Four Dimensions of Spiritual Renewal--John 17
a sermon developed by Bob Young

Virtually all observers of the modern church agree that there is a desperate need for renewal. But how? The twentieth, and now the twenty-first century, church has been characterized by series of renewal movements, each focus on particular aspects of church life. During the 20th century, we can mention at least six movements that could be characterized in some sense as renewal movements.

  • 1. Missionary movement, early in century, gave rise to church growth movement.
  • 2. Biblical theology movement, grew out of emphasis of Barth and Brunner, stress was on inner unity of scripture.
  • 3. Ecumenical movement, came into its own as a post-World War 2 phenomenon, focused on unity (agreeing to disagree).
  • 4. Liturgical movement, especially in Roman Catholicism, aimed at modernizing worship, still at work today across Christendom.
  • 5. Neo-Pentecostal movement, charismatics, focus was restoration of spiritual power and spiritual gifts to body of Christ.
  • 6. Social justice movement, liberation theologies, increasing social conscience, focus on responsibility to express compassion.

  • Each reflects a legitimate Christian concern, yet each has an unhealthily fragmented agenda. In this lesson, we seek an integrated vision of renewal of every dimension of church life.

    In Restoration Movement, despite our renewal roots, we often deny need for renewal. This is because many see renewal or restoration as a once for all accomplishment. Many question need for continuous refreshing, rejuvenation. We can distinguish three words from church history.

  • Reformation--reformation of faith and life by power of Scripture
  • Revival--renewing of power of Spirit in work of restoring the church
  • Renewal--combine revival by Spirit with reemphasis on word

  • If you will, the American Restoration Movement is a continuation of Reformation, it is an American Reformation in a unique political, religious context. This description is consistent with the stress on Scripture, changing life and faith through enlightened understandings.

    To understand an integrated vision of continuous spiritual renewal, we can reflect on Jesus' prayer in John 17. Profound, deep, never fathom. We paddle in the shallows. Never scale heights, only climb foothills. Nevertheless, must persevere Here is temple of Scripture, inner sanctum, access to mind and heart of God. Eavesdrop on communion of Son with Father. Take off shoes--holy ground.

    Remind as we begin that Jesus prays first for self (1-5), then for apostles (6-19), and finally for the whole church both present and future (20-26). All who will believe through apostle's teaching. Concentrate on second and third aspects.

    Jesus does not begin his prayer for his followers until the end of v. 11. For 5 1/2 verses (vv. 6-11a) he describes the people he is going to pray for. Elaborate description, and although it refers primarily to apostles, delineates them rather as ordinary disciples. Three things:

  • 1. They belong to Christ (6,9, given to him out of world, are thus his)
  • 2. They know the father (6,8)
  • 3. They live in the world
  • These three things are true of all his people, even us.
  • 1. the Father has given us to the Son.
  • 2. the Son has revealed to us the Father
  • 3. we live in the world.
  • This threefold orientation--to Father, Son, world--makes us the holy people we are, distinct. Have unique mission as a result of this orientation.

    Jesus prays for their, and our, protection (11b, 15). The holy Father keeps us holy, protecting, preserving. More particularly, Jesus prays that we might have four characteristics which serve to keep us, renew us, restore us. Namely--truth, holiness, mission, unity.

    I. TRUTH
    11b, keep them in your name. What does this mean? Keep those you have given me true to your name. Enclosing wall of truth, keep us. Inner sanctuary. God's name is who he is, his being, character, identity.
    Revealed to son, then to us. v. 12, during earthly ministry, JC kept apostles in this name. About to leave the world. Prays for loyalty, unity as Jesus and Father are one. Major means to unity will be loyalty to God's truth as revealed in and through Jesus Christ.
    Truth is first concern. Revelation, disclosure by him of God's otherwise hidden name. Longed for people to be loyalty to this truth. Unity on common faithfulness. Too many today guilty of serious unfaithfulness to God's word. Some brashly deny fundamentals of history or Christian faith and trad Christian morality. Blushingly unsure of self and beliefs.
    No renewal until church is renewed in faith, commitment to God's truth in Jesus, biblical testimony. No chance of church recovering authentic unity until has genuine basis for unity, which basis is truth.

