Unity in Christ Demands Belief in & Obedience to the Scriptures

Who is it that you say Christ is? Far too often this question is relegated to the unbeliever, whether the atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic, or whomever. Christians have appropriately asked this question, albeit in different words, in order to elicit the response of Peter in Mark 8:29, or perhaps even more dearly, in John 6:68-69. That confession – the recognition of Christ’s divinity and the intrinsic, life-giving words He spoke, is what all Christians desire to hear of their friends and family. Their hearts ache in their longing for them to not only see this truth, but confess it, and walk in repentance and faith. Yet ultimately, this same question is what drives unity within the church.

However appropriate this question may be in the realm of apologetics, we stand on faulty ground if we neglect to continue to ask this question ourselves as those in Christ. The question no longer resides upon the grounds of unbelief. No, the question resides upon knowing who Christ has claimed to be, confessing that He is indeed our Lord and Savior – and like Peter, that we have no one else to whom we would go, for He has the words of eternal life. The question is resolved then in knowing this Savior and making Him known. As the scope of this current piece is to deal with the former rather than the latter, we must approach this question for ourselves rather than for others.

We must approach this question wholeheartedly as those who are now in Christ because its implications reach into every single aspect of our lives. There is no space left uncharted when Christ has taken residence within His church; He is Lord of all men, yet especially so of His church. The church is so intimately connected with her Savior that she is called His body. Slow down here. Think upon this. Wrestle with the implications of what it means to be connected to Christ, under His headship. Think of how this manifests itself with respect to your sins and desires. Think of how this then transforms how we are to view the brethren – and how even what we feel is secret sin will taint that union with them and Christ.

This is precisely the idea Paul speaks to in Ephesians 4 when Paul draws the correlation between the various gifts of the Spirit given to “…equip the saints, to build up the body of Christ, until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ” (vv. 11-12). The antecedent to this is connected directly Christ’s condescension and ascension, who did so in order to fill all things (v. 10) in order for all of us to reach this unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. Notice when it happens: not before, not after, but it is as we mature to the full measure and stature of Christ. It is as we (the church) are being transformed into His likeness and what’s more than this, it is a continual process.

He then goes on to draw out the implications of this in how the church must act in recognition of what Christ has done, so that we may actually reach this unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God. This is not where theology transforms into practice, but rather, demonstrates theology is inherently practical. There is no true theological reflection honoring to God if the outworking of this does not meet in piety and devotion. Instead, all one will find is the banal sentiments of a ranting fool who espouses his knowledge, yet has divorced the indicatives of the gospel with the imperatives. More clearly, this fool is the one who has not only misunderstood the very grace he claims to lay hold of, but the one who separates the reality of what Christ has accomplished for the church from what the church is now called to walk in: holiness and devotion.

How might one reach such a conclusion? Paul expresses that those who are being used to equip the saints, in order to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. The plain indication here is that the church is to be radically different; they are to be holy, or set apart, for the specific purpose of being a sacrifice to God and one another. This all hearkens back to walking in a worthy manner of the gospel of Jesus Christ and being joined into one body and one Spirit, for He is Lord over all and through all and in all. It is an intrinsically Trinitarian passage, yet the clear reference in this is Christ. It is His work, it is His death, it is His ascension, which accomplished the purchasing of those whom were alienated and estranged so that they might then be given as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (v. 11).

Yet notice what Paul grounds all of this in: service to one another until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. What is especially interesting is that Paul does not ground this solely upon theological grounds, but instead, in the various gifts of the Spirit given for the edification of this body, which are ultimately grounded in love. These various gifts given are those specifically intended for this edification toward the unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ – but this does not necessitate that all be in a position of teaching or authority.

Now, it is quite clear that these gifts would include the offices of elder and teacher. The incredibly specific point of Paul here is that these men who have been gifted by the Spirit of God for the purpose of the church’s edification will be the very same ones who equip the saints for works of ministry – and they will do so until this unity in the faith and knowledge of Christ is reached.

This is not an exhaustive list of the Spirit’s gifts poured out within the church, nor does it seem to be intended to be. Rather, the focus is that the Spirit has equipped the church to be in service to one another so that in this glorious act, that is, unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ, is fulfilled. This is further supported in v. 16 wherein we recognize that “…as each individual part does its work, the body grows and builds itself up in love.” What are we being built up to? Christ Himself, who is the head of this body (v. 15). This demonstrates the active transformation happening within those who are called according to His purposes and for His glory.

