I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. – John 17:15
When Jesus prayed these words for His disciples, He prayed them aloud. And so this prayer was also an instruction to them about how to interact with the surrounding world. The life that Jesus sets forth here is one that is neither comfortably indistinguishable from the world nor comfortably separate from it.
This is Jesus’ vision for His people: to be in the world but distinct from it. This is, in fact, what God’s people have always been called to, as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9-10). The Psalms are abundantly clear that evil is a present danger. People are described as “enemies” and “bloodthirsty men” (Psalm 59:1-2), “evildoers” are all around (94:4), and there are some whose ways can only be described as “crooked” (125:5). Therefore, the great challenge is knowing how to honor Christ’s words—how to refrain from being compromised by the evil which surrounds us.
Our greatest form of defense is seen in Jesus’ request to the Father: “Keep them from the evil one.” Protection is available to all who entrust themselves to God. This truth is articulated in the Psalms too, where we read of God’s protection being offered to the needy. The Lord says that “because the needy groan, I will now arise” (Psalm 12:5). In other words, it is not the arrogant and boastful that He protects but those who recognize their dependence on Him. Theirs are the groanings the Lord hears. And the Lord’s protection for the needy is also protection from the wicked. David confesses that God “will guard us from this generation forever” (v 7). Wicked people may hurt God’s people but they cannot do so in any permanent way, for ultimately they cannot hurt our souls. God will keep us from everlasting harm.
The protection of God is for the needy and from the wicked, but how does it come to us? Through the word of God, which provides a lamp for our feet and a light to our paths (Psalm 119:105). His every word proves true, offering a shield against all foes (18:30). If we want to live faithfully in the world, we must devote ourselves to the Scriptures. To think rightly about the evil around you, then, the word of God must be in your heart, in your mind, and on your tongue. God has given it to you to keep you.
Do you pray for yourself what Jesus prayed for His followers on that night before He died? Consider whether you are more in danger of becoming like the world or of removing yourself from it. Ask the Lord for the love, wisdom, and courage required to live as He did: in the world and yet gloriously distinct from it.