This past Sunday, the sermon delivered to my local church family was a strong message on the unity of believers, drawn from the opening verses of Ephesians four. Over and over, we see the apostle Paul addressing issues of division in the body of Christ, believer against believer. Jesus marched toward his death praying (literally) for unity of the body, calling for a oneness that mirrored what the Son has with the Father.
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. – John 17:11b, ESV
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Romans 12:4-5, ESV
More than at any moment in my lifetime, we stand as a world divided. Calls for unity are unending. Prescriptions for that unity are fruitless. We will find our unity in Christ and Christ alone.
Numerous concepts can be drawn from the pair of quotations above, but the one I want to draw our attention to today is two simple words from the Romans quote – “in Christ.” Where will we find the unity we are called to? We will find it in Christ. Nowhere else.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28, ESV
I became a Christ-follower on January 16, 1983, while a student at Baker University. Following my submission to Jesus, I traveled with a friend and mentor to nearby Lawrence Kansas to purchase my first Bible, now a well-worn, tattered volume sitting just inches from my left elbow.
As I read and studied this Bible, I began to notice a recurring phrase, “in Christ,” and was so struck by it that I began keeping a list of all the places I found it, along with a note regarding the life-attribute I will find in Christ.
Connected to Christ
The Bible presents beautiful word-pictures describing the relationship of the individual Christ-follower to all other believers, as well as to Christ himself. Three, in particular, depict us as branches connected to a great vine, the “true” vine, which is Christ. Elsewhere, we are stones in a single building of which Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone. And again, we are members of the single body of which Christ is the head.
In each instance, we have been placed “in Christ,” and from him, we derive all life and purpose.
While I love living on the Pacific coastline in Washington state, one of the drawbacks of living here is that we don’t really have beaches – not in the traditional sense. Our beaches are mostly smooth stones and pebbles. Real beaches don’t start until you get into Oregon and California.
Many of the stones on our coastline are colorful and beautiful, while others are plain-looking if not downright ugly. And by themselves, they don’t really serve much purpose. But together, they can be used to line a backyard pond, or to create an attractive façade on a home, or even be smoothed out into an attractive walkway.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV
Outside of Christ, we are a single stone without purpose or meaning. But in Christ, we are living stones, built into a magnificent spiritual house – the household of God, built atop the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus as the chief cornerstone
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV
Just as a stone, by itself, does not accomplish much, a branch with no vinestock will wither and die. I blogged about this a short time ago and will not belabor that again here, but simply acknowledge that the branch draws its life from the vine. All of the branches draw their life from the vine.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5, ESV
I have never witnessed any person or animal lose its head, and truly, I have no desire to see it happen. Both Greeks and Romans believed beheading was an honorable form of death.
What is certain is that a body without a head is (or will soon be) lifeless. In Christ, we are built into a single body with Christ as the head. Just as a body grows, we grow.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV
Outside of Christ, we are without purpose, without life, without direction. In Christ, the body is joined and held together. In Christ is unity. In Christ is life and fruitfulness. In Christ we find love.