God’s express purpose in revealing himself to his own was that he would be their God and they would be his people.1 A people who represent Him and show forth His manifold wisdom and are remade in His likeness.2 This likeness has now been revealed through Jesus Christ who is the image of the invisible God and the perfect representation of His being.3
God’s character is complex and there are many aspects to it but I am interested in looking at unity in the church as a result of the work of Christ. One of the most amazing things that is seen at the cross is the absolute unity of the Godhead in the unfolding of the plan of God. As much as the sufferings of Christ are in fact the sufferings of God, the Godhead agreed to its administration, its cost and its out working.
If we are to be a people who are remade in the likeness of God, then unity in the church is not a pipe dream. It is the will and purpose of God for us.4 As the family of God, we have received all we need to be united in the same way as the trinity is united.5
The unity of the Spirit
Eph 4:3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. NIV
There are many things that unite people in the world. People are usually united by their interests, status, race and other matters which in fact also serve to divide them from others. But God is building a spiritual house and we are that house.6 God is not interested in the natural divisions that are between us because they are born of sin.7 God’s desire is to build a spiritual house that is spiritually united in Christ and at the same time set apart and divided from the world that has rejected God and the knowledge of God.8 This looks like a people from every nation, tongue and creed united by the work of Christ and the ongoing work of the Spirit.9
Eph 2:14 speaks of a wall of hostility that used to divide Jew from gentile. This barrier as well as every natural barrier is pulled down in Christ. The prejudices that arise because of sin in regard to race, possession, intellect and gender are all null and void in Christ Jesus.10 The interesting thing about the work of Christ in uniting people from such different outlooks and walks of life is that as much as their hearts are changed, God requires them to renew their minds.11 They must now learn to keep the unity of the Spirit that they have been given.12
Scripture tells us that we are one body with many members.13 There is a diversity of roles and functions that we must learn to love and accommodate. We are also told that we are of one spirit.14 In these roles complementing each other, there is a need for us to move according to the same spirit that would have us grow in patience, love, kindness and gentleness toward each other.
The unity of the Spirit is in essence the unity of God that is in us because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. This unity is fragile and requires humility because having been redeemed from darkness, our habits and thoughts are often in opposition to God and what He is doing.15 We have come to God as former self-promoters, pleasure-seekers and possession amassers. This is fertile ground for prideful divisions, selfish ambition and envy. But God would have us KEEP the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Having received peace with God through Christ in repentance, God demands that we remain humbly repentant and obedient to the work of the Spirit that unites us, and is at work to transform us into Christ likeness.16
Keeping the unity of the Spirit speaks of fervent effort to remain in what has been given to us by grace despite ourselves. That which we have received spiritually now must be out worked in our lives by the growth into a unity of desires and affections for the will of God.
The unity in the faith
Eph 4:13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. NIV
The journey of the house of God into Christ likeness was never meant to only be something received but always something participated with. By this I mean that we were never called to be robots. God could easily have made us obedient without ever having had us have choices. But God desired to pour out His grace to enable us to know Him and love Him.17 This is why He revealed His true character at the cross, reconciled us to Himself and called us to repent.
Part of our inheritance from Adam, is that we naturally doubt God’s goodness and word as Adam did.18 God unites his church with Him and with each other by the blood of Christ but desires that His children should cooperate and choose to be united because they desire to be like God having come to trust Him and know Him. This is the meaning of Eph 4:11-13. Jesus gave ascension gifts to the church so that, in teaching the church to obey Jesus’ commands, they would bring the church to the knowledge of the Father and His Son (which is eternal life) and to putting their full trust in every statement God ever made which would look like obedience to Christ’s commands.
The unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God is a place of maturity that we are called to. It is the place of those who having known God through Christ now can distinguish good from evil.19 Formerly this was not possible. John 1:5 says that the light – Jesus Christ and his message – came into the world, but the darkness has not understood it. In loving darkness, humanity has forsaken the knowledge of God prompting God to give them over to their own futile thinking.20 This unbelief has acted as an opportunity for the devil to veil their eyes to the glory of God so that they cannot see it or in fact understand it21 It is the place of those who having known God put their full trust in Him through Christ for salvation, for life and godliness. They fear trusting themselves and flee from their own will while actively pursuing God’s. They join with Apostle Paul and declare that for them to live is Christ.22. It is no longer they who live but Christ who lives in them.23 They count all things as rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ their Lord.24
There is a great deal of difference between the unity of the Spirit and the unity in the faith, as well as the believers at either level. The unity of the Spirit is a disposition of the New Creation and the new heart and spirit received from God.25 It is a disposition of humility towards the body of Christ which recognises the ‘measure of faith’ received as well as the vacuum of knowledge and love and the need to be nurtured and taught by those gifted by Christ.26 The unity in the faith is that place of maturity entered into by mature disciples who are able to distinguish and understand the light revealed in Christ Jesus. Whereas the unity of the Spirit is to be kept as an obedient servant even though the knowledge is limited, the other is to be reached through the renewal of the mind which has come through obedience.27. The unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God is a place of active duty and following. No longer is the unity just received and kept, it is actively built upon unto love in the body of Christ and unto the absolute headship of Jesus in His church.28
The transition is simple but many do not find it. Just as the yoke of Christ is easy and many choose against it, the narrow way of the transition is obscured from those who choose to make this world their home.29
The first step of transition is to remain on the firm foundation of Jesus and Him crucified.30 Having seen the character of God through the cross, it is integral that we remain with our first love.31 We cannot forget who God truly is. Instead we must be adorers of Jesus who cannot get past His awesome sacrifice and the incredible love of God for those He has called.