It is also quite clear in this passage the true referent is Christ, who has accomplished this task through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension – for these very acts were those done, “in order to fill all things.” Without the work of Christ, the church would merely be a social club wherein people might be tempted to some form of humanistic altruism. The reality is that it would be without reference to the very one who condescended and then ascended, and through this, brought about the blessing of the outpouring of the Spirit upon all peoples in the church. What this plainly means is that this group would be separate of the head; it would be a lifeless mass bound in the folly of sin and at enmity with God.

The proximal position of the church, being under the headship of Christ, yet directly attached to Him, brings us back to the original question: who do we say Christ is? Those two little phrases, “in the faith” and “in the knowledge of the Son of God” are both subordinate to the word “unity” in v. 13. What this plainly evidences is that this unity is both in the faith in the knowledge of the Son of God; the prepositions “in” along with the definite articles (the) specify what and where this unity is found. It is a knowledge of the historic faith, handed down from the apostles, and a knowledge of Christ. Yet this knowledge is never divorced from service to the body of Christ.

Quite simply, it is a deep, residual, abiding in Christ; it is an ever-present state of being where we not only press forward in continually growing in this knowledge of the faith and the Christ – we press forward in growing in our service to one another so that this knowledge of the faith and the Christ would lead us to grow up into Christ Himself. It is so that we would mature into the full measure of the stature of Christ. More clearly, it is this thing, through the gifts given by the Spirit, because of what Christ has done, and for the purpose of glorifying the Father, that truly demonstrates we are walking in a worthy manner of our calling to this one hope we have.

There are an infinite number of things capable of distracting us from answering the question of who Christ is. There has never been, is not now, and will never be, a shortage of sins, pitfalls, and distractions that will keep us from thinking deeply on that question. We live in a titillating culture that has become altogether bored with the methodical plodding that is the Christian life – yet those in Christ are called to a rather different set of values and perceptions on these things.

We must come to ask if we echo the words of Peter and truly believe that there is no one else to whom we could go – or do we, perhaps, ascent to this knowledge, yet not walk in it? We must likewise come to ask ourselves in what ways we have compromised developing a deeper, abiding fellowship with the body of Christ and coming to grow in the unity of the faith and knowledge of Him. Yet I do not wish to leave the reader without hope of any sort – for again, this passage is not only incredibly Christ-centered, but inherently Trinitarian. This work is not only something we are commanded to walk in, but one that happens as we mature to the full measure and stature of Christ. This work is not only something we walk in as individual believers, but as the church, so that the body grows and builds itself up in love.

What this means is:

  • You have not been left without the continual work of the Triune Lord to bring you to sanctification and build you up to the fullness of Christ’s being. That maturation process is not only one you are to walk in, but one that God has a vested interest in maintaining and drawing you to walk in. Why? God loves the church far more than any could imagine and He desires her holiness.
  • This is a work done in community. There are no lone Christians who can even remotely accomplish unity in the faith and the knowledge of Christ. There are no lone Christians who can build themselves up apart from the body of Christ. The cold reality is that a Christian will not be built up in the faith and the knowledge of Christ without the other members of the body. The intellect can only carry one so far.
  • As a result, we will no longer be infants who are tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming (v. 11), but instead, we will grow up into Christ (v.12). The result of this work being done on our behalf, walking in this work and obeying the imperative command, and be intimately connected with His body (and of course, Christ Himself), is that we will become like Him.

The question of Christ to Peter is not simply one we ought to ask unbelievers. While it is a proper apologetic approach, it is a question we must come to terms with ourselves. We must be continually reminded of who Christ is and what He has done so that now, as those who have been united to the Lord and forgiven of our sins, we can walk in that newness of life and live in a manner pleasing to God. We must ask this question so we not only grow in respect to our knowledge of Him, but in unity with the brethren in this and the historic, Christian faith.

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  • HpO

    Quite a presupposition you’ve got there, brother Grayson Gilbert, about Mark 8:27-38 and Ephesians 4:1-16. Mind if I test it for a drive, so to speak? For there’s no textual evidence to suggest that when disciple Mark and apostle Paul wrote those passages, they were dealing with the same question, “Who is it that you say Christ is?”. Even much less evident textually, therefore, is your notion that both our brothers Mark and Paul must’ve been “approach[ing] this question wholeheartedly as those who are now in Christ (1) because its implications reach into … (1.1) what it means to be connected to Christ, under His headship … [and] (1.2) how the church must act in recognition of what Christ has done, so that we may actually reach [a] unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.” And that, too, (2) because of the “conclusion” of such “implications”, which is: “that the church is … to be holy, or set apart, for the specific purpose of (2.1) being a sacrifice to God and one another … [and] (2.2) walking in a worthy manner of the gospel of Jesus Christ and (2.3) being joined into one body and one Spirit, for He is Lord over all and through all and in all.”