    Not only kept true to his name, kept from the evil one (15). Preserved from error and in truth, kept from evil and in holiness. Reflects Eph. 5:27. Final destiny = holiness. Way of holiness. How? What mean?
    Throughout history, church tends to extremes. To be holy, withdraw from world and lose contact with it. Or, conform to world and become virtually indistinguishable from it. Christ's vision of holiness is neither of these.
    The Pharisees withdrew. The Essenes even more so. Imagined mere contact with evil would contaminate. This Christian pluralism or separatism has lingered. Passionate longing for holiness, zeal to preserve Christian culture in our society/nation. Hermits fled to desert in 4th century. Medieval monasticism. Despite these noble motives, to withdraw from world is a betrayal of Christ. So is the modern piety which imprisons Christians in ghetto-like fellowship and effectively cuts us off fr non-Christians. Although Jesus prays for protection from evil one, specifically prays that we not be taken out of world (15).
    Withdrawal was approach of Pharisees, even more the Essenes; conformity was way of Sadducees and Herodians. Wealthy aristocracy. Collaborated with Romans, maintain political status quo. Compromised trad. Again, motive can be good, break down barriers between church and world, be friend of publicans and sinners, but Jesus was also set apart from sinners in his values and standards.
    In place of either of these extremes, Jesus calls us to live in the world (11), while not of the world (14). Not belong to world, nor imitate its ways. Ours is a holy worldliness. We have a double identity. Neither give in or opt out. Stay in, stand firm.

    Mission, 15 references to "world" in this prayer. Concern is how we relate to world. Worlds in conflict = Johannine theme. Given to him out of world (6), not to be taken out of world (15), not to be of world (14b), hated by world (14a), sent into world (18). Multi-faceted relation of church to world--living in it, not belonging to it, hated by it, sent into it.
    How grasp this? In place of withdrawal and conformity, wrong attitudes toward world, is right one--mission. Church's mission to world only possible, church finds renewal only if avoids two false tracks. If withdraw, mission is obviously impossible. If conform, also impossible for we lose a cutting edge. Although in world, sent into world. Christian people living in world may have no share in Christ's mission. Presence not sufficient. Presence, proclamation of truth, persuasion of lifestyle. Couple logic-lifestyle, doctrine-duty, plea-practice.
    Prayer here is that we be sanctified through truth, like Christ (17,19). What mean? Is it not the same as Christ participated in? How can sinless Christ have sanctified himself? Answer is two complementary aspects of sanctification--positive and negative. Separated from evil, what we usually mean. Avoidance. But sanctification = set apart for particular ministry, this is sense of this description of Jesus. Pursuit. Seek and save lost. We are also set apart for mission in world. Separated from world to be of service to world.
    18, Jesus draws deliberate parallel between his mission and ours. How is his mission the model of ours? Substantial difference, of course. He = incarnation and atonement. But we are sent into the world like he was, shapes our understanding of our mission. Under authority of Christ, we are sent, not mere volunteers. Renounce privilege, safety, comfort, enter other's worlds, humble self, be servants. bear pain of hatred and hostility. Share good news.

    Now we are where most begin. How will future generation, never seeing Christ in the flesh, believe (20)? What does Jesus desire for all believers? Three times--21a, 22b, 23b--be one, be one, become perfectly one (RSV). Well-known petitions. Not well known or understood is nature of this unity.

  • 1. Unity with apostles, 20-21a.
    These and those. Teachers and taught. All of them = both groups. Historical continuity between apostles and later church. Faith not change over years, recognizably the same. Church of every generation meriting the description, apostolic, because of loyalty to message, morality, mission of apostles.
  • 2. Unity with Father & Son, 21b-23.
    The Christian unity for which Christs prayed was not primarily unity with each other, but unity with apostles (thru common truth), and unity with Father and Son (common life). Visible, structural unity of modern church = worthy goal, but to please God must be expression of something deeper--unity in truth and in life.
    Only this kind of unity will bring world to believe in Jesus (21-23). This is one reason for Jesus' prayer (20). Faith begets faith, believers thus multiply.
  • 3. Finally, 24-26.
    Jesus looks even into eternity, for only in heaven is the unity of his people perfected. This ultimate unity, comprehending the Father, Son, and church, in love, is certainly beyond our imagination, but not beyond our humble and ardent desire.
    Major preoccupation of the contemporary church, continues today, = search for unity, often without comparable quest for truth and life. Occupation with truth (doctrinal orthodoxy) faces danger of dry, harsh, unloving processes, forgetting that truth is to be adorned with beauty of holiness.
    Search for holiness may withdraw into self-centered piety that ignores biblical truth, forgets call from world is to be sent into world.
    But if mission becomes an obsession, then we forget that the world comes to believe only when his people are one in truth, holiness, love. Balance is only way to genuine renewal.
    Today, great need to keep together these characteristics of the church for which Jesus prayed--truth, holiness, mission, unity. Belong together. Detect in earliest Spirit-filled Jerusalem church--devotion to apostles doctrine (truth), fellowship (unity), break bread and prayer (worship expressing commitment to holiness), and the Lord added to their number (mission).
    Do not separate what God has joined. Seek spiritual renewal in four dimensions, so that we Christians may faithfully guard the revelation once for all entrusted to us, while finding sanctification and unity thru this truth, going boldly into world on God-given mission of witness and service.

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    Last updated October 20, 2015