December 11

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

John 17:13-19; Revelation 8; Job 34:21-37; Hosea 9-10

John 17:17 is a well known verse, and its meaning is very challenging. The idea of sanctification is key to this passage, and to Jesus’ prayer for his disciples. He has been sanctified for the disciples and he prays that they too will be truly sanctified.

The term sanctification has become unfamiliar and difficult to connect with. The same term is translated as ‘holy’ in reference to God. It captures his distinctiveness and otherness – the fact that he is separate from his creation. Part of recognising God’s uniqueness is to declare that he is Holy (Revelation 4:8). Similarly, things that are set apart for God’s use are holy: the temple or its altar and censer.

Just as things can be holy, so too can people. Today, we often call someone holy in a pejorative way when we mean they set themselves above others. In its biblical context, being holy does not make someone more important or valuable. To be holy is to be set apart for God and his purposes. The result is that the holy person wants what God wants, and does what God wants him or her to do. We should quickly realise that none of us does this very well, even if we commit ourselves to doing so. This undermines any claim that holiness brings superiority. The process of getting from our current situation to one that more accurately reflects our commitment to holiness is sanctification. This process includes moral development: becoming a better person who acts ethically more consistently.

How does this happen? Jesus prays about two important dimensions to sanctification. The first is that it is grounded in our relationship with God. The disciples were certain that Jesus came from the Father and was one with him (John 17:8, 11). He prayed that they would be as intimate with God as he was. Our sanctification flows from knowing God well enough to know how he wants us to be and to act. This involves spending time with God both in prayer and in community, engaging with others who know God well.

The second dimension gives us more specific guidance. The word of God is truth. Jesus revealed truth because he disclosed what the Father told him (John 17:6-7). We now have the Word of God in the pages of Scripture. One of its roles is to guide our sanctification so that we are prepared to act well (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Our sanctification requires knowing the Bible well enough to see how we should be and how we should live our lives.

Jesus also warns that sanctification will be opposed. We resist sanctification ourselves because of our own selfishness. But there are also external challenges, both from the world and the evil one. He does not want people better reflecting the love and goodness of God. The notion of truth is under serious attack these days. We can expect that the Bible’s claim to truth will be vigorously opposed. Neither should we expect that everyone will agree when we call for honesty, justice, or protection of the vulnerable. Biblical views on sexuality and finances, or the nature of marriage and the family, will be rejected. We should neither be surprised, nor run away and hide. Jesus knew it would be this way. We should not withdraw from the world, but continue to love others, as Jesus did, and witness to God’s truth, as Jesus did. This includes how we respond to rejection and suffering: by allowing it to help in our sanctification, driving us into deeper dependence on the Father, as Jesus did.

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