Scripture Reference: Matthew 7, John 17
The Future Is HereDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 30, 2001
Selected highlights from this sermon
In our culture, truth is under fire. If you disagree with what’s “popular” or “politically correct,” you’re dismissed as being bigoted. Meanwhile hedonism and mysticism continue to thrive. Everyone acts and believes as they please.
It is in this world, at this time, more than ever, that the church needs to be united in the real Truth, and allow our love for our neighbors to speak for us even as the world ignores our words.
Jesus taught that the church was to be in the world like a ship is in the ocean. But when the ocean begins to get into the ship we are in trouble. I’d like to suggest that the evangelical ship, the church if you please, is taking on water. And during this series of messages of which this is the first, I hope to preach in such a way that we’ll begin to bail some of the water out of the ship. Or we could put it differently and say that it is time to redraw the blurred line between the church and the world.
In fact, we have to ask ourselves this question. Is it even possible for us to rescue the world, which is why we are here (one of the reasons why we’re here)? Is it possible to do that while we ourselves are going under? So we’re going to be talking about biblical discernment. We’re going to be speaking about discerning proper doctrine and lifestyles and entertainment, and identifying false prophets and the like. But in order to set the basis for it I’d like to spend a little bit of time today before we go to the Scriptures talking about popular culture today.
Truth has disappeared, and nobody seems to have noticed, or at least few have noticed. Today we live in an age that is called the post-modern age. What does that mean? Well, you can’t understand what that means unless you know what modernism was. Modernism, which was no friend of Christianity at all, believed that reason, however, had the ability to find over-arching transcendent truths that in some sense would be applicable to all cultures. Modernism believed in science and history, believing that if these were studied carefully we’d be able to not only find some kind of truth, but that we’d be able to take its lessons and apply it. That was modernism. Modernism attacked religion as a bunch of superstition, but at least we knew what we were up against when we were up against modernism.
What is post-modernism. Post-modernism says that reason has failed to find any over-arching truths. Therefore, all that we can do is to look within ourselves, and most of education should be psychology because there is really nothing out there to be discovered that is going to be universally true. Post-modernism says that whereas modernism attacked religion as being filled with superstitions, post-modernism embraces superstitions from every religion. All that has to happen is that Oprah Winfrey has to tell people that the minute you die, you become an angel, and millions of people believe it. Post-modernism, you see, says that we can accept all the religions of the world just as long as none makes any truth claims that are applicable to other cultures and to other people. But you can believe whatever you like. And so we’re in an age of spirituality.
Post-modernism has no confidence in history or science, as we shall see in a moment. These are reduced to really studies in psychology. The impact upon culture is enormous. For example, what now substitutes for truth? You know, it used to be that we, of course, had debates as to where the truth lay, but most people believed that there was truth. In the absence of that, first of all, you have fairness. That’s the big issue.
You know, I learned to preach at street meetings. Believe it or not, we used to, after church on Sunday evening, take the car during the summers. A man had a car and we put on a P.A. system, and we’d go to a corner there and we’d preach to all the people. Well, sometimes people walked by and they heckled us, and they made fun of us, and so forth, but at least they were interested in truth, and they claimed we didn’t have it. They thought they did. Well, that’s modernism and at least you can handle it, but post modernism says the issue is not whether or not it is true or false. That’s not the issue, because there really is no such thing. The real issue is, “Is it fair?” And the Gospel isn’t fair if you believe that there is only one way to God. That’s not fair.
And then there’s a new twist. Not only is it not fair, but furthermore, you really have no right to preach your point of view because it is so unfair, so everything, you see, is reduced to a psychological thing. If you believe in the sanctity of “one man one woman” marriages, why indeed that’s just your deeply held prejudice. You see, that’s your particular form of bigotry, so that the issue isn’t really whether it can be debated as truth. It’s all reduced, you see, to individual perceptions and ideas, so you have the privatization of convictions and this great idea that nobody should ever have to see or hear anything that offends them.
