We have a decent idea of what it means for Christians to be one with each other. But this idea of being one with God and Jesus is tough for most of us. It certainly is for me.
Is Jesus speaking in mystical terms? Is it about having visions or some special feeling that God is present? Is it sheerly subjective feelings? Just what is this unity?
Well, let’s consider that passage one more time —
(John 17:20-21 ESV) 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 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.”
Marriage as a metaphor
Let’s start with what we know. And we know how two humans can be one. We learned about this one in those marriage classes our churches hold. Remember?
(Gen 2:23-25 ESV) 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
Although I doubt that Jesus was intending to echo this passage when he says “that they may all be one,” the concept is the the same: unity among multiple people, in a God-ordained relationship.
In marriage, the marriage classes all teach that “one flesh” is about much more than the sexual relationship. Rather, the relationship is more about the holding fast (ESV) or being united (NIV). The Septuagint translates with proskollaō, meaning to stick to or to be faithfully devoted. And that word works pretty well for relationships among fellow Christians, especially those in the same congregation.
Moreover, between spouses, nudity is not only no sin, it’s expected and approved by God. We’ll come back to this, but this passage certainly associates mutual nakedness with unity.
And as we learned in the marriage classes, this oneness is particularly about a unity of vision and direction. Spouses should be united about having children, how to raise children, their spiritual lives, and countless other things. It’s not nearly enough to be united about one thing — even a very big thing. They must be as united on as many things as possible — and the bigger an issue in their lives, the more important unity on that issue is.
Church membership as a metaphor
Just so, as among fellow church members, unity is not merely about agreeing to meet for an assembly at a stated time. It’s about devotion to one another — making meeting the needs of the other person a personal objective of yours. We are not truly united as fellow Christians until we serve each other.
Moreover, unity within a congregation is about being confessional: “naked,” if you will, in an emotional sense. It’s about not hiding our true selves from each other but being free to be honest and real and open.
And, of course, any congregation should be on mission together. They must agree on a vision and a direction and work together to achieve it.
Being one in God and Jesus as in a marriage or congregation
Cleaving to God
It’s not that hard to see how we can each “cleave” or be attached to God. Just as in marriage, the attachment must be built on love and trust and faithfulness. But God is faithful to us and he loves us. It’s a mutual sort of attachment because God is an emotional being, just as we are.
I know my wife and my wife knows me. We’ve even seen each other naked. Just so, God knows us and wants us to know him. He’s seen us naked (even when we wear clothes, you know), and we’ve seen him naked. Really.
The Roman practice was to crucify their victims unclothed. The point was to utterly shame someone, and so God in the flesh hung on the cross naked — just so he could forgive us. God loved us that much.
Perhaps more to the point, while we understand that we have no secrets from God, God has made every effort to reveal himself to us, even at the price of the cross — the ultimate self-revelation. That is, the crucifixion reveals a love so great that God will pay the embarrassingly high price for our sins. And it also reveals a God anxious to show us who he really he so that we’ll be drawn toward him.
And, of course, it’s very easy to see how we can share a vision and mission with God. We often fail to do this, of course, because we are often users. We want God to help us in exchange for next to nothing. We want his mission to be about taking care of our needs, and we give little thought to meeting his needs.
But when we are on mission together with God, our relationship matures from being users to co-laborers in the harvest field. We work side by side with God. God, of course, is infinitely superior to us, and yet he lets us work beside him as best we can.
Indeed, mission is one of the easiest ways to participate in true unity with God. We really can do mission together.