Summary: How is Christian unity different than earthly concepts of unity?

Jesus Prays for the Unity of His Church

John 17:20-26

Today we come to the third part of the Lord’s great prayer. He had prayed for Himself in the upcoming arrest, trial and crucifixion. But the disciples and we too overhear the prayer as well. This reminds us of who Jesus, His relationship to the Father and the purpose to which He came to earth. He set the example for all believers that one should pray for one’s self first and then intercede for others. We should all the more do this because if the perfect Jesus who committed no sin and withstood every temptation prayed for Himself, how much more shall we who are prone to wander do this.

In the second part of the prayer in verses 6-19, Jesus prayed for His disciples to hold up. He reminded them of their special calling and that they were committed to the Father’s care. He prayed for them to work together are one. We too overhear Jesus. Although the Apostles were given special and unique gifts in their launching the church, there is still much for us to learn from this part of the prayer.

In verses 20-26, Jesus focuses His attention to the converts who would come through the preaching of the apostles. He is not only praying for the eleven, but for all believers. This by extension means us also, even though we are two thousand years and many generations removed from the time of the earthly Jesus and the Apostolic Age.In this section of the prayer, Jesus stresses the unity of all believers. He tells us of His oneness with the Father and prays that all believers come to this sense of oneness. But what does oneness mean. We think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being one God. Are we then to be absorbed into the One like the Greeks thought. For them to be united with God meant that they would have to lose their individual identity. Humanity to them was like a chip of ice that broke off from the block. To them the fall was their separation from the god-spirit.The life of the flesh was evil. Salvation was being freed from this body and being reunited with god.

But this type of Greek abstract unity could not be farther removed from Christian unity. This begins with the Trinity itself. They are a unity, yes. They are One God. But this godhead exists in three persons. The idea of individual identity begins with God. We do hold the Godhead is ontologically One, but also the distinct personalities.

There is a little difference between the Trinity and the unity of the church. We are ontologically distinct. The unity is not of substance but instead that of purpose. We have to note when Jesus talks about the One God, he uses the masculine personal pronoun “heis” rather than “hen” when He quotes Deuteronomy 6:4. Here the comparison uses the neuter form, even describing the unity of the relationship of the Father and the Son. He is not asking the church to be one and join the Father, Son and Holy Ghost in the Godhead. The distinction between Creator and created will always exist. This means in heaven, we are not absorbed back into God like the Greeks believed. Instead we will retain personal identity. We shall know and be known. We will be united with the Holy Trinity, but this unity is as obedient creatures in the presence of the uncreated God. This distinction makes Christianity uniques among the religions of the world and presents what true eternal life is. If eternal life was to be absorbed back into the unity of god while losing all memory of self, what kind of eternal life is that? It is not life at all. Whether one follows Hinduism and gets absorbed upon perfection back into God at the expense of losing self or joins Buddha in simply dissolving into non-being, you end up in the same place. Your life under those parameters is simply not worth living.

Jesus sends us out to preach the true unity and to demonstrate this unity to the world. Our unity is a testimony of the unity of the Godhead. The church needs to be united in its purpose. Jesus showed the way there was willing subjection to the will of the Father. Even though we have personality, it is as utterly dedicated to doing the will of the Father as Jesus is. Jesus is ontologically equal to the Father, something we certainly are not. Yet He subjected everything to the will of the Father. Only the Father has absolute free will. He could not be God otherwise. No one can free will him by the exercise of their will in opposition to Him. The only was a creature can have free will is to do the will of the One who is free. In fact, the desire for autonomy was the occasion for the fall itself. But instead of freedom, Adam and Eve only found slavery and death.

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