If you have been in the church any length of time, you know how prone we are to hurt one another. We take sides against each other. We spread gossip. We envy and compare ourselves to one another. We harbor bitterness and fail to forgive each other. And in all of it, we forget our union in Christ.
United to Christ and One Another
The evening before Jesus was betrayed, he shared a final meal with his disciples and prayed a prayer found in John 17:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17: 20-23)
This passage speaks about our unity with the Trinity and our unity with one another. When Jesus left the halls of heaven and came to earth in the incarnation, he united himself to us in our humanity by taking on human flesh. Through the gift of faith in what Christ did for us in his life and death, we are united to him.
Not only are we united to Christ, but we are also united to one another. In John 17:21, Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus didn’t just die for you; he died for all the elect. All those who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world are united to him and to each other. Though we come to faith as an individual, once we come to faith, we immediately become part of the family of God. We are adopted as children of the Father and are co-heirs with Christ. Believers past, present, and those in the future are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Remember Your Union
It is essential that we remember our union with Christ and with one another. When conflicts arise in the church when we disagree with one another when people fail or disappoint us, when the work of building the church makes us weary, we must remember our union.
We must remember we are united in status before God. We are all adopted children of the Father, co-heirs with Christ, our elder brother. We all come to this status in the same way: by grace through faith in Christ alone. Not one of us comes to God because of our special performance or through something we’ve done; we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. This means that as we live and work together in the church, there is no need to compare ourselves with one another. We all have the same status before God. We all need to drink from the well of grace. We all need to be sanctified and grow in our love and faith in God. Remembering this unity in status helps us as we go about the business of the church. Because when we forget our union, we are more likely to get involved in gossip, comparison, judgment, and create discord in the church.
We must remember we are united in purpose. In this John 17 passage, we see that there is a goal to our unity with one another: that the world would know who Jesus is and that God sent him. Francis Schaeffer called this the final apologetic. Our unity with one another in the church is a living message to the world of who Jesus is and what he came to do. It has a gospel purpose, to spread the good news to the world. The gospel is not for us to keep to ourselves; we are to share it with others— with our family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and people beyond the borders of our town, state, and country. Our union serves to tell the world about Jesus. That’s why it’s so important that we preserve and keep our unity. The world is watching.
Lastly, we must remember we are united in love. In John 17:23, Jesus prayed that the world would know that God loves us as he loves the Son. At the end of John 17, he prayed that the love with which God loved him would be in us (vs. 26). We all share the same love: the same love the Father has for the Son, he has for us, and that love is in us. We are loved by the same God and are united in that love. John wrote further about this union in love in 1 John, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God… whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…whoever loves God must also love his brother” (4:15,16,21). We must remember this love which unites us, especially when we face challenges and conflicts with one another in the church.
Our union with Christ is foundational to our faith. It is also foundational to our union with one another. We must remember our union with Christ to help us live out our union with one another. Only as we dwell on who Christ is and what he has done for us are we able to love one another. Only as we grasp the union we have with Christ through his sacrifice for us will be able to rejoice in the union we have with one another. Only as we remember how much we’ve been forgiven will we forgive one another.
Christ died to create our union with one another in the church. Let us labor no less than he did and work to live out that union with one another. Let us love one another— so the world might know who Christ is and what he has done.