John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
“Sanctify.” The word means “to separate from profane (or common) things and dedicate to God.” Jesus wants this word to characterize the lives of His followers. He wants them to be different from this world, not conformed to it (Romans 12:2). But in what way? How’s the world and the way things are in this world, and how’s the way people think so different from the way He wants them to think and the way they need to think to be “children of God.”
Just before Jesus’ prayer in John 17 He speaks about how the world needs it’s thinking changed about three things; three lies, if you will. These three things are “sin, righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8). People so often point to Christians as those who think they’re better than everyone else – “holier than thou” – so to speak. However, the opposite is actually true, and it’s the believer’s view of these three words – sin, righteousness and judgment – that demonstrates this.
True believers must acknowledge, first, that they are sinners. They must confess this to God. They are no better than anyone else, and perhaps even worse than most. It was the great apostle Paul who said “I am the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), and the prophet Isaiah who said “I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
On the issue of “righteousness,” the believer acknowledges that in themselves, he or she is not “right” in their thinking. They are not righteous. Only God is righteous, and only His ways are the right ways.
Then on the issue of judgment, the believer acknowledges that if it weren’t for what Christ has done on their behalf, i.e., die to pay the penalty for their own sin, they would be subject to God’s just punishment of sin. They acknowledge that they are not worthy of the least of God’s favor (Genesis 32:10), but only of the wrath of a just God. And they are humbled and overwhelmed by the fact that God would love someone like them, that He would ever forgive them, and that Christ should die for them.
Yes, the believer is “sanctified,” truly “set apart” from the rest of the world in these ways, and it is in gratitude for what God has done that they are motivated in their heart of hearts to no longer want to live in sin as they once did, but they also acknowledge that unless God gives them strength, they can’t live as they actually want to and they are totally dependent on God to guide them and help them. They need Him and they need His Word more than they need their necessary food (Job 23:12).
It is these things that separate the believer from the world and sets them apart to God – rather than their own “goodness” as some might think. It is by the holy Word of God that the believer learns the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment, and it is by this same Word that the believer is “transformed by the renewal of (their) mind, that by testing (they) may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The believer’s love for the God who saved them from their sin and its penalty is their motivation to be transformed, and it is God’s Word that guides that transformation day by day as the Christian’s mind is cleansed by it.