I mean I was almost amused to discover that there are businesses that will not allow you to keep a small American flag on your desk, because it might be offensive to somebody else. I mean shouldn’t we all just laugh at that point? So what if it is (quote) offensive to somebody else? But, you see, we live in such an age that to offend somebody, if you have these deeply held prejudices, the thing that you should do if you are a good citizen, post-modernism would say, is at least keep them to yourselves. So take religion. If you have these ancient ideas about religion, you keep them to yourselves. If you are a patriot you can keep that to yourself too because everything has to be privatized because a new right has been found in the Constitution, and that is the right to never hear anything that offends you.
Now I do need to say that sometimes we have been needlessly offensive. I’m not arguing for the benefits of being offensive, but I do need to tell you this, that nobody can be saved unless he is offended by the cross. That’s true.
Another thing that substitutes is hedonism. Now you can understand this. Okay, I am now my god. That’s the official teaching. We are all gods. Right? There’s no god, there’s no transcendent god, particularly one who has revealed himself, so now I make all of my choices, and I make up my own truth. You see, there is truth but it’s my truth and it’s your truth, and it doesn’t matter whether or not it conflicts because there is no overarching truth. And so an idea becomes right simply because I think that idea. I create the idea in my mind, and that’s truth therefore. Truth is not to be discovered as something objective. It is something I make up in accordance with my desires and beliefs, so you can understand now that the two things that God considers to be very sacred, mainly human life and marriage, are being attacked viciously in the media and in other ways. First of all, through violence, so you get all of these television programs with violence, and people become addicted to this violent culture that’s going to destroy and break and kill. And then the second thing is an attack against marriage—sexuality, pornography, the whole idea that somehow there’s nothing sacred about this relationship, the destruction of all decency in terms of how we treat people.
Then, of course, we also have not only rampant hedonism, but mysticism. You see, I mentioned a moment ago that what happens is, you see, now everybody is free to make up his own (quote) spiritual belief. So we’re into an age of spirituality where everybody is spiritual but they have no doctrines. As a matter of fact, to go back to some doctrine would be to go back to modernism, or a modernist conception of truth. But everybody makes it up, you see. Somebody has said, you know, “We have sheep for wool, we have cows for milk, and we have God to come along and confirm our every craving.” He becomes, if He is a He… God becomes whatever you want Him to be, and we can just make it all up in accordance with our own wishes and our desires.
The impact upon this in culture is absolutely enormous. I could have taken the entire time to go through this, but I decided not to. Health care! People have today very offbeat ideas. Fringe medicine, which is into some mystical form of spirituality! Of course, we’re spiritual creatures. Of course, the spiritual impacts the physical. We’re not denying that, but now health care oftentimes is taken out of the realm of the scientific, and rather it is in this mystical spiritual idea, and then you find in the newspapers that if you pray and you have special people praying, you get well faster.
And Christians sent me articles when it was in the newspaper and said, “Isn’t this wonderful, that they have finally discovered that prayer works?” What do you mean wonderful? I found nothing wonderful about it at all because I discovered that they say it doesn’t matter who you pray to or who does the praying. It’s just this mystical idea of prayer somehow that gets results.
And so you have leaders of a movement like that, like Deepak Chopra. He says, “At core we are truth and love and compassion, essentially spirit.” And so you get all these energy fields, you see, that are really the answer to man’s physical problem, fields which sometimes have not been discovered by any scientific basis.
You get literature. You know, it used to be that when you studied literature, the intention was to find out what the author was saying, and what he meant. Often that’s not true today. People say the important thing is what you bring to the occasion. It is the meaning that you impose.
Remember when a political candidate, several months ago, whose name I will not mention, said that the Constitution of the United States is a living document. Many people read that and had no idea what he meant. What he meant was this. You don’t have to go with what the original authors and the framers meant. What you do is you bring your own meaning to it in accordance with your culture and your own ideas. You impose upon it your own psychological bent, and so the idea is not to find out what the original authors meant, but rather to find the meaning that it is to you, and there may be a multiple number of different meanings depending on who you are and what you bring to the table.
