What is the greatest temptation the Christian church faces in our generation? Ask fifty different people and you might get fifty different answers, all of which might have some legitimate claim to being right. But there is one answer that could be defended as the greatest temptation to the church in every generation: to compromise the truth to avoid the world’s hatred.
Nobody wants to be hated. However, part of being a disciple of Jesus is to be hated by the world. Jesus tells us as much in today’s passage when He says the world has hated His disciples because they are not of the world just as He is not of the world (John 17:14). Jesus came into the world from outside of the world—the sinless Son of God entered into the fallen creation in the incarnation—and the darkness of the world in its sinful state hated Him (1:1–18). We have been united to this Redeemer who does not share the world’s goals, loves, or methods, and we have become, by adoption, children of God alongside Him (v. 12). We still deal with the effects of the fall in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies, but if we are in Christ, we are fundamentally not a part of the world’s system any longer. If the world hated the Savior because He did not belong to it, we cannot be surprised that it hates us as well.
Yet, the church is often surprised to be the object of the world’s scorn. And the temptation is always to change God’s truth in order to be loved by the world. From the first-century Galatian Judaizers—who tried to add works to faith for our right standing before God in order to escape Jewish persecution—-to twenty-first-century professing believers who are waffling on matters of human sexuality in order to receive the culture’s accolades, believers have always experienced pressure to change God’s truth in order to escape the world’s hatred.
Jesus prayed not for us to escape the world’s hatred but to be protected even while we endure it (17:15–16). Thus, we must accept that the world’s hatred is inevitable and that true discipleship is costly. It is a cost worth paying, for the devil will not have the final say. In fact, Jesus prayed that we would be protected from Satan (v. 15), which was a prayer not that the devil would never inflict harm on us but that we would be delivered finally from his attempts to destroy the church and to get us to compromise the gospel. Jesus, interceding for us now, continues to pray thus (Rom. 8:34). He will strengthen us to stand firm even as many fall away around us.