The Unity Of The Spirit
By J. L. Hall, Editor In Chief
With the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus opened the way to a new life, a new hope, a new community. First, by the Cross He made reconciliation for us to God; salvation includes forgiveness and freedom from our sinladen lives and to a newness of life in His righteousness. Second, He established the church, a community for His redeemed people to live in unity in a climate of trust, mere, and righteousness. Third, He gave us the sure hope of eternal life in heaven.
God called us out of a world of hatred, cruelty, envy, malice, immorality, and rebellion. The preaching of the Cross points us to repentance, remission, and renewal. With Christ we die to our sin nature and are buried with Him in water baptism, but we are also raised by His Spirit to walk in newness of life. The church became our perspective for living in this world, and in the church we share the life of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
This does not mean, however, that God’s people escape all temptations and troubles or become immune to sin. As long as we live in the flesh, we will struggle with our carnal nature. We do not have to sin, but we may, and most of us will in some measure fall short of God’s expectations. We will also endure misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and unpleasant scenes. Moreover, the sinful behavior of others, whether immorality, murmuring and complaining, envy and strife, or simply rudeness and disrespect, will strain the fibers of unity. But by God’s Spirit, love, and mercy, our life in the Spirit will prevail. We will win the crown of life.
Jesus prayed for unity in His church. He warned us that life would not always be smooth, even within the church. When one member fails, all members suffer. But if we learn to be patient, long-suffering, forgiving, faithful, and steadfast in the faith, unity will prevail.
In Scripture the church is also called the body of Christ and we are members of His body. We depend upon Jesus for everything, but most often He ministers to us not through a vision or a visitation of an angel but through members in the church body. People are not saved to live alone or in isolation; their lives are filled with Christ’s life: we are crucified with Christ, yet we live because He lives in us. Our lives are also united in a local church as well as in the church worldwide. Christ is the head, the pastor is the minister, and all are members together in the church. Although each of us personally meet Christ in the salvation experience, we serve Him in and through His church.
We may function in different offices, ministries, and gifts, but in serving God we serve together and equally. No one is better or worse, greater or less, than others. Honor is in order for all, and double honor is to be given to those who faithfully serve in the ministry of the Word. And Jesus taught us that if someone desires to be great, let him become the servant of all.
It is well for us to remember that to be saved all of us entered into the church by the same experience: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). Jesus described this experience as a new birth: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
No one is saved by joining a denomination, organization, or local church. Neither is he saved by merely saying that he believes in Jesus Christ. Salvation is a profound life-changing experience of regeneration, a change that turns us from sin to live a life of holiness. And the agent of this regeneration is the Spirit.
Some Pentecostal groups try to make a difference between receiving the Spirit and being baptized with the Spirit. But this teaching is not found in the Bible, and should be abandoned in favor of the clear pattern left us in the Book of Acts and in other books of the New Testament. It is merely twisted reasoning to assume two Spirit receptions, especially when such an assumption cannot be supported by clear teaching in the Bible. God does not have two classes of Christians, one Spirit baptized and the other not. If a person is filled with the Spirit, he is also baptized in the Spirit, for there is no difference between these terms.
In the Book of Acts various terms are used to describe the salvation experience of the Holy Ghost. The initial outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost is described as their being baptized in the Holy Ghost (Acts 1:5), the Holy Ghost coming upon them (Acts 1:8), they were filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:4), it was the outpouring of the Spirit of God (Acts 2:16-17), and a person shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). These various descriptive terms do not indicate different levels of experience, and certainly not different experiences. Many of these same terms were used to describe the reception of the Spirit among the Samaritans (Acts 8), Gentiles (Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-17), disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1-6), and others. Furthermore, I Corinthians 12:13 clearly states that the baptism of the Holy Ghost places us into the body of Christ, thus affirming the necessity of experiencing this baptism of the Spirit to be saved.
This does not mean, however, that the Holy Ghost is not active in other ways during the conversion experience. The Spirit convicts sinners of their sinful lifestyle, inspires them to believe in Jesus Christ, leads them to repentance and water baptism, and blesses them as they ask and seek God for the gift of the Spirit. Conversion is complete, however, only when a person receives the Spirit as did the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, the Samaritans in Acts 8, the Gentiles in Acts 10, and the disciples of John the Baptist in Acts 19.
Of course, the Spirit not only brings us into the body of Christ but He also sanctifies, teaches, comforts, renews, empowers, inspires, reveals, seals, and guides us as we walk with God. And this list of His ministry to us is not complete.
The statement in I Corinthians 12:13 is therefore central to the discussion of the unity of the church as well as in the exercise of spiritual gifts. Each person enters into the church body by the same Spirit baptism and shares equally in the gifts of the same Spirit. There are diversities of spiritual gifts and operations, but these are by the one Spirit who dwells in all members of the church. The one Spirit who unites the members in one body, the church, also dispenses gifts to whomever He wills. Whatever position or gift a person receives in the church is the will of the Spirit and operates by the Spirit to bless other members of the church. The unity in service, then, emanates from the Spirit, who directs, empowers, leads, anoints, and edifies.