Look at history. “Ho, ho, ho, western civ’ has to go,” chants that have been shouted at some of America’s universities where European civilization is seen to be the great evil, and therefore instead of finding out what our roots are and what our history is, in some instances history has been reduced to therapy where minorities are able to build their self-esteem. It’s a therapy session.
The bottom line is this, folks. We live in a day when there is no over-arching truth in the minds of many people. There is in ours, but not in theirs. Secondly, as Ravi Zacharias says, “We are living at a time when people hear with their eyes and think with their feelings.” What a challenge we have to this generation!
Do you think that this has affected the church? Oh yes, it has affected the church. We have accepted the world’s lifestyles. In terms of movies that Christians see, apparently according to the statistics and the surveys, they are essentially the same ones that the world sees. We have come to the conclusion that it is possible to be a follower of Jesus Christ and not have to turn your back on the world, even though the world is at enmity with God.
We find that people don’t want to be under authority. Absolutely not! This rampant sense of individualism that says, “I can make my own choices about how I give, how I live, what I do, where I go, and who I am, and who’s going to tell me any different?” So we have a great sense of individualism.
Let me give you a second way that this has impacted the church. Most Christians, and according to Barna… I heard this on the radio, and I think I remember it correctly. About 80% of Christians do not see any reason to share their faith. Isn’t that amazing? So, you see, we come to church on Sunday, and we say, “Well, you know, Jesus is Lord. He’s the only way.” Those are our beliefs, but they’ve not yet translated into convictions so that we talk to others lovingly about Jesus, and to do so in a winsome way that attracts them to our Savior. Most Christians see no reason to. Why? It’s because we live in a day and age when nobody is supposed to judge anything, an age in which every view is just as right as any other view regarding religion. Who are we to judge? Who are we to say that Christ is the only way? We’ve been paralyzed in our post-modern culture to privatize our convictions and to say nothing. Amazing statistic! Eighty percent see no reason why they should share their faith. Wow!
Third, we have failed to judge. The word discernment has become a bad word. The word judge… The most quoted verse in America is not John 3:16. It is (Well, who are you to judge?) “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Now I’m concerned when I speak this way because sometimes what you find is there are people in the congregation who are just sharpening their knives and saying, “At last! I’ve been wanting to judge for a long time.” (laughter) You are the wrong person to do the judging. We, as evangelicals, sometimes judge from a position of pride, self-righteousness. Listen, we should be the most humble people in all the world. We, of all people, know that we are miserable sinners who have been redeemed by a Savior. And therefore we should be broken and humble in our attitude, and in our witness. We should not come across as self-righteous people.
And then you have all those people who want to be quick to judge, but they want to judge the wrong things. They have these special traditions that they want to judge. And they’re not judging the important thing. They’re just judging all kinds of superficial issues that they can hardly wait to jump on. That’s why the second message in this series is devoted entirely to the words of Jesus: “Judge not lest ye be judged,” because we have to understand both what it meant and what it did not mean. We need to both be encouraged to judge and exercise discernment in our judgments because if not, indeed judgment may fall on our own head.
Now, what does this mean in terms of the church? I want you to take your Bibles today and turn to the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John; John 17. This is Jesus Christ’s vision for His people. No matter how often I have read this chapter, no matter how often I have studied it… When I was in Bible school I memorized it and quoted it every Sunday. It is one of the most glorious passages in all the Scripture, and here we see Jesus Christ’s vision for us in the world but not of it. And he prays for us. He prays for His followers, but first of all, I want you to know who those people are that He is praying for.
In verse 6 it is very clear that He is talking to those to whom He revealed the Father. Verse 6: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” That’s who He’s talking about—people who have this revelation, this understanding of who He was.
