By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you live in America, then there is a glaring problem that we are faced with. Even though this problem might seem simple to identify, I am not sure if we are recognizing how much damage this problem is doing to the name of Jesus and to the hope of the message of the gospel.
The problem is the church is not one and is clearly divided. Now to be clear, there have been disagreements throughout church history – you can read about some of them in the book of Acts. Even Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement that caused them to part ways. However, even though they disagreed, it never interfered with the preaching of the gospel, and it never brought shame to the name of Jesus. I am not sure we can say that about the church in America today.
Jesus’ Prayer for the Church
In John 17, as Jesus was approaching the end of his life here on earth, he prayed this prayer for those who would be believers.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).
Before Jesus went to the cross of Calvary, and knowing he would not be with his disciples much longer, he prayed that they would be one. He prayed not just for those disciples but for those who would believe through their message, which means Jesus was praying for you and for me. This prayer Jesus prayed two thousand years ago is the same prayer and cry that is coming from his heart today. The church, especially here in America, needs to be one and we need to start praying for this now.
We Have Chosen to Unite over the Wrong Things
Unfortunately, the church in America has decided to unite over things that don’t bring God’s power, that don’t bring God glory, and that don’t advance the message of the gospel. Think about the things that have polarized our nation. These are the same things that have polarized the church.
For a moment, let me define what I mean by the church. The church is anyone who has put their complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, those who have confessed and repented of their sins and have looked to Christ as their only hope for salvation. If you have done this, you are part of the church or the body of Christ.
As you can see, this is not about a building, a denomination, or any other type of affiliation you want to make. This about people who know Jesus is Lord and who have trusted him completely for salvation. This is about people who know there is no other hope of salvation, nor is there any other name given in all of heaven or earth whereby men can be saved except the name of Jesus.
This is what defines the church and the body of Christ, and these are the truths we should be uniting around. Instead, we have chosen other truths and looked to other hopes, thinking they will bring about the change we want to see in our nation. Sadly, they have not because they were never designed to do that. All they have done is pushed us further apart. Any hope that is not first placed in Christ and him alone is deceptive and will not bring the body of Christ together, but inevitably will drive it apart.
The sad part is while we who carry the name of Christ are fighting with each other, there is a world watching and many are dying not knowing the beauty of this wonderful savior we profess to serve.
Understanding Why Unity Is So Important
When Jesus prayed this prayer, he recognized why unity was so important. Please pay close attention to what he said, because he said it twice in verse 21 and verse 23.
“May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (verse 21).
“Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (verse 23).
We may not want to believe this, but our behavior is influencing whether people outside of the body of Christ will believe and know who Jesus is and that he was sent by God. Imagine how the Father’s heart must break when he sees his children ripping each other apart, fighting and quarreling in the public space and then trying to preach Jesus. My brothers and sisters this simply will not work. We must begin to demonstrate our true love for God not just by how we engage with him, but also how we engage with each other.
May I ask you this question. What does the color of your skin, the political party you belong to, your opinion about social issues, your economic status, or who is in office have to do with how you treat your brother or sister? If these things change the way you treat your brother or sister, then you have united around the wrong thing. Please carefully read the words of Paul.
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).
What Paul is saying is that if you are in Christ, all other ties fall away and become secondary because we are first children of God through faith.
Real Picture, Real Solution
I am not trying to paint a Pollyanna picture here. I recognize there are issues in our society. However, if you think all we have to do is elect the right officials, or have the right party in power, or change the right laws, then it is clear you don’t understand the power of sin and the true condition of men’s hearts.
Yes, we should fight to change laws that are not good, but we must recognize that while laws may change conditions, laws cannot change hearts. If you remember Romans 8, the law was powerless because it was weakened by our sinful nature. That has not changed. This means if the society is going to change, if there is going to be transformation in the hearts of men, it is not going to come simply by changing laws. There must be an inward change that can only come through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. This is where we the body of Christ come into play and why we must become one, because people’s eternal destination is at stake.
Let me remind you that Jesus prayed that the church would be one so the world would know you sent me. This doesn’t mean they would all believe in Jesus, but at least they would know that he was who he said he was.
For this reason, there is one thing we need to pray for in the church in America more than anything else – that we would become one. That we would lay aside every possible thing that could bring division and that we would stand united around the message and hope of the gospel. That we would love each other and be the body of Christ and his representatives in the earth. That we as one body would pray for each other and pray that the message of the gospel would go forth with the power of the Holy Spirit.
As you go to pray, let this be the prayer you pray for the church in America. I hope you see the urgency of this matter and recognize there is nothing else that is more important.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.