    What’s my basis of judgment? Just this: All your 5 points about Ephesians 4:1-16 – from “implications” number (1.1) and (1.2) to “conclusions” (2.1) to (2.3) – must all be there in Mark 8:27-38 as well. So, question is, But are they? I checked and no, they aren’t there at all, but something else. Jesus was asking “His disciples”, “Who do you say that I am?”, expecting only one right answer from them. Otherwise He wouldn’t be convinced that “His disciples” were ready yet to learn of the core gospel truth, not only “that (3.1) the Son of Man must … be killed, and after three days rise again”; but also that (3.2) for them, after His resurrection, “to come after [Him, they] must deny [themselves], and take up [their] cross[es] and follow [Him].” That’s it! Not “implications” number (1.1) and (1.2) to “conclusions” (2.1) to (2.3) – but core gospel truths (3.1) and (3.2)!

  • Myles

    Which version of your book of fairy tales do you consider to be the proper version? Are you sure that the right parts have been censored? Have the right books been removed?
    Are you even sure that you should worship such a murderous monster?

    • Gilsongraybert
    • Fall Colors

      Fairy tale might be a bit pejorative, but the New Testament does rehash classical Greek mythology.

      “for the kingdom of Uranus is at hand” (Matthew 3:2)

      “a voice from Uranus saying” (Matthew 3:17)

      For if God [Uranus] spared not the angels [Titans] that sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus [Tartarus], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)

      The Titans were imprisoned in Tartarus after the war had ended. Tartarus is said to be the deepest part of the Underworld and the place where the evilest beings are tortured for all eternity. wikipedia (.) org/wiki/Titan_(mythology)

      Were the classical Greeks also bad people for worshiping such a murderous monster?

      • Freethinker

        It is a fairy tale which in almost its entirety has been inspired by/plagiarized from other, earlier systems of worship from the immediate area.
        I have yet to find a single Christian/Muslim/Jew to explain why there is no reference in the Bible to anywhere outside of a very narrow and immediate vicinity of Palestine.
        Mysterious ways indeed.
        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a955f7bda1cbe1112206d7410fac31ae0cff8b20e741b55c48e8b90eda84f6f5.jpg

        • Monty

          God chose to reveal Himself in a specific way at specific times to specific people. God deals with individuals as well as nations. God’s plan to save mankind from the consequences of Adam’s rebellion began with Abraham. Just one man became the founder of the nation of Israel. Now God also told Abraham that all humanity would be blessed. God continued to work with Israel up until the time of Christ. Christ then became the founder and the Head of the Church. The Church took the gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth, so fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. Why did God not speak to the Chinese or other cultures that existed at the time? I don’t know. You are right, it is a mystery. The Koran is rubbish, just a grab bag of Old Testament sayings and Mohamed’s attempts to justify his own murderous and immoral ways to his followers.

          • Freethinker

            Who were the parents of Adam and Eve’s grand children?

          • Monty

            You think way too much about things that do not matter. If God is real (and He is) you’d be better off seeking to get to know Him. God will meet you wherever you are at. I know people who did not believe in God and said so. They were honest. Someone in the bible said, “I believe. Help me with my unbelief”. All God wants from you is honesty. He can do something with an honest heart. He can do nothing with a dishonest person. He will even help someone who knows that they are dishonest, if they will be honest about it. Do you want to know the truth or just want to hide in the dark? The choice is yours.

          • Freethinker

            You failed to answer my question. Apparently “all god wants from you is honesty”. So be honest. Don’t deflect. Stick to facts. If you want anyone to take you seriously. Many people hear voices in their head convinced that god is speaking to them. Some of them are lucky enough to get proper psychiatric help. Most don’t.

            Are you honest enough to answer my question?

          • Monty

            Your question is pointless. It is not worth even considering, let alone answering. So I can’t be bothered with it. That is me being honest about it. Jesus often refused to answer questions when they were intended to set Him up.

          • Freethinker

            The only reasons you choose to label my question as “pointless” is because it forces you to think (which is hard), the answer makes you uncomfortable and/or you refuse to acknowledge your own lack of knowledge on the subject. Yet in the same breath you profess to pretend to know things you don’t know. You certainly are good at repeating things imagined by others, but that is not a feat. A parrot can do this.

            Nothing in life “is not worth considering” unless you are filled with hubris and arrogance. Where is that humility claimed to be so virtuous by your myths and your storytellers?

            By refusing to answer this one simple question you are not being honest and thus in violation of the very laws your god allegedly tells you to live by.

            By refusing to admit that the answer makes you uncomfortable you are also being dishonest.
            Equally, by refusing to acknowledge that you do not know the answer you are also being dishonest.

