The Significance of Oneness for Christians

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One of the things that is immediately striking about this passage is how often Jesus mentions oneness. Counting the times He uses the word “one” or the preposition “in,” which indicates oneness, there are nine references in these four short verses. Clearly Jesus is concerned about oneness. When it says “one,” that’s an indication of unity. There are four observations I want to make about oneness from this passage that have implications for our pursuit of ethnic unity.

1. The oneness of the church is based on the oneness of God.

We see it in verse 21: “. . . that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.” We also see it at the end of verse 22: “…that they may be one even as we are one.”

Jesus is pointing back to the oneness (or unity) within God as the basis for the oneness (or unity) within the church. Here is where we must remember the doctrine of the Trinity. There is one God (1 Tim. 2:5). And within the one Being that is God, there eternally exists three co-equal, co-eternal Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). The Bible clearly teaches that the Father is God, that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. They are distinct from one another. And yet, those three Persons are so united that it can truly be said that God is one. And that oneness is the basis for the oneness that Jesus speaks of concerning the church. This is why unity in the church is so important, because of what it says about God.

“Division in the church communicates something false about God and His power to reconcile.”

2. Christians are in spiritual union with Jesus Christ.

In verse 23 (see also v. 26), when Jesus says “I in them,He is alluding to what theologians refer to as the doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ. Union with Christ is the teaching that by God’s grace through faith, Christians are spiritually joined with Christ in such a way that all the salvation benefits that are inherently His become theirs by virtue of their covenantal relationship. This is a central theme throughout the New Testament, especially in the epistles written by the apostle Paul. It’s so important and mysterious that it’s referenced in many different ways. Rather than give a textbook definition, the Bible uses various kinds of illustrations to get the point across. We see it in John 15:5, where Jesus is the Vine and the church is the branches. We see it in numerous other places, such as 1 Corinthians 12:27, where the church is the body of Christ and Christ is the Head. We see it in Ephesians 5:32, where the church is the bride of Christ and Christ is the Husband. We see it in Ephesians 2:20, where the church is the temple of God, and Christ is the Cornerstone.

All of these images are pictures of our union with Christ. The Bible not only uses illustrations, but it describes each aspect of our salvation in these terms. Throughout the New Testament, Christians are referred to as:

Chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4–5)
Made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:5)
New creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17)
Adopted in Christ (Gal. 3:26)
Crucified with Him (Gal. 2:20)
Buried with Him (Col. 2:12)
Seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) Justified in Christ (Rom. 8:1)
Sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 1:2)
Glorified with Christ (Rom. 8:17)

We also see it in the ordinances of the church. Baptism is a visible picture of our union with Christ, when the Christian is baptized into Christ and His death (Rom. 6:3) and united with Him in His resurrection (Rom. 6:5). The Lord’s Supper is a tangible experience that points to our union with Christ as we eat the bread, which represents Jesus’ body, and drink the cup, which represents Jesus’ blood.

This is why Ephesians 1:3 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Every blessing we receive comes as a result of our union with Jesus Christ.

Our union with Christ means that we have a spiritual communion with one another that transcends all natural earthly relationships. Division in the church is a denial of this profound reality.

3. The church is one.

In verse 21, Jesus prays “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.”

In verse 22, He prays: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”

These are prayers that will not go unanswered. If anyone gets His prayers answered, it’s the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ! There’s only one time that I know of that Jesus didn’t receive what He asked for and that was in the garden of Gethsemane, when He asked for the cup of God’s wrath to be removed from Him. And thanks be to God for that, because God’s “no” to Jesus in that instance meant salvation for us. Jesus’ prayers get answered. The oneness that Jesus was praying for was purchased at the cross. The church is united to Christ and united to one another across all generations.

“The unity of the church is one of the means that God uses to convince unbelievers that the God of the Bible is real.”

This brings up a question: if the church is one, why are Christians called to pursue unity, like in Ephesians 4:3, if we already have it? The answer is that when we pursue unity, we are living out the oneness that is already ours in Christ. It’s similar to Romans 6:8, where it says “Now if we have died with Christ,” but three verses later in verse 11 says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Well, which is it? Did we die with Christ? Or are we to consider ourselves dead? The answer is yes. He’s saying you’re dead. That’s an objective fact of reality. Now, in light of that death, walk it out practically. It’s the same idea with oneness. Christians are spiritually united through the work of Christ in the gospel. Now, we are called to walk in that oneness practically. We eagerly pursue it here knowing that it will ultimately be perfected in eternity.

4. Oneness has an evangelistic aim.

In verse 21, Jesus prays “that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me.”

We see it again in verse 23:

“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.”

For what purpose?

“So that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

What we see here is that the oneness of the church is meant to be seen, not hidden. The Lord is teaching that when the church is walking in the unity that was purchased for us at the cross, it has a direct impact on our witness to a watching world. The unity of the church is one of the means that God uses to convince unbelievers that the God of the Bible is real. One of my favorite parts of traveling to speak and do concerts is the fellowship with the saints after different events. I can’t recall how many times I’ve been in restaurants after ministry events with large crowds of believers from different backgrounds at the table. Invariably, the server, with a look of bewilderment, will ask, “What is it that brings you all together?” For whatever reason, it’s not registering in their minds how these people who look so different, who come from different age groups with different accents and styles of dress, could all be breaking bread at the same table and enjoying each other’s company in such a familiar way. I’ve seen a number of gospel conversations started in just this way, with restaurant workers curious to learn more about a church that produces groups like this.

If the unity of the church is one of the means that God uses to convince unbelievers that God is real, sadly, the opposite is true as well. A divided church casts doubt or confirms doubts about the validity of the Christian’s God and message. This is why God takes division among His people so seriously. We see that in these verses:

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. (Titus 3:10)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10)

Division in the church communicates something false about God and His power to reconcile. When we look at how the church engages the issue of ethnicity in our informal gatherings, our Sunday school classes, our small groups, and on social media, what do we see? How would Jesus respond to the way we interact with Christians that we disagree with?

For Further Reading:

The New Reformation

by Shai Linne

In the sixteenth century, the church faced a doctrinal crisis. Today, the crisis is race. We all know that racial unity is important. But...

book cover for The New Reformation