Verse 7: “Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them.” Wow! That’s a unique class of people. He’s talking about people who understand completely the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and the fact that there is none other like Him. He’s talking about those who accept the fact that He is King of kings, and Lord of lords, that He is the One who reveals the Father to people, and beside Him there is none other. That’s the group of people for whom He prays.
And how does He pray? First of all, He prays for their protection. Notice in verse 11: “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Various dark forces are going to try to take that little band of Jesus Christ’s followers and tear them apart. Nothing less than the Father’s name and the strength of the Father is going to keep them unified, praying for one another, representing Jesus Christ to the world, and keeping them steadfast and true to the faith. And lest anyone think that Jesus Christ does not have the power to keep people pointing their fingers at Judas, He does say (verse 12), “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”
Judas never was one of these people who was a gift of God the Father to the Son. Earlier in the chapter Jesus said that these are those, Father, whom you have given me, and Judas never was a part of that company. Jesus may pray for the world, but right now He is praying for His own, and He does not pray here for Judas.
So He prays, first of all, that they would be protected from disunity, that they be protected from disunity, because He knew the importance of unity. And I need to say that we should be praying the same prayer for God’s people, for our church, for the churches in this community that belong to Jesus Christ. We need that sense of unity, not just mystically in the sense that we are members of Christ’s body, but actually, in terms of our experience, in terms of our relationships to somehow model that unity.
And then you’ll notice He also prays that they would be kept from Satan. Verse 15: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
How is the evil one going to try to destroy the church? In the first centuries of the church, the evil one tried to destroy the people by persecution. You had Rome standing against Christians, and you had people thrown to the lions. You had people ostracized from jobs and people oftentimes going through tremendous hardship, lacerated on their backs because of their faith in Christ. And then after the time of Constantine what you have now is where the church and the state were united. The world came along and embraced the church, and the church ran in Constantinian ways to that direction, and began to say, “This is wonderful. At last, we are popular. At last the world has come to us and said we have the right religion.”
And what do you have after that period of time? You have the evil one trying to destroy the church with false doctrine and with politics and all the other things that came to be as a result of that. Jesus is saying, “I’m praying that they will be kept from the evil one. I pray for their protection.” And this is the kind of prayer that we should pray for one another.
Secondly, He prays for their sanctification. Notice in verse 17. He says: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Don’t be afraid of that word sanctify. It means to set apart. God says, “I want these to be my special people. I want them to be set apart unto Me for My purposes, for My glory. I want them to belong to Me and be special because of that relationship.” It is an honor to be sanctified.
Now notice that the sanctification is not nearly personal holiness, though it is that. Holiness should be the thing that we long for. And let me tell you this. Holiness is not something that God looks to us for because we have none of it. Holiness is something that God has in mind for us that He gives us as we yield to Him and learn to walk in the Spirit.
So He’s saying, “I want them to be holy because of that but also because of the great mission that I am imposing upon them. I am calling them to represent me in the world.” And how are they going to be sanctified? By the truth. The more you and I spend time in God’s Word, memorizing it, meditating on it, thinking about it, singing hymns that are based upon it, the greater the transformation that takes place, and our ability to say no to sin is strengthened because that’s the means of sanctification. It is sanctification by the truth, and we have the wonderful privilege of being a part of what Jesus has called us to do.
So He prays that they might be protected. He prays for their sanctification. I choose only one other request from this marvelous passage, and that is in verse 24 where He prays for our eventual glorification and to be in His presence. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory (This is the glorious vision for which all saints long.) and the glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Remember now that Jesus is praying for two things. He says, “I want them to be with Me.”
