Biblical Unity: What is it?
By Matt Auxt
Most churches, families, and friends will say that unity is good and should be something that defines Christian living. But how is it obtained? Is unity something that we acquire or achieve naturally, or is it something that we must strive and seek after constantly? One of the perpetual battles that many churches face is disunity which can lead to church splits, bitter feelings, and anger towards others. This is a shameful fact that should be dealt with, and can be fixed with true biblical unity. Today, I want to walk through a few, by no means all, verses that have to do with unity, and discuss what biblical unity looks like on a practical basis.
What is Biblical Unity?
The first question to be answered is: what is biblical unity? It means to be brought together into oneness. An excellent example of this oneness is in John 10:25-38, where Jesus is talking to the religious rulers of the time about Him being one with the Father. This shows the unity of the trinity in the gathering and securing the sheep for eternal life. John 14:18-27 speaks about being unified with the Father and the Son through keeping His commands out of love, which produces peace. Here, Jesus says if you love me you will keep my commandments, but if you do not love me you will not keep my commandments. Therefore, unity is not a means to salvation, but a fruit of salvation. Unity is not suggested, but required for all believers.
Struggles with Unity
Since unity is so important, why do many Christians struggle with it? The simple answer is sin. Romans 3:9-18 is very descriptive in that sin permeates the human body from head to toe and from heart to mouth. Specifically, in verse 13 Paul says, “Their (everyone see vs 9) throat is an open grave: they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips.” Naturally, everyone is in this state to the point where our works smell like a rotting corpse. Our words are dripping with deadly venom. Our deception is running amuck. Deception clearly is the opposite of unity. Deception is where one manipulates someone to do something to fit the narrative, to fit their personal agenda. The best example of deception and manipulation disguised as unity is in Genesis 3:1-7. This is where Adam and Eve sinned and imputed their sin to all of us who sinned through them. But what I want to focus on is Satan’s attack on Eve. Satan said, did God really say not to eat of the forbidden fruit? He followed it with, you will be made like God. What is Satan offering at this point? Unity or equality with God, in the sense of being able to know good and evil. Satan is saying, eat the fruit and you will be like God. However, Satan knew that any and all disobedience to God was and is a damnable offense. Satan was using God’s words to manipulate Adam and Eve to sin. This is something that I have seen personally, where people in leadership cast doubt on God’s Word through misinterpretations to get people to do what they want. That is not unity but manipulation. Deception is the enemy of unity and of Christ and should not characterize the regenerated person.
How to Obtain Unity
How do regenerated people, living for God, have unity with fellow man? Is it a process or is it a one time achievement? There are many passages in the Bible about unity and what it looks like, but I want to go to one specific verse, “...making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). This entire chapter is on the unity between Christ and the Church reflecting Christ’s work on the cross and His submission to the Father. The first point from verse 3, is that unity from the Spirit is kept through the bond of peace. Jesus gave us peace when He died on the cross and saved us from our sins (John 14:27). The context is found in John 14:18-27 which shows that the Church will live through Him. Jesus then shows the unity between Himself and His children is in keeping His commandments, which is a fruit of salvation (14:21-24). Therefore, the first notable requirement for unity is salvation. There is no biblical unity between believers and un-regenerated people. Back in Ephesians, Paul starts the verse with "Making every effort" which describes an ongoing process. Unity is not something where we can wave a magic wand and instantly be 100% unified right off the bat. It is the book of Philippians where Paul spent much time encouraging the church to practice unity regularly and strive for unity during discord.
That process is deeply rooted in one’s own holiness and godliness. The context to Ephesians 4:3 is Paul praying for the Ephesians to be strengthened and that their faith would be increased daily. He then transitioned into chapter 4 with the words "I urge you to live worthy of the calling". This phrase is scattered through Scripture, and every author who uses it is saying that we who are called, were called when we were sinners, and now that we have received the call, we are to make it sure (Rom 5:8, Eph 1:4-6, 2 Pet 1:10). In 2 Peter 1:3-12, Peter speaks about the ongoing battle to seek godliness. He makes the undeniable point that godliness is rooted in knowledge of God’s Word and practice of its teachings to sanctify us from our previous sins which are all signs of making our election evident in our words and deeds! Therefore, if unity is to be sought within the church, it has to be permeated with theology and the study of Scripture for the sake of personal godliness. This will result in the fruit of that godliness being unity with the brethren. Sin permeates our bodies, but we have to combat it with the saturation of Scripture to our own hearts. Therefore, those who love God will keep His commandments with love and cherish the Savior.
The goal of striving for unity is seen throughout Scripture. There will always be those who will not agree with godliness being the heart of unity, however, Christians should never be unequally yoked as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians. We should always evangelize and share the Gospel, but in marriage, church, or any other spiritual enterprise, we must first base that unity in like-minded faith. We shouldn’t live as monks, isolated, but instead, live in a way that is different from the darkness of this current world. This will only come from constant and consistent study of God’s Word and the sitting under the preaching of God’s Word. Only then will unity begin its journey within the Church. Theology and doctrine is what holds the Church together. Anything short of that is not unity, but coerced proverbial sticky glue that will not hold when the trials come. There are many wolves in sheep clothing who are all claiming to have unity when in fact they have nothing but lies like their father, the father of lies. The Word of God is sufficient for unity, theology, and godly living. His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness (2 Pet 1:3).