Together: We are a Known by Our Love

Together: We are a Known by Our Love

The Greatest Prayer Ever Prayed – Part 2

John 17:6-12

One of Spiderman’s most dangerous villains is Venom. Venom originated as a symbiotic alien organism that initially formed Spiderman’s new costume, one that not only amplified his abilities, but also altered his personality. Peter Parker didn’t know that the symbiote was also siphoning his powers until he (with the help of other superhero friends) managed to tear it off, and only then did he realize  its lethal effects.  In her book, Almost Christian, Kenda Dean suggests that a version of Christianity, like the analogy of Venom and Spider-man, has infected the Church. 

Dean’s book offers a bleak outlook on the state of the Christian faith, basing such on the results of a three-year study (The National Study of Youth and Religion). In Almost Christian, Dean reveals that America’s youth, particularly those who were shaped in a churched culture and call themselves “Christian,” embrace a certain brand of Christianity  that is “caught, not taught” from their parents and a church culture labeled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” by those who conducted the study from which Dean’s book is based.  According to Dean, the guiding beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism can be summed up in five guiding beliefs:

  1. A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God is not involved in my life, except when I need God to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

According to the study, most parents treat religion as something caught and not so much taught; what today’s youth has caught has been essentially the “Christianity” of their parents. In Almost Christian, Dean explains,

Parasitologists define a symbiote as the weaker of two organisms inhabiting the same space, so that the weaker can draw life from the stronger. In the most dramatic cases, by the time the host notices, the symbiote has siphoned off its nutrients, guaranteeing the symbiote’s survival but leaving the host seriously weakened. Continuing the analogy from comic lore, Venom’s symbiote occupied its hapless victims while inhaling their souls, reducing them to hideous creatures themselves, human beings whose depleted souls left them too weak to resist the symbiote’s beguiling allure. When this symbiote inhabited Spiderman, leaving a trace of Venom behind, it was often impossible to tell them apart. The result?  When the impostor threatened to supplant the original, no one was the wiser.[1]

In John 17, Jesus’ prayer teaches us what it really means to be the Church and what it means to be a Christian.  In verses 6-12, we discover what it means to be loved by God and how it is we can love others. 

You Are Loved By God

When I read these verses, I think of them as God’s way of unpacking John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” In John 3:16 God loved the world so much that He gave us Jesus, but in John 17, God loved Jesus so much that He gave him the Church.  The difference between John 3:16 and John 17 is important.  God loved us so much that He gave us Jesus.  Our problem is that we are sinners in desperate need of God’s forgiveness so that we can be reconciled to Him instead of being rejected, judged, and condemned to hell.  God sent his only son to save us from eternal damnation; this is why Jesus prayed in verse 3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

In John 17, Jesus prayed for those whom God has given him out of His love for Jesus.  Look at the passage a little more closely. Jesus referred to his followers as people that God gave him:

  • “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.” (v. 6a)           
  • “Yours they were, and you gave them to me…” (v. 6b)
  • …everything that you have given me is from you.” (v. 7)
  • “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (v. 9)
  • “All mine are yours, and yours are mine…” (v. 10)
  • “…I am coming to you.  Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that may be one, even as we are one.” (v. 11)
  • “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me.” (v. 12)

Each time the word give is used in these verses, is the word is used to describe something that has happened in the past.  When you come to verse 20 where Jesus specifically refers to us, He could have prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who you will give to me…” Instead, Jesus prayed for those “who will believe” in Him.  In other words, those who will believe, are those whom the Father has already given to Jesus. 

Here is how you should hear that “God loves you” out of these verses: 

  1. God created all things; therefore, all things belong to God and exist for God.
  2. We are the only creatures on planet earth that are in rebellion towards God as people who have sinned against him.
  3. Our greatest need is to be reconciled to God, and the only way that can happen is through Jesus (John 17:1-5).

Therefore, God gave those who desperately needed eternal life to the only person (Jesus) who had the authority to give eternal life (v. 2)..  Let me say it another way: God gave sinners to Jesus so that Jesus could make sinners righteous through their belief in Him.  This is why the Bible says the following about us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Because God gave us to Jesus, Jesus gave us eternal life and made us new. We are told in the Bible: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). 