Isn’t that blessed? Do you realize that Jesus is praying that you are going to be with Him, and until He returns, the only way we can be with Him is through death, so death isn’t quite as bad as we thought it was, is it? It is really a fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s prayer because death is the means by which we are brought into His presence. But when we are in His presence, what are we going to be doing? Will we be beginning on number one in the hymnal, singing all the way through, and then beginning at number one again and then singing all the way through until we say, “Oh Lord, is all that heaven is?” No, heaven is going to be exciting. There’s going to be much to do, but I’ll tell you that one of things I look forward to the most is to be with Him and to see His glory. Imagine! Undimmed! Unshielded glory and beauty of our blessed Savior!
No wonder Carrie Breck wrote:
Face to face with Christ, my Savior,
Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ who died for me.
Only faintly now I see Him,
With the darkened veil between,
But a blessed day is coming,
When His glory shall be seen.
Jesus said, “I love them so much that I’m praying that they are going to be with Me.” And I want you to know that if you are a believer, that prayer will be answered in your behalf.
What does all this have to do with our series on judging, with our series on asking the question, “What is it like to be in the world but not of it?” A few observations!
First of all, I want us to understand that we are to be distinct from the world. Distinct from the world! Obviously! And the Bible says that if we are lovers of the world, the love of the Father is not in us. And what is the world? It’s the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life—all of those values. We live among people with those values, but those are not the values that we should have.
Whatever made us think, as an evangelical church, that it is possible to follow Jesus without turning our backs on this world, when He says that the world is His enemy? And to think that we can follow Jesus and buy into all the values, all of the things that the people of the world do, that we can just somehow not be affected when truth is desecrated in our presence? I have to ask the questions, “Where have we come? Where have I come? Where have we as a church come? Where has the evangelical church in America come to?” We are to be distinct from the world.
And now it becomes even more important, folks. We are to be united in the truth. Why did I take so much time to point out that Jesus here begins to pray for those who accepted His name, for those who knew that He came from the Father, those who trusted Him, those who obeyed His Word, and those who were sanctified by the truth? Why did I take so much time to do that? It’s because this passage of Scripture is so often misused. What you have is people saying, “Now, Pastor Lutzer, don’t you dare teach doctrine because it divides people.” My dear friend, that’s the whole point of preaching doctrine—to divide people. That’s why I preach it, that they might be divided.
You look at the ministry of Jesus. He was constantly talking about false preachers and false teachers. And that’s why, if I didn’t mention it already, one of the messages is on identifying false prophets and false teachers. It’s because that’s the whole purpose of doctrine. People say, “Well, you know, we’re supposed to all be one.” My dear friend, it is much better to be united by truth (and we’re supposed to be united by truth) than to be somehow united with false doctrine. Or let me put it this way. It is much better to be divided by the truth than to be united with error. Do I have a witness out there, by the way? (applause)
Now, if we could have a prayer service in Yankee Stadium, and you could have all the different religions of the world invited, and they are all praying to their own god or gods, and if Jesus shows up in that prayer service because He’s represented there, too, by a minister… If you could look at that and there is nothing in your heart that just absolutely sunk with pain, I don’t know whether or not you love Jesus or not, because you don’t put Jesus on the same plain with Krishna and Bahá'u'lláh and Buddha. He does not fit there. (loud applause) He is above all principalities and powers.
During the days of the early church, with all that persecution going on, one Roman emperor after another kept persecuting Christians. Some of them were more moderate. Finally, there was one emperor by the name of Alexander who said, “Let’s let the persecution end.” And the Christians were happy for that. But then he said, “Not only is the persecution going to end, I’m going to do something very wonderful for the Christians.” He said, “I’m going to take an image of their God, Jesus, and put it in the Pantheon where we have all the Roman gods, and Jesus will be one among the many.” And the Christians said, “No way, Jose.” They maybe said it in a different language, but that was the idea.