The church should live and work in unity, but unity is not always realized. Perhaps all of us in some ways are still “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Indeed, this verse is used often by organizations, including the United Pentecostal Church International, to remind members of the need to seek for unity and shun any behavior that may cause disunity.
In Ephesians 4:4-6 we encounter the seven ones of our unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” The four alls in the quoted part above stress our unity in togetherness, while the seven ones focus our attention on the basis of our unity. Moreover, the essential attitude for unity is that we walk worthy of our calling “with all lowliness and meekness, with long-
suffering, forbearing one another in love.” We are to persist in keeping the unity of the Spirit “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
This admonishment for unity must not go unheeded if we are to realize what God wants to do for us and through us. Perhaps the same problems that afflicted the church in Peter’s and Paul’s day still surface to disturb us. We can be assured that our unity will be tested, probably more than once. Let us remember that the church in Jerusalem survived the conspiracy of a man and his wife to lie in an effort to promote their image in the church. It also overcame a murmuring complaint that had overtones of racism in the matter of the distribution of food among certain members of the church.
In the church in Corinth several serious problems arose, including division over leaders. Some looked to Paul, others preferred Peter, a group selected Apollos, and the rest simply excluded anyone but Christ. Paul wrote that this division was caused by carnality, that ministers were merely servants of God, that unity must be centered in Jesus, who is the sole foundation of the church.
The Corinthian church suffered from moral problems in the membership. Apparently some member suggested taking the matter to the civil courts, but Paul admonished them to discipline the offending member and not let the failure of one hinder the church in its ministry.
The Apostolic church had to contend with disputes over the doctrine of circumcision, which threatened to create confusion in preaching the gospel. The leaders called a general conference in Jerusalem and solved the issue before it divided the church. They also struggled with false teachers and prophets, with rebellious pastors such as Diotrephes. Even disputes arose between two apostles, Paul and Barnabas, who stubbornly and sharply argued over the ministry of John Mark, resulting in a division of their mission effort. Beside these and other disturbances, the church had to cope with a hostile world from which they suffered severe persecution. With such internal and external pressures, it is well to be reminded of “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit.”
Members of the church are drawn together and edified by the gifts of the Spirit. Yet the Spirit gives us another gift to promote unity: the fruit of the Spirit. All nine attributes of the fruit bless the person possessing them, but beyond the personal blessing the fruit creates a climate of unity for us to enjoy. These attributes of the fruit are graces to be exercised in the church and society in general: love is only an idle word unless it is expressed in action. Gentleness, kindness, and long-suffering are ways we treat each other. Joy, peace, faithfulness, and temperance are not merely feelings but also the way we behave toward saints and sinners. In other words, both the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit unite members and bless them in the context of the whole church. Given by the Spirit, they bring us to unity.
We have good reasons to keep unity: we have the same Lord as our Savior, share in the same water baptism, experience the same Spirit baptism, possess the same faith, rejoice in the same hope, belong to the one church, and all have God as our Father. Moreover, each of us-‘-% has received grace, not according to our merits, but “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7).
We have more that unites us than what tries to divide us. We are born of the Spirit into one family; we are inspired and strengthened by the gifts of the Spirit; we are welded together by the fruit of the Spirit, and we are secured by the seal of the Spirit; and we have one head, Jesus Christ, who is the real reason we belong together.
Paul expressed by the Spirit the unity we should embrace: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:1O). Ministers and laity alike need to resist rebellion in attitude and thought respecting established authority, and commit themselves to join together wholeheartedly in perfect unity for the sake of God’s work on earth.
When we came into the church we left a world filled with division and dissension over nationality, race, religion, politics, personal and cultural values. In the church, we become one people in Christ. While we still live in nations with political, racial, political, and value conflicts, we must not be caught up with the spirit and behavior of the unsaved around us. We are to be lights in a dark world, a city set on a hill to show the glory of God to all the world.
The church is set apart with a mission in the world, the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to every person. But how can we preach the gospel to every person? Impossible for one of us alone, the mission can be fulfilled by the church working together. If every member of the local church steps into the place God has called him and faithfully does his part, the church will reach its community. When this is done on the international scene, we together will reach the villages, towns, cities, and nations around the globe.
We are nearing the coming of the Lord, but we still have time by the Spirit to bond our minds together, by the Spirit to bow together in prayer, and by the Spirit to blend our gifts and talents together in the harvest of souls. May we pray together, worship together, think together, believe together, and work together until God gathers us together to be with Him forever.
The Above Material Was Published By The Pentecostal Herald, August 1996, Pages, 6, 8. This Material Is Copyrighted And May Be Used For Study & Research Purposes Only.