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In this portion of his prayer our Savior is specifically making intercession for his disciples, those who were present with him on the earth at that time. Then, in verse 20, he tells us that the blessing he sought for them he requested for us as well. So that which our Lord Jesus sought for those disciples, he sought for all who would in time be given faith in him by the Spirit of God. In other words, this is our Savior’s prayer for us, God’s elect, for every redeemed sinner, for all who are called of God and born again by his omnipotent grace. — “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
By nature we are all unrighteous and therefore unfit to inherit and inhabit the kingdom of God. “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). These three things are essential elements of God’s saving grace. Without them no one is or can be saved.
We must be washed, redeemed by the blood of Christ. This redemption, the atonement for our sins, was accomplished for all God’s elect when Christ died at Calvary. — “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
We must be sanctified by God the Holy Spirit. There is no salvation apart from sanctification. We must be made holy, or we cannot see God (Hebrews 12:14). This sanctification is accomplished for us and in us experimentally in regeneration, the new birth, “by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” when we are made new creatures in Christ and made to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4).
We must be justified before God by his grace. Our justification was accomplished by the Lord God freely and graciously. He has imputed the righteousness of Christ to us, declaring us to be righteous before him. As our sins were imputed to Christ though he could never sin, so his righteousness has been imputed to every believer though we could never do righteousness. — We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). — “For he hath made him sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We do not wash ourselves, sanctify ourselves, or justify ourselves. God almighty, by distinct acts of grace, has washed us, sanctified us, and justified us. All three of these works of grace belong to all believers, without exception. The person who lacks any of these works of God’s saving grace has not yet entered into the kingdom of God. He is lost, undone, and perishing in his sins. If you or I die without being washed, sanctified, and justified by the grace of God, we will not be numbered with God’s saints in the last day.