            You Monty are one dishonest human being.
            Do you think your god would approve of your dishonesty?

          • Monty

            One thing I can be absolutely certain of. You will die. You will then find out whether you are right or wrong. Until then, I suggest you get a life.

          • Freethinker

            Deflecting and still not answering. Sadly predictable but utterly unsurprising. You show yourself as vapid as the books you were brainwashed by.

            Let me answer the question for you.

            Adam and Eve’s grandchildren were a product of incest. Sex between siblings and or parents and likely both. One big family orgy. Your god clearly approves of incest. So much so that he populated the whole planet by such method not once but twice! The second time was even more divine. After he killed every single man woman and child on earth by drowning them, he let the family of Noah do a little family loving all over again. Because he loves incest. And murder. Definitely loves to murder. No one can ever match his kill rate. The whole world, even the children not yet born within the wombs of pregnant victims. You sure worship such a swell guy! Congrats.

            But don’t think too much about it. It’s better to pretend none of the facts seem real. Because ignorance is apparently bliss.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b6974eb496c8dd5cd7d8c63e84954ba87c50c065179aeb4ee9d463377b0aa5c1.jpg

          • Monty

            I’d be happy to debate the points with you if you were genuinely interested. I have answers to your “question” and ignorant statements but I refuse to sink to your level.

  • “The saints will be handed over into his power.” (Dan 7:25). #tinyhorn https://t.co/JfhgIlUB40

  • ravitchn

    The bible is total bullshit.

    • For a more favourable reception, consider (re)posting one-liners of this nature in the comment section of one of the many ‘Nonreligious’ blogs graciously hosted by Patheos.

  • Freethinker

    For any believer who values critical thinking, or even just thinking for yourself, this video is extremely illuminating.

    “As a result, (you) will no longer be infants who are tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming”

    https://youtu.be/NFGTu-OxFpU

  • Jackson100

    If the Church were an oasis of good in an evil world, that would be compelling evidence of the truth of Christianity. However we have had 2000 years of Church and growth is not apparent. The Churches, plural, are a mess, and infighting is rampant. It is hard not to conclude that the church is a human institution through and through. I see no miracles that one would expect, like a higher rate of physical healing among communities of believers. On the other hand, god bless, we need better human institutions.

    • Monty

      I know what you are saying and to an extent I agree. The church is far from the pattern that the bible lays down. Yet in among all that, there are people who are for real. I experienced divine healing, before I knew that there was such a thing. I’ve met Christians that shine with love and life and just being with them made my life brighter. I’ve met others that make the pharisees look merciful and gracious in comparison. I know the mighty power of God to change impossible situations and to solve impossible problems. We do not need better institutions. We need better people! The person who is born again has a new nature so he/she has the potential to be a tremendous help in whatever place they have in the world. If you get born again, you could be a part of the answer instead of pointing out the obvious problems.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Given the large numbers of differing denominations and large spectrum of opinions coming from Christians on all sorts of issues, there are obviously some disagreements on what Christ wants. So how should you figure out what he actually wants? Couldn’t you just ask him? Doesn’t he both want people to follow his morality? Doesn’t he have the ability to communicate effectively?

    So a Christian should be able to ask Jesus a simple question and receive a simple answer.

    There could be a problem, though. It could be that the voice a person hears answering is just their own voice. So what should we expect from the experiment? Well, if god exists then he should be able to give a universal answer to everyone who asks a question. But if god is just a person’s own inner voice, then we should expect god to give a diverse array of answers that generally follows the questioner’s opinion on the subject.

    Which result do you think we’d find?

    • Monty

      Hi Thomas, you ask a good question. The problem for the Christian is the number of voices that it is possible to hear. If a person is born again, they are able to hear the voice of the Lord Jesus. There is often a competing voice, that of our own human nature that wants to override the voice of God. Been there, done that. It was an unmitigated disaster but I learned something important. There is also the voice of evil spirits that can inject thoughts into the mind directly. We have to discern where the thoughts are coming from and reject those that are not of God.
      It takes time, patience and a lot of mistakes to get to know the voice of God clearly. I’ve been born again for 45 years. I have more clarity now than ever before. But I still get it wrong at times. But many more times now the voice of the Lord is clear and keeps me out of trouble! We have the bible to help us and guide us also. If what we hear is contrary to God’s word then we can ignore it. I have Christian friends who can be a sounding board when I’m not sure. That also has saved me from poor decision
      Christianity is a relationship with a living Person, not a book or a building. You can get to know Jesus. All you have to do is ask. In spite of all the failings of the church, the Christian life is beyond wonderful, way past amazing and greater than any possession, gift, talent or ability that you could ask for. I would not trade places with Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or anyone else on the planet.