Through the establishment of the church along with His overarching rulership above it, God has created a reflection of His kingdom in heaven on earth. He has reconciled racially divided groups into one new man (Eph. 2:14–15), uniting them into a new body (Eph. 2:16), so that the church can function in unity (Eph. 4:13). The church is the place where racial, gender, and class distinctions are no longer to be divisive because of our unity in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
This does not negate differences that remain intact; oneness simply means that those differences are embraced. Joining our unique strengths together, we add strength to strength, making a more complete and balanced whole based on our mutual relationship with and commitment to Christ. So important is the mandate of oneness in the church that we are told to look out for people who seek to undermine it (see Rom. 16:17). In fact, God promised to judge those who divide His church (see 1 Cor. 3:17). This is because the church is to reflect the values of the kingdom of God to a world in desperate need of experiencing Him.
The church is the only authentic cross-racial, cross-cultural, and cross-generational basis for oneness in existence. It is the only institution on earth obligated to live under God’s authority—and enabled to do so through His Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–13, Paul wrote:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The baptism of the Spirit at the moment of salvation—the act whereby God places us into the body of Christ, the church—secures the oneness God wants us to have. This inimitable work of the Spirit positions us under the rule of God. We will look at baptism again later in this book, but for now, the Greek word for baptism used in the Bible means identification. When we got saved, we were baptized spiritually into the body of Christ. We are now identified with a new family, having been placed into a new spiritual environment while still on earth. No matter what our race, gender, or class, when we came to Jesus Christ, we entered into God’s oneness because we came under His authority.
That is why Ephesians 4:3 says that we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit.” The Scripture uses the term preserve, indicating that we don’t create unity. Authentic unity, then, cannot be manufactured. This is because God desires that His standards alone serve as the basis, criteria, and foundation for oneness. It is also why He thwarts attempts at unity that ignore or exclude Him (see Gen. 11:1–9). The Spirit created unity when we were saved. Our job is to find out what the Spirit has already done so that we can live, walk in, and embrace that reality.
“We have come a long way in our nation toward oneness, but we still have a long way to go.”
Embracing that unity, or preserving it, doesn’t mean simply sitting back and doing nothing. Preserving unity requires an intentional action on our part. Sometimes that involves prayer. Other times it includes discipleship. Still other times it includes reaching out across racial or economic barriers to give unity an opportunity to flourish. Whatever the case, we are called to actively preserve unity among us, even if that means pursuing it through what we do. Preserving unity has much more to do with a mindset that unity already exists through the Spirit. It is our role to seek to allow it to thrive.
The reason we haven’t solved the race problem in America after hundreds of years is that people apart from God are trying to create unity, while people under God who already have unity are not living out the unity we possess. The result of both of these conditions is disastrous for America. Our failure to find cultural unity as a nation is directly related to the church’s failure to preserve our spiritual unity. The church has already been given unity because we’ve been made part of the same family. An interesting point to note about family is that you don’t have to make a family be a family. A family already is a family. But sometimes you do have to encourage a family to act like family. In the family of God, this is done through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
A perfect example of spiritual unity came on the Day of Pentecost when God’s people spoke with other tongues (see Acts 2:4). When the Holy Spirit showed up, people spoke in languages they didn’t know so that people from a variety of backgrounds could unite under the cross of Jesus Christ. The people who heard the apostles speak on the Day of Pentecost were from all over the world, representing at least sixteen different geographical areas, racial categories, or ethnic and linguistic groups (see Acts 2:8–11). But in spite of the great diversity, they found true oneness in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
If we want heaven to visit history like what happened in the book of Acts, we have no other choice but to adopt and apply a biblical worldview, God’s kingdom perspective, on oneness. We must view humanity through the lens of Scripture, seeing each other, as well as ourselves, as God sees us.
Admittedly, much has happened to mend the brokenness between the races in our churches over the last several decades, for which we should be grateful. I can distinctly remember how far we have come as it was only in 1969 that I was told by the leadership of a large Southern Baptist church in Atlanta that I wasn’t welcome to worship there. In 1974, my wife, Lois, and I were informed in no uncertain terms that we were not welcome in a prominent Bible church in Dallas, pastored, by the way, by one of my seminary professors. In 1985, a number of major Christian radio station managers told me that there was little place for blacks in the general Christian broadcast media because our presence would offend their white listeners.
However, now I am routinely invited to Bible churches all over America to teach and preach. And today, my radio broadcast, The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, airs on more than fourteen hundred radio stations daily in our nation. We have come a long way in our nation toward oneness, but we still have a long way to go.
God’s kingdom includes people from all races and cultures. Spiritual oneness can only be accomplished when we expand our view of God’s creation to see each other more intimately and clearly than our often limited exposure and understanding allows us to.
Satan spends most of his strategy and focus trying to divide us in the body of Christ. Why? Because he knows that God’s power and glory are both accessed and magnified through unity. He is not spending his time trying to make the world wicked because he doesn’t have to help the world to be wicked. The world is born in wickedness and division. Satan just has to let the world do its natural thing and then he seeks to use that worldview and the outcomes it produces to infiltrate the culture of the church. If Satan can keep Christians ineffective due to a lack of cooperation and mutual edification, he will prevent the church from providing a model of the kingdom of God as an alternative to its chaos.
If someone is an alcoholic, it is probably not a good idea for you to listen to that person on how to stop drinking. If the church is divided, Satan hinders our witness on the transforming and unifying power of God.
by Tony Evans
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