To see the mandate for unity in Scripture we turn to John 17.
The context of John 17 is what we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. In this prayer Jesus prays for Himself in v1-5, prays for His disciples in v6-19, and then prays for all who will believe in Him through the preaching of the Apostles in v20-26. See firstly the…
Unity in Trinitarian Glory
In v20-23 Jesus asks that the future believing community be one. This is not a new request from Jesus, He has already asked His Father to make the Apostles one earlier in v11, and now His first request in behalf of the future community of believers is that they also be in one. Most of us would say being unified is a good thing, but unity isn’t a thing that you only find within the Church, many unbelieving groups strive toward unity also. So what is unique about the kind of unity Jesus is asking His Father for here? Notice that in this passage Jesus isn’t merely asking for unity, He’s asking for a Trinitarian unity.
In v21b after Jesus asks His Father that we would be one He puts a qualifier onto this statement saying, “just as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they also may be in us…” Those last two words are important to understand the kind of unity being requested here. ‘…in us’ means Jesus wants us to understand that there must be a resemblance between the Church’s unity and the Trinity’s unity, AND more, Jesus is teaching here that the unity within the community of the Trinity is the ground/basis for the unity within the Church. Jesus is asking, ‘Make them one, Father, in us.’ This is Jesus’ goal for His Apostles and His goal for His Church, that we all would be one, as He and His Father are one. So in order to understand the unity of the Church, we must understand the unity between the Father and the Son.
So how are the Father and Son unified? Well, in v21 we see a glimpse of this when Jesus says the Father is in Him and He is in the Father. We see another glimpse of this in v22 when Jesus says the Father gave Him glory, glory that v24 says was given to the Son by Father before the foundation of the world. This glory flowing back and forth between the Father and the Son is what unifies them, it is what makes the one, and it is also this glory that Jesus gives to us in v22.
So we see the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father – but if this is to be a Trinitarian glory where is the Holy Spirit? I believe the glory going back and forth between the Father and the Son, the pre-creation glory in v24, the glory given to us in v22, is the Holy Spirit Himself. He is the glory, the effulgence or the radiance of the bond between the Father and the Son. Therefore it is no surprise that upon receiving this Holy Spirit a result is unity, with God and with His Church.
Here we have the unity of Trinitarian glory on display for us. Yet, notice that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not swallowed up by each other, they stand out distinct as separate Persons within the Godhead. This reality isn’t enjoyed enough in the modern church. We should blow the dust off of those old hymns and songs like the GLORIA PATRI which says, ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen! Amen!’
It is similar with us.
When we come to the Son of God in faith we are united to the Son. Because we’re united to the Son, we’re accepted by the Father, and because we’re accepted by the Father v23 tells us that the Father now loves us even as He loves His own Son and because the Father loves us He sends the Holy Spirit to reside in us.
So in a very real sense (more real than we know), every believer is in the Father and the Son and the Spirit, yet in our union with the Godhead we don’t lose our own distinctive identity or personality.