You’re not doing Christianity a favor by taking an image of Jesus and putting it in the Pantheon of gods. He does not belong as one among many. He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and above all gods. You don’t try to put Him on the same pedestal as those others. (applause)
You don’t have to come up later and say to me, “Well, can’t you be nicer?” (laughs) I am nice. Of course, all of the other religions of the world have a right in America to believe whatever they want to believe, and to worship whomever they want to worship, and to pray to whomever they want to pray to. I understand that, but let’s not go from the idea that everybody has a right to all these different beliefs to the silly idea that all these different beliefs are right. What we need to do is to recognize that there is a distinction. Jesus is King and beside Him there is no other.
What am I expecting in these messages? First of all, a sense of unity to grow, that we might love Christ better, but that in our discernment we will represent Him better to the world, and also that we will be more courageous in the best possible way to represent Him, and not think that He is just one among a whole host of deities.
There’s a third conclusion I’ve come to, and that is obvious. I’ve already mentioned it, and that is our responsibility to represent Jesus Christ to the world, and to represent Him well. I began this message by talking about our post-modern culture, and the $64 question is this. How do we represent Christ in a nation that no longer believes in reason, a nation that is awash in superstition, superstitious ideas from whatever and they can all be accepted and all touted as just the latest knowledge? How do we do that? It used to be that you could actually present arguments for the Christian faith. How do you witness to people who no longer accept any arguments because they have no confidence in reason? They trust their own intuition and their own perceptions.
My dear friend, there is an answer. I’ve been thinking about this. You know what it is too. Our nation is so fractured because of the brokenness of the homes, because of rampant sexuality that is destroying people and they are in despair and emptiness. They have all of these ideas in their minds. Some of them have made up their minds to reject Christianity, but for others it’s a mixture of Christianity and God knows what else. And by the way, He does know what else because He knows everything.
What we need to do, folks, is to establish credibility by our love and by our sacrificial involvement in the lives of other people. I believe that as God has blessed our church, we have seen it grow, but do you know that it could grow much more if we all sacrificially became involved in the lives of our visitors when they stand, or people whom we meet, and we begin to say to ourselves that we have to broaden the little circle of our friends? We have to be involved in hospitality in caring and love because Jesus did say that people would know that we are His disciples by the way in which we love one another. And so what we need to do is to realize that in a day when intellectual arguments no longer carry the weight they once did, love will carry the weight and the day so that they understand that what Jesus did in us no other religion or leader can possibly do.
Tertullian, during those first centuries of Christianity in North Africa, said that the pagans were so overwhelmed by the love of the Christians, and yet they were irritated by the fact that these Christians seemed to be so different. The pagans called them the third race because they said, “When they have a funeral they carry their dead as if in triumph. Who are these people who do not fear death?” And the Christians gained credibility, and soon the Gospel in North Africa began to spread.
Jesus makes this amazing statement that humbles me. He says, “As the Father has sent me into the world, so send I you.” You are to be my representatives. You are to be in the world and not of it just as I was in the world and not of it. And that is our calling and that is the challenge to which we as a church rise at this very critical open moment in American history.
And if you are here, by the way, and you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior, could I commend Him to you? Could I tell you how wonderful He is, that He’s the one who forgives us, He’s the one who loves us, He’s the one who scoops us out of our sin and self-centeredness and gives us a whole new set of values, and changes our desires so that we love God? That’s what Jesus can do for you, and He is the focus of all things, and to you we commend Him.
Our Father, as You have given us this awesome challenge in this world, we pray today that You might make us faithful to the task. Lord, we pray, help us to understand who we are to be. Help us to be able to distinguish truth from error. Help us to know the importance of what we believe. Help us to understand, oh Father, that Jesus is unique and special. And we believe all the things that Your Word says about Him. May we, with confidence, represent Him well in this city and wherever we find ourselves.
Now, if you have to talk to Christ right now, before I close this prayer, whatever need is in your heart… If you’ve never believed on Him tell Him you are going to accept Him right now. There is something in your life that stands in the way of what God wants to do through you. You talk to Him about that. This is your moment.
Oh Father, do in us that which is well-pleasing in Your sight. And don’t let us go until Your work is complete. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.