As Christians, we know that we should commune with God in prayer, but sometimes it is hard to know exactly what to pray for ourselves and for others. Happily, the Lord has given us many resources in His Word to help us know how to pray. One of these resources is Christ’s own prayers. When Jesus prays for His people, we do well to pay attention, for His requests for us help us know how to pray according to His will for us.
In today’s passage, Jesus prays that we would be sanctified in the truth, which reveals that we should frequently pray for the sanctification of ourselves and of our loved ones (John 17:17). In fact, God has made no secret of the fact that He desires our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). Sanctification means “to make holy.” The same Greek root in the word translated as “sanctify” in today’s passage is also found in the words for “holy,” “holiness,” and similar concepts.
Frequently, we think of holiness in terms of moral purity, which is appropriate. However, to be holy means primarily “to be set apart.” Our Creator is the thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:3) because He is set apart distinctively from creation, not sharing in its limitations in any way. When the Bible speaks of created things—animals, people, and other things—as being holy, it means that they are set apart to God for a special use. For human beings, this entails moral purity—for there is no evil at all in God, and we are to imitate Him (Eph. 5:1; James 1:13)—but it is not limited to moral purity. To be sanctified also means we are set apart from the fallen order to take part in God’s mission to glorify Himself through the redemption of His people. We are sanctified in order to be sent into the world with the gospel, just as Christ was sent into the world with the gospel (John 17:18).
So, following Jesus’ model, we are to pray for ourselves and for others that God would sanctify us in the truth of His Word (v. 17). God sets us apart from the world by making us more like Him, and He makes us more like Him by transforming us according to the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1–2). As we read Scripture, hear Scripture preached, study Scripture, and meditate on Scripture’s precepts, we learn to think God’s thoughts after Him. We begin to reflect His character more and more. We are equipped to go into the world as Jesus did, proclaiming the truth without compromise and calling people to repentance and faith.