“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one….” John 17:22-23
Oneness. For what is Jesus praying here in His final recorded prayer before His crucifixion? Many have interpreted this prayer to be about the unity of His followers. There is much discussion of the need for unity among followers and much hand-wringing over the low levels of unity currently evident.
The true source of unity among believers is the unity that comes when the Holy Spirit is clearly in control of the lives of individual believers as well as congregations of believers. If disunity is present, that disunity is the fruit of a deeper root problem related to how the Holy Spirit is allowed or not allowed to lead.
While our God desires unity among His children, and Jesus includes that in this prayer, the unity that is the focus of this prayer is at a different level. It is a unity that includes the Father, The Son, and the people who are joined to them on this earth. Look at this excerpt from this prayer of Jesus, from John 17:20-23
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, 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. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Our God desires to bring His true followers into a profound oneness with Himself. Look at how Jesus describes it in His final prayer with His disciples. “…that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” The model for oneness with Himself to which Jesus appeals is the oneness between the Father and the Son. He is praying that we will be one with the Father and Son as they are one with each other.
Jesus goes on to further explain that oneness by appealing to our relationship with Himself. “…so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one….” Yes, the oneness our God desires between Himself and us is the same oneness that He has with Jesus Christ within the Godhead. Such oneness comes to us because the Father is present in the Son, and the Son is present in us by His Holy Spirit. The Greek term translated as “one” in these verses emphasizes no division and no dissension.
Is this the way in which we view our relationship with our God? Do we truly understand that He has made Himself one with us, and intends to draw us into that deep unity with Himself? Here is revealed for us a major tenet of the new covenant – our God has invited us into His life, into Himself. To make this so at a functional level, He has placed within us His Holy Spirit.
So often, our God is perceived as the God “up there,” external to us, separated from us. Such thinking is from the old covenant; it serves to distance us from our God in our thinking. It robs us of the depth of relationship we could be having with Him. It is easy to think in old covenant terms. To think that the purpose of our God is to help us muddle through “down here” until we get “up there.” It is easy to believe that the Christian life is essentially processes related to sin abatement and behavior management. If we keep trying, keep learning more facts, keep applying more principles, we will eventually come to be pleasing to our God.
Such is old covenant thinking; it cannot take us to oneness with our God. If we truly understood the oneness our God wants with us, it would inspire a deep longing for our God. Coupled with a commitment to pursue this oneness with our God, such understanding would be transformational.
The oneness for which Jesus prayed threatens us at a visceral level. If we were to enter that level of relationship without God, we would be overwhelmed. Such intimacy with Him would purify us not just from our sin, but from our self-determination and self-focus. It would confront our divided, sacred-mixed-with-secular habit of living. It would reorganize our thinking and living, disrupting our carefully-crafted systems of religiosity and image management. It would end our attempts to control the “God-dynamic” in our lives.
It would mean the crucifixion of our living as we know it.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus, quoted in Luke 9:23.