What the World Needs
For their sakes I sanctify Myself (John 17:19).
In a country where the evangelical church has been declining for years, where only seven to eight percent of the population are evangelicals (twenty-two to twenty-six million people); in a nation where evangelicals are alarmingly and increasingly called more dangerous and divisive than Muslims; it is high time for American evangelicals to wake up and face the music. What once took decades to effect societal change, now due to social media engines like Facebook and Twitter, happens within days or weeks. Exhibit A: the acceptance of same sex marriage in our culture. Most of us in the evangelical world, especially pastors and evangelists, already know these trends first hand or we, at the very least, sense them. Unless there is a major and miraculous revival of true Christianity in America we will continue to decline dramatically over the next thirty years in people, power, and money. Most evangelical denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America, are honest enough to see and state the decline in their own numbers and financial giving. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) once boasted that they represented 30 million evangelicals in the United States. However when challenged by an outsider (using the very statistics of church attendance by those churches represented by the NAE) who proved that the number was more like 7.6 million represented by the NAE, the organization admitted their error and removed that 30 million number from its website.1
What shall we do about the declining numbers and consequent lack of influence amongst evangelicals in America? There is much that can and should be said on this vital topic,2 but I desire here to focus on our primary work of preaching Christ crucified. I am not saying that we need not concern ourselves with these trends of evangelical declension. I am not denying that Dickerson’s six solutions for recovery are helpful. I am choosing, rather, to focus on the foundational issue for every preacher, every church leader, and every church member. What would happen, my friends, if we truly lived out what we believe is true?
In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer of John 17, he prays to his Father, reminding him that he, Jesus, gave his disciples the word of the Father; and because of this the world hated them. Sound familiar? Increasingly the world hates those who stand upon the word of God where we speak of absolute truth, saying among other things, that fornicators, idolators, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, the covetous, revilers, and swindlers will not inherent the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9, 10); that Jesus is the only way of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). But after telling his Father this great truth, a few verses later Jesus prays, ‘For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth’ (John 17:19). What does this mean? For Christ to sanctify himself cannot mean that he is making sure he becomes more holy, more righteous. That is unnecessary and impossible because he is God incarnate, utterly sinless, without spot or wrinkle, in no way tainted with any sin of any kind. In this context, by sanctifying himself Jesus means he is deliberately, willingly setting himself apart for a specific purpose, one that was repeatedly prophesied hundreds of years before (Psalm 22; 110; Isaiah 40-66). He came to die for his people. In love Jesus suffered the humiliation of incarnation, being despised and forsaken of men, delivering himself up as an offering for sin, once for all, the just for the unjust, that he may bring us to God. Such wondrous love!
We need to catch a fresh glimpse of the love of God in Christ Jesus for all his blood-bought people. Consider again the eternal love between the three persons of the Godhead. God has always existed. Love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit has also eternally existed. Now consider the pain of losing a child. We lost two children in the womb at six months. We lost one child outside the womb at six weeks. The pain of each loss was severe. Now those of you who have lost children at five or ten years old, at eighteen years old, at thirty-five years old have experienced far more pain than Wini and me. The longer a child lives, the greater the pain of separation at death. Now, my friends, multiply exponentially the pain of separation between the Godhead as the Lord Jesus suffered the agony and horror of death on Calvary’s cross. ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me’ (Psalm 22:1). ‘Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?’ (Psalm 10:1).
I could say much more, and perhaps I will in the future, on this glorious truth of Christ setting himself apart for us, but for now, consider a few implications of this great work and how this ought to impact our declining influence in the western world. First, if Christ gave himself up for us, does it not necessarily follow, as he implies in his prayer, that we ought also to walk in sanctification, both in personal holiness and consecration? Indeed, shall we not offer ourselves up as living sacrifices for the One who loves us? Shall we not be done with lesser things? Shall we not put aside any and everything which so easily entangles us and run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith? And does it not also follow that we ought to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, to please him in every respect, bearing fruit in every good work? In other words, how can we not earnestly pursue gospel holiness by hating sin and forsaking it? And should we not also love the brethren, putting aside any racial, cultural, denominational, or theological prejudice. If God so loved us, shall we not also love one another? Consecration, holiness, unity. And finally, should we not also live as Christ lived, in grace and truth? By all means, we cannot in any way mitigate the clear teaching of Scripture on sexuality, family, race, or any of the other hot button issues of the day. At the same time, however, due to Christ’s willingness to sanctify himself for us, should we not manifest his grace toward others, both within and without the church? While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. In other words, we must understand that our actions are as important as our words. Both must co-exist together.
Perhaps the western church is approaching the climate in which the first century Christians found themselves in Rome – a very small minority, completely disenfranchised. However, due to their faith, sacrifice, unity, love, proclamation, persecution, and action, within three hundred years Christianity’s teaching of Scripture began to erode the Roman political and moral hegemony.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, live out the practical implications of this great truth – Jesus set himself apart for you. He willingly died a horrific death so that you may experience the forgiveness of your sins and right standing with God. No matter what happens, live in grace and truth.
- John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession (Baker Books), page 32.
- I urge you to read The Great Evangelical Recession to receive Dickerson’s remedy on this issue.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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