Unity comes in two flavors: Shared “things” and shared “life”. And true Christian unity has both of these elements, which distinguishes our unity from mere uniformity. Both of these show themselves in Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” in John 17. And both are necessary for true, Biblical, Christian unity.
Recently, our leadership was involved in the local John 17 Conference. And in so doing, I began to reflect upon and explore the theme of Christian unity a bit, in light of Jesus’ prayer for our unity in John 17.
What do we mean when we use the word “unity” as opposed to “uniformity”?
Uniformity (like everyone wearing the same uniform, or looking or sounding alike”) is something that is purely external. My brother and I might both be in the Army, and wearing the uniform links us together with everyone else in the Army. The external clothing gives us a kind of unity – which is best understood as uniformity. People can be uniform in the way they talk or the clothes they wear or the cars they drive – almost anything. Every sports team has a uniform to distinguish them from every other team. And even churches can have their “uniforms”. Formal dress, casual, one particular translation of the Bible, certain songs, etc. there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It is perfectly natural.
The problem is – people who may be truly uniform (like teammates) may have this external oneness, but in fact may be bitter enemies. And in that case, their unity is ALL in the uniform. And nothing more. That’s why externals like “uniforms” aren’t all there is to Christian unity. To complicate matters even more, even as all the teams in NFL all have different uniforms and look somewhat different, they are all still part of the same league. That is a different kind of unity. Just like with my brother and me. If we are both in the Army – there is a bond between us that transcends the external uniform. A bond that would be there even if we were in different branches of the service (wearing different uniforms), or if one of us was just a civilian. It is an “organic” unity. We share the same bloodline.
So in Jesus’ prayer, He notes some of the external “uniform” of all Christians. Here are 3 key things every true Christian shares.
1. (vs. 6) He says that all His have kept God’s word. No true Christian rejects the Bible as God’s word.
2. (vs. 7) All Christians know that everything Christ has was given to Him by the Father. That He was acting on the Father’s behalf.
3. (vs. 8) All Christians know that Christ was sent from God the Father. He was not just a mere man, but the God/man who came down to us from Heaven.
Now as important as those things are, they are still not enough for true Christian unity. Why? Because as James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder.” All true Christians believe God is one, but so do the demons! Just believing certain truths, even key truths, doesn’t fully unify us – or we’d be unified with the demons! No. There must be something more. And what that something is Jesus also mentions in John 17:2 & 3. What is it? It is the “organic” element, like with me and my physical brother – we must share the same “life.”
The eternal life that indwells every true believer, is what ultimately makes us truly “one”.
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
And this unity makes us all one in an amazing way. Just like in our example of the various teams in the NFL all having different uniforms so that we can tell them apart. They are also still part of the same league, all play the same game by the same rules – and as different as all their uniforms are, they also all have the very same equipment.
But let’s go one step farther to understand Biblical unity among Christians with the Bible’s example of Believers all being part of one “body”: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Cor. 12:12-24)
Here, we get this sweet, amazing and wonderful truth. Not every part of your own physical body looks the same. Ears don’t look like noses. Noses don’t look like feet. Feet don’t look like lungs. And eyes don’t look like livers. But they are one. How? They all share the very same life. And every part contributes to sustaining the whole.
This beloved is the unity of the Body of Christ. And it is so much more than any “uniform” could ever make it. We share the life of Christ – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And this, in spite of all the differences which may exist – makes the Body of Christ – ALL Believers, one. Truly one. The closest “oneness” to that which the Trinity shares that can be had on earth. One being one with Christ by faith, makes us one with Him, His Father, His Spirit, and the rest of His people.
Now! If we would but begin to live that way. Soon we would put an end to the old rhyme:
To live above, with the saints we love, Oh, that will be glory.
But to live below, with the saint we know – now that’s a different story!
May we begin to taste Heaven now, in entering into the full unity that Christ prayed we would have in John 17, and died that we might have in Him.