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A Manifesto of church unity: Part 4 of 5.
Today we will focus on a third observation, namely, that church unity is unity in the Holy Spirit.
With this idea, I wish to underline the fact that church unity is fundamentally invisible; and only in a secondary sense, it is visible.
This, of course, marks a big point of departure from the thinking of the ecumenical movement. But both the Bible in general and John 17 in particular stress the internal unity or the spiritual unity of believers.
In this third study, we have three sub-points which help us perceive the work of the Spirit of God: faith, joy and glory.
Let’s get cracking!
We can find various expressions in this chapter related to faith.
Verse 3 says, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”.
How can we know God or love God if all that is within us is ignorance, sin and darkness?
The answer is the regenerating work of the Spirit. He wrought faith in us. He freed us from our self-imposed blindness. He illuminated us.
He entered into the strong man’s house, bound him, and gathered us up as trophies of his saving mercy.
The Spirit of God conquered us and, paradoxically, made us free indeed!
The Spirit came to our lives to teach us the truth about the Word, the Father and the Son.
He revealed to us that the Father is God and Saviour and that His Son is both human and divine and that his Gospel is our only hope in life and death.
Wherever we encounter faith, we know that the Spirit of God is there. Faith, after all, is the fruit of the Spirit.
And it is our Spirit-given faith which grants us this saving knowledge of God through Christ crucified and resurrected.
Therefore, if you –dear reader- believe with all your heart in the Triune God revealed in Scripture, it is a sure sign that the Spirit of God abides within you. He has given you true and saving faith.
Faith is fruit of the Spirit. And secondly, in v. 13, Christ alludes to another fruit, that is, joy, “And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves”.
True believers do not just believe in Christ but they also love him and take joy in him. Musing upon Christ is, for saints, a delightful and sweet affair.
As believers think about his person, his humiliation, his glorification and his three offices of prophet, priest and king, the joy of the Lord grows and intensifies within their hearts.
The Christ-centred soul enjoys a continual feast as he abides in communion with his beloved Lord.
Undoubtedly, this type of joy is a precious gift from the sovereign Spirit because it is a celestial and pure joy that has nothing to do with our flesh or this world.
And it is this dimension of joy that draws a sharp dividing line between a truly born again saint and a religious hypocrite.
So I would encourage you this day to examine your heart: what gives you more joy: seeing Christ exalted or thinking about yourself? A true sheep takes great joy in Christ; not in self.
A great way to keep this flame of joy alight is by preaching the Gospel to yourself morning, noon and night. Say to yourself that, “Christ has shed his blood for me! Christ rose again on the third day!”
Little by little, the fire begins to enlarge and before you know it, you are immersed in joy unspeakable and full of glory. And it’s all because you are mediating upon the excellence and glory of the Lord Christ.
So test yourself. Does Christ make you spill over with glee?
And this third sign of the Spirit’s presence is what Christ designates as “glory”. According to v. 22, “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one”.
What glory, then, is the Saviour talking about? He has not given us heavenly glory because we have not been glorified yet. We are on the way. The process has started. But we are not the final product yet.
So what is all this talk about glory about? Allow me to respond with two helpful quotes: the first one from Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the second from John MacArthur.
- The only appropriate answer to this question is that this glory is a special relationship with God that we enjoy thanks to the work and activity of the Holy Spirit. [...] They will be in Christ and Christ in them and they will no longer be orphans because they will have an intimacy with Him that they never knew before; this is the glory that is given.
- This refers to the participation of believers in the attributes and the being of God through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God within as v. 23 makes clear, “I in them”.
Both preachers come to the same conclusion, that is, the glory is this sweet and precious relationship established by the Spirit of God in our hearts.
Yet again, we notice how the Christian life is a lot more than a mere academic issue. It is an existence characterized by profound joy and communion between the triune God and us.
And it is much more than simply walking with God; it is actually having God within us thanks to the presence of the Spirit.
These realities are things that I cannot put into human words; but if you are born again know exactly what I am talking about. You can identify with what John is saying because the Spirit of God dwells within you.
You live with God because He lives in you. He is your supreme treasure. He is every bit desirable. You love him. He is your all in all. He is your glory.
In the three works of the Spirit that we have named –faith, joy and glory (or communion)- we realize the inner nature of church unity.
The Spirit does this three-fold work within the believer, hidden from human sight. And wherever two saints meet, there is friendship.
We may even come from different countries; but there is unity in the Holy Spirit. What a wonderful thing!
And one final observation that underscores the secret nature of this unity is the parallelism that Christ draws out between the unity of believers and the unity in the Godhead.
We do not see God the Father or God the Son or God the Spirit. And in the same fashion, we do not see this deep bond of spiritual unity that holds all true believers together.
Nevertheless, before coming to a close, it is true that there is a visible component in church unity; but as I have already clarified, this element is not primary but secondary.
And the visible expression of this unity is why Christ can pray, “That the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (v. 21).
In other words, the world has to be able to see something of our unity. And that’s why our local assemblies must walk in unfeigned brotherly love.
When the world sees a twenty-something year old African lad enjoying chatting to a 65 year old Irish grandmother, they can’t fathom it. This is the class of unity created by the Spirit.
As local churches, therefore, we must allow this love to serve as a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. And since this love is expressed visibly through the vehicle of the local church, we must all be committed to a local congregation.
So let us here then love one another with this holy love of Christ.
So, allow me to throw out some questions as a means of applying what we have learned today to your lives.
Regarding faith, do you really have true faith? Do you believe in the Father? And the Son? Do you believe that Christ died and rose again and that his Gospel is the only means of salvation?
If that is so, you belong to the church and you have a part to play in church unity.
With respect to joy, does your faith in the Lord make you dance with glee? Are your happiness and contentment fixed upon Christ or on the fleeting pleasures of this world?
Do you know what it is to have the joy of the Lord? In your darkest moments, are you conscious of this anchor-deep holy joy that nothing in this world can explain or wipe away?
I am not asking you if you spend twenty-four hours a day smiling and laughing but if this deep joy of Christ is within.
Concerning glory or communion, are you enjoying God? Is Christianity for you principally a thing of soul-crushing duties or heavenly delights? Do you live in communion with the Most High?
And another quick question: what about your commitment to your local church? Do you invent any old excuse to keep yourself from congregating or do you give priority to the means of grace throughout the week?
If I were to ask the pastor of your congregation if you are a committed member of the church, what would he see? Sheep are not solitary animals.
The Holy Spirit, then, is the true principle of unity in the church of God.
The Spirit gives us saving knowledge of the Father and the Son, He gives us the joy of Christ and He produces soul-satisfying communion within putting us into a local church so that we can bear witness to Christ, shining together in brotherly love.
Next week on Fresh Breeze: Church Unity (Part 5: Conclusion)