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John 17 Study Guide Part 4: Growing in Christ

Community Group Study Guide — Growing in Christ 
John 17:11-12, 15-17, 24

Main idea:
Jesus prays that his followers would be kept by the Father. We are kept by God so that we would grow in our enjoyment of God and in how we experience what it means to share in his love. If we were to chart this out on a graph it would not be a perfectly straight line, but it is an upward trend over the course of our lives. This happens as we are kept by God, and grow in his truth and the awareness of what it means to be loved by God as he has loved Jesus (John 17:24).

Study Information:
We are often unaware of the little changes of growth we experience on a day to day basis, but that does not make the growth any less real. To give you an example, as kids many of us have had an aunt or a friend of our parents who we have not seen in a while say to us “I cannot believe how much you have grown!” In that moment you were probably embarrassed. You probably did not think much about your growth over the last two years since you last saw them. Each day you wake up and brush your teeth and comb your hair in the mirror and you don’t see the small changes and yet if you were to put a photo of yourself today next to a photo of yourself from 5 years ago you’d see it. You’d see the 4 inches you grew last year if you’re younger or the extra gray in your hair or beard if you’re older. Many of us love instant fixes and big changes; and there are times, in Christ, we get to experience those in a spiritual way. We powerfully hear the truth of God in a message or conference and we put to death certain sin definitely. Those are great moments! More often though our growth occurs little by little, day by day through the unseen work of God in our hearts and through the common experiences of walking in obedience to Christ. The life Jesus prays for is that we’d be kept by the Father and experience an ever growing awareness of his love and grow in our enjoyment of him. This looks like a lot of ordinary and small things on a day to day basis as we move further up and further into our growth in Christ. 

Kept by the Father (John 17:11-12)
One of the underlying themes in John 17 is what theologians call “union with Christ.” The idea behind union with Christ is that when you follow Jesus you are now “in Christ” and Christ is “in you”. We see this theme play out in the prayer of Jesus in how he refers to things like “I in them and you in me” or “I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:23, 26). We are part of Christ’s body and experience spiritual realities that are made available to us through this change of identity. Paul talks about this in Ephesians 2:5-6 when he says we have been made alive in Christ, are seated with Christ and are raised up in Christ. Or think about how Jesus invites his followers in John 15 to “abide in him”, this is an invitation to union in Christ. This means that even during your worst sin or your most difficult you are not alone if you’ve put your faith in Christ. It means that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). Jesus’ prayer is that you’d be more and more aware of this reality and of God’s presence in your life. 

A foundation of this is realizing that if you’re in Christ, you are being kept by God. Jesus tells us in John 17:11 that being in the world is filled with physical and spiritual dangers and this is why he is praying for us. Specifically, Jesus prays that those the Father has given to him will be kept by him and that we’d be tight knit in our unity as followers of Christ. Being kept by Jesus means that those who are one with Christ cannot sin their way out of the kingdom of God; they cannot fail because of their inadequacies. Obviously God wants us to have victory over sin and that we should not be indifferent to our sin. But our union with Christ and our being kept by the Father is not dependent on our performance. To believe that our growth in Christ and relationship with the Father is based on what we do would be to deny God’s grace. We see the truth of John 17:11 in a snapshot from the life of Peter when rebuked Jesus because Jesus said that he needed to go to the cross. Jesus did not fit Peter’s mold of a king. However, Jesus let’s Peter in on the spiritual reality of the situation…, Satan asked to sift Peter like wheat, but Jesus prayed for Peter. Peter goes on to deny knowing Jesus but since he is “kept by the Father” we also see Peter restored by Christ at the end of John 21. God’s right hand holds us fast. If Peter couldn’t sin his way out of the kingdom then neither can you if you’re in Christ. This should give us confidence without arrogance. Confidence that we are not abandoned in trials and without arrogance because it depends on God and not on our worthiness. Being kept by the Father is the foundation of our growth in Christ and our ongoing awareness of his loving kindness towards us in Jesus. 

Sanctified in Truth (John 17:15-17)
Your desire may be for God to remove your from the troubles and trials, but God does something better, he keeps us secure as we go through them. Jesus continues this theme of being “kept” by praying that we’d be kept from the evil one. We face a variety of troubles and trials as a normal part of living in this world, because of opposition to our faith in Jesus, and also because we have an enemy. Jesus prays that we’d be kept from this enemy just as he did for Peter. You may have heard it said at one point that if we could hear the prayers of Jesus as he intercedes for his saints that your faith would be strengthened. The reality is that this is exactly what we have in John 17. There are many trails and troubles and even an enemy who wants to see the downfall of the people of God and we are not alone in this struggle, Jesus is praying for his people. This leads to us growing in our faith as we are sanctified in the truth rather than formed by the lies of this world or the lies of the enemy.

To be kept from the enemy is to be removed from his influence. Just like the world would want to form and shape us into its image, so too the enemy desires that we believe his lies like Adam and Eve did in the garden. He is the father of lies and a deceiver. The alternative that Jesus presents in his prayers is that we are sanctified in the truth. To be sanctified is to be set apart for a purpose. As we grow in our knowledge of God and relationship with God we experience more and more of the already existing reality that we are set apart in Christ to truth. As we understand Jesus’ words, his teaching, we put to death the influence of the world and the enemy more and more. 

To Be With Christ and Share in the Father’s Love (John 17:24)
The end goal of our growth in Christ is that we’d be with him and enjoy the same kind of love that the Father has for the Son. This is a staggering and hard to believe thing but it is what Jesus prays for in John 17:24-26. Jesus went to the cross and conquered death so that we may be with him and really experience what it means to share in his love. The type of love God has is a gift; his love is an overflow of his goodness. What was God doing before he created the universe? Jesus tell us when he says in his prayer that God the Father has loved him before the foundation of the world. This verse tells us that God did not create so that he could love, he created because he loves. God has been and always will be entirely self sufficient, full of love and fellowship. By contrast the devil is proud, insecure, needy and empty. In Christ, we are invited to experience the love that the Son of God has always known. This is a present reality that is true of you in Christ this very moment, and as you grow in Christ you will become more and more aware of this truth in your life. 

There are certainly times in our lives where we doubt this reality. When you go through troubles and trials or believe the enemies lies you’re likely to doubt the goodness and love of God. Yet, God keeps us. He is patient with us in our anxieties, sins and our doubts. Jesus prays this prayer not because we’ve already overcome the world but because we need his help. If you’re in Christ, God is for his glory and our good, and overtime he is faithful to keep you with the end goal in mind that we would be with Christ, enjoying God and sharing in his love. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions
Read John 17:1-26

Have you had times in your Christian life where you’ve become aware of just how much you’ve grown? Is that growth more often small and consistent or a big change you experience? 

How does Jesus’ prayer that we’d be sanctified with the truth contrast with the intentions of the enemy that he describes in John 17:13-15?

Describe the love of God based on John 17:24-26. How does this help us go through troubles and trials?

As we’ve studied John 17, what is your main takeaway? What is one aspect of this prayer that you want to commit to praying for yourself and for the church?

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