JOHN 17:17b-c
Pastor’s Favorite Book
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

From the Bible: John 17:17, 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Ephesians 5:25, Hebrews 4:12

John 17:17b (Holman) “. . . by the truth; . . .”

Jesus asked the Father to sanctify us. Sanctification is the process whereby the Holy Spirit sets us apart more and more from sin in order to make us more and more like Jesus. Christ wanted the Father to never stop making us ever holier.

Setbacks and disappointments dog our steps. Sanctification is not always uniform, often “three steps forward, two steps back,” but progressive nonetheless.

Christians are expected to make spiritual progress, to grow in Godliness. For a lifetime, we are to desire to reach ever higher levels of holiness. The question is, how can we have this increasing sanctification?

We begin by recognizing sanctification is as much God’s work from beginning to end as justification is. Beware the danger of jumping from believing in justification by faith to embracing sanctification by works. When Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them,” He was saying, “God, You must do this if it is to be done.”

The Father is the gracious Source of our sanctification, and the tool He uses to accomplish it also flows from Him. Using “the truth” as their main instrument, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit accomplish our sanctification.

With truth, the Holy Spirit confronts us with the painful reality of our sin in order to draw us closer to God through repentance. Mark Twain observed, “Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture which they cannot understand. But, as for me, I have always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.”

If we choose to reject the Holy Spirit’s discomforting truth, we take a dangerous step heading away from God. People perish because they do “not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

The Holy Spirit uses truth to make us holier. Emotionalism and ritualism can not generate more Godliness in us, nor can glibly telling people they are good. Skirting the issue of a sin nature will move no one toward spiritual improvement. Make-believe can not better our level of sanctification.

Even afflictions, on their own, are not a sure way to grow in the Lord. Difficulties often drive people further away from God. Troubles can at best put a sinner in a mindset open to deeper thought and reflection, and can help make truth more impressionable, but the work of sanctification begins in God’s truth.

Thus we need to know, where can we find truth? Are we to look for private communications? This is a frightening thought. God’s revelations are perfect, but we are imperfect receivers of them. Our sinful nature often garbles His message.

Inner impressions may help, but we desperately need something reliable and unbiased, an unchangeable, incorruptible, bedrock standard, whereby we test our decisions. We need an objective authority, something outside ourselves, to judge whether or not our thoughts are true. This needed standard of truth is God’s Word.

John 17:17c “. . . Your word is truth.”

Growth in the Lord requires God’s truth, as presented in His Word. Sanctification, to succeed, must be linked with God’s true, always dependable, Word. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her, to make her holy, cleansing her in the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25b-26).

Precisely what is this truth, this Word of God? The answer is progressive. It begins with Jesus, who was proved to be truth’s ultimate expression due to His resurrection from death. John the Beloved described Jesus as the Word (John 1:14). Jesus called Himself the Truth (John 14:6). He combines the two.

Jesus, being God’s ultimate messenger, had the authority to designate for us what words are true, authentic, from God. He verified the Divine inspiration of the Old Testament; “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35b), and of John the Baptist; “No one greater than John the Baptist has appeared” (Matthew 11:11), and of the Disciples; “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13), and of Paul; “This man is my chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15). Luke drew much of his material from Paul. Mark and Jude gleaned from Peter.

From these reliable primary sources, God’s Word was compiled in written form. In this way, truth was presented permanently and reliably to the Church.

There is no doubt God still communes with us directly. His Spirit definitely bears witness with our spirit, but the Bible is God’s Word as wonderfully, marvelously, and authoritatively as no other word can ever be.

Deprived of the Bible, we would be left without definite communication from God. Without Scripture we are doomed to imaginations, hunches, and conjectures. “The fate of the Bible is the fate of Christianity” (Emil Brunner).

Christianity has no authority apart from the Bible. Believers have no right to speak of absolute truth except from God’s written revelation. Apart from Scripture, a preacher’s thoughts are merely guesswork, any person’s opinions are as valid as any other person’s, and swampy subjectivism muddies the waters.

Since all people, including Christ-followers, have a sin nature, we must be careful not to swallow hook, line, and sinker the beliefs of any one person, including our own. Only the Bible is eminently trustworthy.

Because it is God’s true Word, the Bible contains at least three vital traits. One, the Bible is ultimate truth. Its teachings are of utmost importance.

The Bible is not only inerrant, infallible, and immutable. It also contains the truth we most need. Other realities are true – for instance, facts of science, history, and mathematics. But their significance weighs nothing compared to the Bible’s.

Only the Bible places us in immediate contact with God and all that relates to eternity. It alone shows how to find pardon for guilt, righteousness for salvation, Heaven instead of Hell. The Bible contains our only eternal hope.

People search the world over for answers to life’s deepest questions. They look everywhere, but will find what they really want to know in only one place.

“We search the world for truth; we cull
The good, the pure, the beautiful
From all old flower fields of the soul;
And weary seekers of the best,
We come back laden from our quest,
To find that all the sages said
Is in the book our mothers read”
(John Greenleaf Whittier).

This is why Wesley loved the Bible, and said, “God Himself has condescended to teach the way. He hath written it down in a book. Oh, give me that Book. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one Book.”

Two, the Bible never fails us. It is infallible, unfailing, having a message for every need. It is perfectly suited for us, speaking where we live. Appropriate for every circumstance of life, it sustains us all the way through the valley of the shadow of death. Then, once we have passed on into the light casting the shadow, the Bible remains to comfort our loved ones left behind in the dark valley.

The Bible is truth without any failure, any deficiency. Robert E. Lee claimed, “In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.” Maybe this is why tourists in persecuted lands see whole handwritten copies of the Bible there, and why churches in the Middle Ages had to chain their copies of the Bible to poles to keep them from being stolen. It’s an amazing book that speaks to us unfailingly.

Three, the Bible is powerful. Scripture is not for contemplation only. It is a life-changer. The Bible cannot sanctify by itself – if it could, we would be made holier by simply reading it regularly – but God has planted a special energy in the Bible.

“The word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible slices us in two. It jabs and stabs, destroying sham and attacking our worst self, thereby clearing a path of truth that allows the Spirit to come work on us freely.

“Is not My word like fire – the Lord’s declaration – and like a sledgehammer that pulverizes rock?” (JR 23:29). We need the constant cleansing provided by the Bible. Any who depart from God’s written Word always become more sinful.