“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NIV ‘84)
It was not surprising that Martin Luther wrote his Ninety-five Theses against the sale of indulgences and nailed them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Five years earlier at his promotion to doctorate, Martin Luther took an oath on the Bible to teach only the true doctrine and to report all who promoted falsehood. Since then he had been lecturing on God’s Word, specifically on the books of Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. Thanks to the illumination of the Spirit he had come to a better understanding of God’s Word. He came to rediscover that man’s salvation is in Jesus Christ alone and not with the buying of indulgences from Johann Tetzel. And so the return of Luther to God’s Word triggered the great Reformation of the sixteenth century in Europe!
And why was God’s Word so important? As Jesus prayed to God in John 17, “Your word is truth.” The church was led away from blinding falsehood back to truth, as defined and determined by the Word.
These words were part of Jesus’ lengthy prayer to his heavenly Father. When he had finished, he left with his disciples for the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the chief priests and scribes, and eventually handed over to Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death on a cross.
This prayer consists mostly of Jesus’ intercession for his disciples throughout all ages. When the task for which the Father had sent him into this world was completed, he would be going back to the Father. Then the church would have to continue without the Lord’s personal presence in her midst. Therefore the accent of Jesus’ prayer lies strongly on the preservation of the church in this world by the Father.
So Jesus prayed for his disciples, for they would be the ones sent out to preach the Word in this hostile world. Those who would believe in Christ would do so through their word (v. 20). Through the Word the Lord Jesus would gather, defend, and preserve his church.
That is why Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth!” Sanctify them: make them holy. They were to be holy men, set apart from this world and set apart for God’s service in this world.
And their sanctification is to be in the truth; their hearts were to be changed by the truth that is God’s Word. Without the Word, the work of sanctification in the disciples and in the church is impossible!
Indeed, God’s Word is truth.Truth is a very important word in the gospel of John. This is truth with a capital T; truth which is permanent, clear, sufficient, necessary, and authoritative for us. This truth must be accepted in faith and acted upon by us in every aspect of life. We too need to be sanctified in the truth.
This is what happened in the time of the great Reformation. The church was guided back into all the truth, the truth of God’s Word about salvation in Jesus Christ alone by faith alone. So the church experienced sanctification by the Spirit through the Word of truth.
With the great Reformation there was also application of God’s Word of truth to all areas of human life and activity. For as Luther once wrote, “The Word of God is the greatest, most necessary, most important thing in Christendom.” Once again, Jesus Christ was acknowledged as King over all of life!
And today there is the same need for the church to return continually to the truth of God’s Word, for us to live every day of the week in submission to it, and to listen to the commands of Christ our King. As he would later say to Pilate: “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (18:37).
But then a cynical Pilate asked, “What is truth?” We live in a world which asks the same question. Today truth is whatever you want it to be; it is whatever suits you. The truth of God’s Word no longer guides many in our western world. The truth of God’s Word has been sacrificed on the altar of selfishness and self- centeredness, and as a result many live enslaved to falsehood. Yet does he not call us as church to be the pillar and foundation of the truth in the midst of this world! May the truth triumph through us!
Thankfully, God’s Word is truth.
And as Martin Luther concluded in “A Mighty Fortress,” his famous Reformation hymn: “God’s truth abideth still/ His Kingdom is forever.”
REV. JOHN LOUWERSE FORMER MINISTER OF THE CANADIAN REFORMED CHURCH AT NEERLANDIA, ALBERTA, NOW AT CORNERSTONE CANADIAN REFORMED CHURCH, HAMILTON ON
Originally published in Clarion, The Canadian Reformed magazine, Volume 60, Volume 22 p. 522, October 21, 2011