The second step is to put off the old self.32 We have been made new creations in Christ who are united with God. We cannot obey the old master any longer. This is the source of all divisions and strife in the church. Believers will get into an argument and decide that they must be right and cannot choose the humility of keeping the unity of the Spirit by accepting to be wronged or wrong. Close relationship will always challenge the sin nature to arise. But obedient children will always keep the unity that was given to them at the highest price. They will war against their sin nature rather than be led by it. And they will judge their own sin and be led by the Spirit to overcome rather than excuse themselves.33
The third step is to recognise Christ’s will in giving ascension gifts (see Ascension Gifts of Jesus) to the church.34 This is often misunderstood and rejected. People cannot expect to bring themselves to maturity while rejecting God’s will for the church. This is naïve and disobedient. If Christ gave gifts, then rejecting them is akin to rejecting His love. We are called to the humility of not thinking of ourselves as higher than we ought.35 This looks like not being our own gods or leaders but instead letting those given to the church to call us to obedience to Christ and actually following. (I am not speaking of blind obedience to people who do not show the fruit of godly lives – although this is often twisted to excuse disobedience).
The next step is to grow in obedience as a result of faith and a growing knowledge of God which leads us to love for the house of God in practical and spiritual ways that leads the house to growing into the headship of Christ where He is able to lead His church as He wills because a mature people have learnt to hear His voice, obey it without question and love Him and His purposes.
As mentioned above, this transition is not found by many. Even though I have chosen to give steps above, this cannot be lived out without the Spirit of God leading. If this is applied legalistically, then there is no doubt that people will find themselves on any number of wrong roads.
But for those who have put their faith in Christ, who rejoice in the presence of the Spirit and who worship in spirit and in truth, there is nowhere else to go. Jesus has the words of life and he calls us to obedience and to an ever-growing knowledge of Him which will end in seeing Him face to face. To those who long for this, commit yourself to humble obedience, unshakable faith in God and love for the bride of Christ.
To Him be the glory in the church,
- Lev 26:12; Jer 7:23; Jer 30:22…I will be your God and you will be my people. NIV ↩
- Eph 3:10…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49…conformed to the likeness of the Son of God. NIV ↩
- Col 1:15; Heb 1:3…image of the invisible God; exact representation of His being. NIV ↩
- Eph 4:11-13 ↩
- 2 Peter 1:3…given everything we need for life and godliness. NIV ↩
- 1 Cor 3:9; Eph 2:21…God’s building; joined together and rises to become a holy temple to the Lord. NIV ↩
- Gen 11:1-9…The Tower of Babel project was started by sinful men rebelling against God. God’s response was to confuse their language and separate them. NIV ↩
- Matt 10:34…Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword; 2 Cor 6:14-17…touch no unclean thing be separate; James 4:4…Friendship with the world is hatred for God. NIV ↩
- Rev 7:9…every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne. NIV ↩
- Gal 3:28; Col 3:11… all one in Christ. NIV ↩
- Rom 12:2…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. NIV ↩
- Eph 4:3…make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. NIV ↩
- Rom 12:4; 1 Cor 10:17; Eph 3:6; Eph 4:25. ↩
- Rom 12:4-11; 1 Cor 12. ↩
- Isa 59:7; Rom 1:21; Rom 1:26 ↩
- Rom 8:14; 2 Cor 3:18 ↩
- Matt 23:37 ↩
- Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22 ↩
- Heb 5:14 ↩
- Jn 3:19; Rom 1:28; Eph 4:17 ↩
- 2 Cor 4:4 ↩
- 2 Cor 4:4 ↩
- Gal 2:20 ↩
- Phil 3:8 ↩
- Eze 36:26 ↩
- Rom 12:3; Eph 4:11; Heb 13:7 ↩
- Jn 8:31-32 ↩
- Eph 4:15 ↩
- Mt 11:30; Lk 13:24 ↩
- 1 Cor 3:10-12 ↩
- Jn 15:4-7; Rev 2:4 ↩
- Rom 6:6; Eph 4:22; Col 3:9 ↩
- 1 Cor 11:31 ↩
- Eph 4:11 ↩
- Rom 12:3 ↩