hated and rejected (Jn. 1:10-11).
Another of Jesus’ requests is for His followers’ unity to show the world a clear picture of our relationship with God and our belonging to Jesus. A united front will make us more convincing, invulnerable and irresistible, but sadly this request of Jesus has not been fully answered practically. This is not because God is unable, but because we, His failing followers, allow differences to divide us and defeat our practice of unity. But this unity is essential to Jesus’ primary mission for us in this world: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). “As you sent Me into the world, I have sent them into the world … I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You … so that the world may believe that You have sent Me … May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me” (Jn. 17:18-23).
Jesus taught them earlier: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). As we respond to the love of our Savior, love flows between us and all God’s family (1 Jn. 5:1-5). And united by love, we present an irrefutable, visible message to the world. Separate from the world, we are united as a witness that overcomes the effect of the world’s opposition to us and its resistance to our message.
The world is actually seducing Christians. John says that the world courts us and wants to pervert our love. He cautions: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). While the Father’s love is always in us, if we let ourselves be seduced by the world, we numb our sensitivity to His love and influence within us. Jesus said it’s impossible to serve or love two masters (Mt. 6:24). If the Father’s love is not motivating us we will not love His children, our brothers and sisters. Then our united front against the enemy is weakened and our united message to a perishing world is muted.
Paul also warns us that the world exerts its influence to turn us from our loyalty to our Savior. “Don’t let the world 3 around you squeeze you into its own mold,” he urges (Rom. 12:2 JBP). Under the control of “prince” Satan (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 Jn. 5:19), the world seeks to draw us into its business and pleasure, to divert our attention and blunt our witness.
Remember that “the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever”? (1 Jn. 2:17). The world is passing away – dying! We are invincible in Christ – saved forever! We cannot be defeated by a dying enemy. Rather, we are to seek to reconcile the perishing world to God. Free from fear and intimidation, we are to “love the world” as God loves it (Jn. 3:16), and reach out to the lost with our Savior’s compassion. We have been rescued from the lost world to carry on a rescue operation! Anything else is a waste.
“Christ … died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again … If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! … God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors … We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:14-20).
1. The word kosmos occurs more than 100 times in John’s writings, including about 75 times in his gospel. In Jesus’ prayer in John 17, the word occurs 17 times.
2. For more on this, see 1 Peter 1:18-25; 2:9-12 and Romans 8:28-30.
3. In this instance, “world” is not the Greek word kosmos, but aion, which refers to “an age or a period of time,” suggesting that the 1 John 2:17 perspective on this world is temporary, that “it passes away.” This same Greek word occurs in Galatians 1:4 which says that our Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.”
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org