It has been said that Elvis Presley always wore a Christian cross, a star of David, and the Hebrew letter Chi (a charm for good luck).  When asked about his three charms, Elvis answered, “I don’t want to miss out on heaven due to a technicality.”  Sadly, if Elvis really believed this, then he failed to understand that God loves us too much to leave our eternal fate up to trinkets, charms, and good intentions.  Only Jesus is able to give eternal life.

We Love Others Because God Loves Us

God loves us too much to leave our eternal plight to trinkets, charms, and good intentions, but He also loves us too much to leave us as we are. The whole point of our salvation is to restore what was lost due to Adam and Eve’s sin, which is the reason that every single one of us was born into this world spiritually dead to God.  A relationship with Jesus, that is rooted in a belief that only He was able to live the perfect life and died the death that only we deserved, is the only way in which we can become  reconciled.  “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…” (Eph. 2:1-2).

Vladimir Lenin is the founder of Soviet Communism; he died at the age of 54 due to a brain hemorrhage. Upon Lenin’s death in early 1924, his body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum near the Kremlin in Moscow.  Lenin’s 149 year old body continues to be preserved for the purpose of maintaining the body’s look and feel, but to do that, they have had to substitute  parts of the decaying skin and flesh with plastics and other materials.  As Lenin’s body continues to deteriorate, the work of preserving his body not only becomes more difficult, but the body is “less and less of what it used to be,” said one expert.

That sets the work apart from processes like mummification, he notes, “Where the focus was on preserving the original matter while the form of the body changes.” Now, in addition to the skin replacements, Lenin has false eyelashes, and instead of skin fat, researchers have molded a combination of chemicals to keep his skin looking the same.

The body is re-embalmed using a bath of chemicals in alternate years. Lenin has kept scientists busy: During the period between the 1950s and 1980s, as many as 200 experts had jobs maintaining the body, Scientific American notes.  It cost $200,000 in 2016 to keep Lenin’s dead body looking young; the body remains on display still today.

Trinkets, charms, good intentions, and religion are like the chemicals, plastics, prosthetics, and paints that keep Lenin looking better with each passing year while he remains as dead as the day he suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1924.  Dead is dead!  However, God is the God of the living and when we receive the gift of salvation through faith in his Son Jesus, we become spiritually alive!  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).

The result of God giving us to Jesus is life, not “moralistic therapeutic Deism!”  We were made alive in and through Jesus.  We are made new in Jesus.  We are being made to look more and more like Jesus as a result of the eternal life that only Jesus could give.  The evidence that your faith is not based on the value of trinkets, charms, good intentions, and religion, is your changed life that begins with belief.  Belief in Jesus is the kind of knowing that is more than facts you know in your brain, but facts that you are experiencing: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3).

The kind of eternal life begetting “knowing” is ginosko.  To know God and to know Jesus, so that it results in eternal life, is an experiential knowing and trusting that  results in the following evidences that your faith in Jesus is real..  Jesus provides us with a list of things that genuine faith in Him generates in the lives of his followers:

  • Jesus’ people keep God’s word. (v. 6)
  • Jesus’ people believe Jesus is the Christ. (v. 7)
  • Jesus’ people receive God’s word and apply it to their lives. (v. 8)
  • Jesus’ people do not walk away from the faith. (v. 11-12)
  • Jesus’ people are one because they love what God loves.

The evidence that you have received the saving grace of God through Jesus is not just a born again love for God, but a genuine love for the things that God loves.  The evidence of a love for God is a love for people – especially a love for God’s people.  The love we have for one another will be one of the primary ways people know that our lives have been changed, and that we now belong to a God who is not only the God of the living, but a God of love. 

Our colors are the same: red. The blood of Jesus Christ is what binds us together.  As his bride, Jesus left us in the world for a purpose: To make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded us (Matt. 28:19-20).  Do you know what legitimizes our belief that Jesus not only died for our sins, but also was raised to new life? What makes our message legitimate before a lost world is a resurrected life that is marked by five characteristics:

  1. Keeping God’s word.
  2. Trusting in Jesus as the Christ.
  3. Applying God’s word to our lives.
  4. Keeping the faith because it is real.
  5. Loving what God loves in a world filled with so much death and hatred. 

Jesus prayed that we would be one, and what brings us together as the Church is the love of God and our love for one another. 

[1] Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press; 2010), p. 13.