Identity: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in everything, charity
As we finish this week’s study on identity, notice how this belief leads perfectly into next week’s study on the church, specifically the local church. As members of Christ’s church, there are beliefs that we collectively agree upon that identify us and unite us as Christian believers and specifically as church members.
But what is Biblical unity?
But what is Biblical unity?
Unity, not merely union. There is a story in Judges when Samson tied several pairs of foxes together with a torch in between them. There was a union, but not a unity.
Unity, not uniformity. I liked the way Evangelism Explosion used to say it: God wants unity but not uniformity. He loves diversity, but not needless division.
Unity, not unanimity. And there are times when God wants unity but not unanimity. We do not have to completely agree on every last detail. I don't mind for people to disagree with me as long as they are not disrespectful to my beliefs. One person said it this way,
“In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In everything, charity.”
Our identity in Christ leads to certain identifying beliefs that unite us together as a church. As Christians, we have more things in common which unite us than we have which divide us, especially in the local church, where we can unite to work for God’s kingdom. Our identity as individuals, along with core identifying beliefs as a church will lead to unity in our diversity.
Ephesians 3:21 ends a great theological chapter, resounding with “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Chapter 4 continues that prayer by explaining how we can practically give glory to Christ in the church for all generations -- in unity.
In Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17, He requested three things: the Splendor of God’s Glory (1-13, 24-26), the Sanctity from the world through His word (14-20) and the Symphony in the church’s unity (21-23).
Similarly, Paul lists ways to walk which will unite the church. Ephesians says we must
- Walk in works: the good works God has prepared for us (“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” 2:10),
- Walk in worthiness: in the unity of the spirit (“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,” 4:1ff),
- Walk not in worldliness: no longer in the futility of worldly thinking (“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of[d] the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,” 4:17),
- Walk in love (“And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” 5:2),
- Walk in the light: as children of the light (“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” 5:8),
- Walk in wisdom, not as unwise, but as wise (“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” 5:15-16).
We are indeed united by certain beliefs which identify us as a Christian body. But we are also diversified by certain gifts, talents and yes even opinions which actually strengthen us as members of that body. Those differences should never divide us in our common identity we have in Christ.
(For more on this topic of Identification in Christ, see the series on church membership entitled "Making Membership More Meaninful--Part 3, Membership means Identification."