It is the task of the Christian to demonstrate his or her peculiarity to the world.
In reading through the catalogue of people of faith in Hebrews 11, it is the peculiarity of the men and women of faith that is most prominent. You cannot get much stranger than Noah, for instance, who hammered on a boat for 120 years waiting for a promised flood in a world that had not yet even seen rain. Think about it. This man was unusual, to say the least.
When Jesus prayed that you would be sanctified by means of the Word (John 17:17), he meant that you would be peculiar, or distinctively unlike the rest of the world. Holiness or sanctification is not just about purity or discipline. It is about displaying your radical difference, showing the marks of God’s ownership, and illustrating through your behavior the unusualness of your new life in Christ. This is accomplished by faith in what God has said. It is more about faith than about establishing regimens of discipline (which, by the way, even a Pharisee could do). I’m not diminishing the need for discipline. But I will say now and later that you are never more holy than when you trust God on the basis of what He has said. And it is in trusting that you become the most unlike everyone else.
Jesus Prayed for You to Be Peculiar
Jesus prayed about sanctification or holiness in John 17. All Christ’s prayers are answered. Here is what he prayed:
But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth (vv. 13-19).
It comes as a shock to some Christians to discover that they are aliens in the world—foreigners. "They are not of this world, even as I am not of this world" (v. 16). The new birth or regeneration of each Christian is "from above." In fact, in John 3 where Jesus stated that one must be born again, the words could just as well be translated "born from above." And we retain a citizenship in the place of our birth (Phil. 3:20). Not only that, we are said to actually be in heavenly places with Christ at the right hand of God, though our feet are on terra firma (Eph. 2:4-7; Col. 3:1-3). Mysterious? Yes, but no less true.
We think of Christ as having come from above, but this passage requires that Christians think of themselves in the same way. Again, "They are not of this world, even as I am not of this world."
Thankful to be Called to Peculiarity
There is a certain humility in this position. That God would give me another origin and orientation to life is a remarkable gift. I have a friend who just received her citizenship in our country. Her receipt of citizenship was a matter of celebration and joy. We should have an even greater thankfulness and excitement about the fact that we are made heavenly citizens.
When I was a boy I had an older friend who had come from the Netherlands, but had become a citizen of our country. We were told that when the television would show the flag of our country as the stations signed off for the night, he would sometimes put his hand across his chest and say emotively, in his mother tongue, "The flag, the flag." He loved his new home where he was now a true citizen. Christians have this love for their true home, made theirs through actual spiritual origin.
Jesus sends his own, those who share with him a heavenly spiritual origin and orientation, into the world. Praying for his apostles, but also for us (v. 21), He says, "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (v. 18).
Think of this amazing reality. Christ came into the world from heaven with a mission to accomplish. In a similar way, Christians are also sent from heaven ("born from above") and given an earthly mission to accomplish.
I could imagine how great it might be just to automatically go to heaven upon conversion. But this is not God’s plan. He puts us here and leaves us here for a reason. Jesus said to the Father, "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (v. 15).
God’s mission for us is, at least in part, one of displaying our peculiarity. We are the strange ones on the earth. God does not mean that we are to attempt to be different in the peripherals of life, the issues about which God says nothing. For instance, there are people who adopt a type of clothing from the 19th century and who won’t drive cars. A person is free to do that, but that is not holiness. (Of course, God does say that we should be modest, but that leaves plenty of freedom as to style.). Holiness is being radically different in love, faith, sacrifice, perspective, character, purpose, meaning, and such related matters. Holy people think and act totally unlike those without Christ in these ways, even while not differing greatly in physical appearance. Jesus was different, but He wore normal clothing that did not draw attention to Himself.
The Animosity that Arises
What is most amazing about all of this is that such behavior and worldview excites animosity. Jesus says this clearly in the passage under consideration. "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world" (v. 14).
This is sometimes difficult for Christians to comprehend. From their perspective, they are only showing love for their family or friends, trying to lead them into a new kind of life that will actually be better for them now and for eternity. Why should that cause animosity? Yet it certainly does.
This is dramatically presented a couple of chapters earlier in John 15:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you . . . He who hates Me hates My Father also . . . But this happened that the word may be fulfilled which is written in their law, "They hated me without a cause" (vv. 18-19, 25).
When Jesus said, "They hated me without a cause," he was saying that they hated Him, and, by implication, Christians, without a justifiable cause. Of course, they can point to something that in their mind makes Christians hate-worthy. They are chafing because the life of holiness is actually a condemnation of their worldview. It puts them under pressure, even though we as believers have no intention to do that. We are simply trying to love them, to tell them what is most important, to answer their deepest needs, to display something of a different lifestyle that is pleasing, confident, assured, and "insured." But, though our intention is love, they hate us. They talk about us behind our backs, barely tolerate us, and don’t want what we have—that is, if they are not being drawn by God to Christ.
Remember that no one was more radical or otherworldly than Christ. Nor was anyone more loving. He healed, taught truth, did good, lived perfectly, died sacrificially, and rose again so that people would be forgiven and go to heaven. So why would you hate a person like that? There is no justifiable cause.
Christ’s Request to the Father
You then are not of this world, yet Christ sends you into the world, and this world will, on the main, hate you. Therefore Jesus asks the Father for two things. First, he asks that the Father would keep us.
This request is an extension of his labors for his own. He said, "While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled" (v. 12). He kept them from finally perishing; now he asks the Father to continue this care while they remain on the earth. Only Judas out of the apostles would not be kept, but would eternally perish in hell as "the son of perdition." This "keeping" extends to us also.
Secondly, Jesus petitions the Father on our behalf, saying, "Sanctify them by Your truth; Your word is truth" (v. 17).
This request is profound in its implications. We know that Christ has prayed about our being distinctive, unusual, peculiar, in all the ways that the Bible addresses. At least at its heart, our sanctification is not about the amount of time spent in Bible reading, though every believer will want and need to read the Bible. At its core, sanctification is about being distinctive. We know that God is only pleased by faith in Him and His Word. And it is faith that produces that distinctiveness.
To restate: Holiness is about peculiarity. We are called to be different than everyone else. And the way that is done is through faith—believing and acting on what God has said regardless of the way the rest of society goes. You are holy in relation to the exercise of that faith. The Bible will then be attractive to you in a new way—as that which sanctifies you as you believe it.
Through faith, you will be peculiar in relation to the release of money, love of your enemies, thankfulness in affliction, fearlessness in death, and the joyful sacrifice of time and energy, among many other things. The people around you—people who live only in the secular realm—will always be asking, "Why does he do that?
That’s being on a mission.
by Your truth. Your Word is truth.