Genuine Unity: The Truest Evidence of Christ to the World

In this message I’m going to share a truth that is difficult to believe. I say that because it is one of those scriptural certainties that challenges many of the things we are accepting in modern church life. In applying this truth to our lives I may step on some toes but I promise to step lightly so that I don’t discourage anyone but instead encourage and bless you. I only ask that you take the time to test what I share by the word of God so that you can hold fast to what is good in God’s eyes (1 Thess. 5:21).

I want to share about the unity that Jesus prayed for us and how we are to respond to His prayer. In His last intercession for His church Jesus prayed these words:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me (John 17:20–23).

You will notice that Jesus included us in this prayer. He said He was praying not just for the disciples there with Him in that upper room but for “those who believe in Me through their word.” All people who have believed in Him in the church age have done so because of their word. The prayer Jesus prayed was for all of us in the church age, not just for a small special group. It is the prayer of Jesus for the destiny of His church.

With that in mind, let’s look closely at what He prayed. He said “that they may all be one.” His desire for us is that we are one, not divided into many vehement denominational factions like today’s Church. Jesus knew that unity was absolutely necessary for His church because it is the ultimate evidence of His presence in our lives. After this prayer He was going to Gethsemane and to the cross to provide the redemption that would lead to this perfect unity. He knew that genuine godly unity is impossible by human effort through organizational skills. He describes that unity saying “even as You, Father, are in Me and I in you, that they may all be in us.” This unity Jesus prayed for is an earthly expression of the perfect unity between the Father and the Son and their corporate presence in us through the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is a supernatural oneness that we cannot produce on our own.

Some, trying to avoid the supernatural aspect, will say that Jesus was speaking about a positional unity rather than a real-life unity that can be observed by others. This idea is countered by the words Jesus spoke next: “. . . so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” He prayed for an observable unity that would, by its supernatural nature, prove that the Father sent the Son into the world. He was so adamant about this that He died and sent forth His Holy Spirit to make it happen.

Later in the passage Jesus prays that believers would “be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that you sent Me.” This fully developed, perfect unity would be evidence that the Father truly did send His Son, that all that the Bible says of Him is true. God’s ultimate evidence to the world is meant to be the genuine unity of the body of Christ. Jesus went to the cross knowing that His prayer would be answered.

Unity and love go hand in hand. In that same passage Jesus finishes His promise about unity saying “and love them, even as you loved me.” It is this supernatural love that produces real unity among us. In another place Jesus verified this when He said “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When people see our love expressed in our unity they will know that we are followers of Christ, the giver of love. I’m not sure we believe this and we are surely falling short of it.

Paul speaks of the perfecting of unity in love in Ephesians chapter 4. In the beginning of the chapter He says that we already possess a “unity of the Spirit” (v. 3). Because we all possess the Spirit in our spirit we have a spiritual unity based on God’s presence in us. This is positional unity.

But later on in the passage Paul, sharing about the maturing process of the church, says that we can grow “. . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (v. 13). This is unity expressed in our lives for all to see, a “unity of the faith” that comes with our individual and corporate maturity as the body of Christ. Is it possible to know the Son of God so deeply that we begin to grow up to the point of fully expressing Him in our lives?

The Corinthian church had the same problem we face today. Paul reprimands them saying that they “had divisions” among them (1 Cor. 1:10). The word used here for “divisions” speaks of a serious tear where something is ripped apart from something else. Jesus used the same world in one of His parables when spoke of tearing a piece of cloth from an old garment (Luke 5:36). If Paul had a concern for the immature, fleshly church in Corinth what do we suppose He would say to the churches in America today?

We all know what he would say! He would tell us what he told the Corinthians. He would tell us that our denominational and doctrinal divisions reverse the unity that declares that the Father sent His Son. These divisions give the world an excuse to reject our message. They tell us that our insignificant differences are more important to us than our loving desire to be one in Christ.

Paul was astounded that some in that church would be saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). He was so frustrated with them that he cried out “Has Christ been divided?” (v. 13). He knew that if unity is the evidence of Christ living in His body, that divisions send the message that Christ is dividing Himself. I say “anathema” to this divisive attitude and repent of any hint of it.

Today we divide into every imaginable faction. We have divided over the way to hold communion, how to baptize, the timing of the rapture, woke ideas like social justice, critical race theory and LGBT foolishness, reformed theology, the gifts of the Spirit, ways to worship, the loudness of the music and on and on the division goes. Can we not admit that we, like the Corinthians, are for the most part fleshly and immature babies in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1–3)?

The main reason for our divisions is our unhealthy emphasis on leaders. Like the Corinthians we divide over the teachers we prefer (“I am of Paul. . . Apollos. . . Cephas). Today we cling to Luther, Calvin, Wesley, MacArthur, Copeland, Osteen, Hagee or one of many other spiritual heroes we have adopted and gather around them in masses. Forgetting that the body of Christ is composed of the priesthood of all believers, we turn eloquent, popular preachers into heroes and run after them as though they were Christ Himself. Instead of coming together in intimate groups of genuine fellowship we gravitate toward the church with the most popular preacher, and convenient programs.

The New Testament knows nothing of this hero worship in the churches except to condemn it in 3 John 9, 10. In that passage the man Diotrephes was trying to usurp the priesthood of all believers and make himself the number one leader and was kicking people out of the church who disagreed with him. I imagine the apostle John set him straight on his next visit (v. 10).

So, how do we respond to this obvious divided condition of the church? The answer does not come through program changes or denominational adjustments. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours and answers to do not come through changing our ways or improving our thoughts (Isa. 55:9). Unity is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It is godly love being manifest in the lives of people truly seeking God. It will come when genuine repentance comes to God’s people and they begin to abandon their carnal behavior in favor of letting Him be Lord of their lives.

One aspect of this revival has begun. Many are pulling away from the obvious heresies cropping up among us and this division is necessary. The great apostasy that has been prophesied means that many will pull away from Christ but I’m praying that it also means that many of us who truly love the Lord will abandon our separation from one another and come together in His name for His purpose.

Jesus sent the Spirit to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). He is not just convicting us of sin but of righteousness and judgment. When we see our sin of divisiveness perhaps we will see the righteousness of unity as our way forward.

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Lloyd Gardner

Lloyd Gardner

I write to answer the worldwide move to diminish the influence of God. I write from outside the camp of organized religion to call people to come follow Christ.