The Unity Worthy of Our Calling – 5
1. Wonderful phrases are used to paint visions of what relationships between people can be like because of faith.
a. 2 Pet. 1:1 – “to them that have obtained a like precious faith with us” (ASV). The NASB puts it “those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours.”
b. Tit. 1:4 – “my true child in a common faith”
c. Eph. 6:23 – “Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith”
2. But I’m afraid these aren’t the pictures that come to mind when the subject of people having the same kind of faith comes up.
a. A popular author who has worked in our largest city for years says the most common views of people he encounters run something like this:
i. “How could there be just one true faith?...It’s arrogant to say your religion is superior and try convert everyone else to it. Surely all religions are equally good and valid for meeting the needs of their particular followers.”
ii. “Religion has led to untold strife, division and conflict. It may be the greatest enemy of peace in the world. If Christians continue to insist that they have ‘the truth’ – and if other religions do as well – the world will never know peace.” (Keller, The Reason for God, 3)
b. I think we have to admit that even withing the realm of Christendom, love “in a common faith” is not so common. A party spirit, a practical division, and a preoccupation with our own preferences presents a front of anything but “a like precious faith.”
c. You can understand how it may well appear that any combination of “one” and “faith” among human beings is either naively foolish or downright dangerous.
3. Yet our text says that is the reality we are called to maintain where the unity of the Spirit is concerned: “there is one body and one Spirit, one hope that belongs to our call, one Lord, one faith...” If that is so, what an astonishing truth it is! But how can it be?
1. An objective basis
a. One of the reasons we have a problem is that there is a side to faith that is more personal than just about anything else I can think of.
i. No one can impose faith on you. No one can extend it for you. And if you have decided to believe, no one can keep you from it.
ii. Each individual has to choose who he trusts, who he will submit to, who he will rely on in his life.
iii. It has to be personal because it has to be sincere. It couldn’t be sincere unless it’s something you actually commit yourself to voluntarily.
b. The problem is that we have come to the place where we think that since there is a personal level to faith, it must be totally subjective – that faith is what I think, what I believe, what’s right for me.
i. Our individualism causes us to assume that believing means that we sort of design our own spiritual world, our own “faith.”
ii. And our Western culture accommodates us by stressing the kind of tolerance that makes no value judgments, as if whether a person believes something is the thing that matters, not what he believes.
iii. Obviously, if that is that model is accepted for reality, if faith is only subjective, there are as many faiths as there are people!
c. But Paul says there is “one faith,” which must mean that faith has an objective basis – it has to do with what we believe, not merely with whether we believe something.
i. It’s this way because it comes from who the Lord is and what he has done, not from what we think, or like, or feel.
ii. The New Testament concept is that the faith has been delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3). There is a word of faith that is proclaimed (Rom. 10:8). People can be obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7), and they can be encouraged to continue in it (Acts 14:22). It can be kept (2 Tim. 4:7) or departed from (1 Tim. 4:1).
iii. Ephesians says the content of the faith is message about Christ who is our peace, who now rules over his kingdom, and who makes available life and all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places.
2. A trusting response
a. There is one faith because there is one Lord. All the way through, Ephesians identifies faith with accepting, obeying, and relying on him.
i. Christ is both the object of faith (Eph. 1:15), and the goal of it (Eph. 4:15).
ii. Believing on him comes by the word of the truth, the gospel of salvation (Eph. 1:13), and that faith is the means of salvation (Eph. 2:8).
iii. Not only the beginning of our salvation but also the continuing relationship with Christ is dependent on faith (Eph. 3:17).
iv. He works in the lives of “us who believe” (Eph. 1:19).
v. We have “boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Eph. 3:11), and faith is our shield (Eph. 6:16).
b. We can see that’s the claim. But can we believe it? And what does it mean?
i. Think back to Acts 19 again – to the first time “the faith” was proclaimed in Ephesus.
ii. Remember that there was a synagogue there where sincere Jews gathered every Sabbath to hear Moses read, to think of their identity in Abraham, and to hope in David and Elijah. That was their faith.
iii. The city was also full of fervent devotees of Artemis. My Bible encyclopedia says, “The cult thus recognized was that of a nature-goddess, associated with carnal fertility rituals, orgiastic rites, and religious prostitution. The peculiar feature in the case of Ephesus was that the cult was associated with a meteoric stone, the ‘image which fell down from Jupiter’...” (ZPEB, II, 326). That was their faith.
iv. As Paul reasoned and persuaded people that Christ is the Lord, God bore witness by the signs he worked by Paul’s hands (Acts 19:11-12).
v. People had to use their minds and make a faith choice. Those who did not believe what was being taught resisted (Acts 19:9, 23). Those who did believe the teaching were baptized in the name of Christ (Acts 19:5) and were loyal to him (Acts 19:29-30).
c. Notice how the “ones” from Ephesians 4 are involved: one Lord is revealed and confirmed by one Spirit then embraced by one faith wherein people become one body holding fast to one hope. What a thought!
3. A healthy practice
a. One faith can be identified, understood, and practiced.
i. Colossians 1:23; 2:6-7
ii. Philippians 1:25, 27
iii. Elton Trueblood, commenting on the unity of the faith, said, “What the world needs, far more than it needs fashionable religious tolerance, which is fundamentally patronizing in spirit, is a burning faith which can change men’s lives. Great advances come in culture not when all distinctions are blurred in a hazy jovial good will, but when sharp distinctions are made, distinctions dictated by truth. Power comes not by supposing that one view is as good as another, but by finding, in honest enquiry, what the objective truth seems to be, and then following it with stubborn courage tempered by humility.” (Quoted by M. Lyon, Search TV, date unknown)
b. The faith has within it the ground for respectful treatment of others.
i. There is no excuse here to attack or harm or diminish any other person. Instead, members of the body are specifically called to treat others honestly, respectfully, and kindly.
ii. It is the faith itself that instructs Christians to walk in love, and in light, and in wisdom (Eph. 5:2, 8, 15).
iii. Even those who otherwise might be resented or feared are to be responded to “as to the Lord.”
iv. “After all,” the faith says, “our Lord died for these, too, and each one is made in the image of our Father.”
c. The faith which has Christ as its content and substance is not detached from the other “ones.”
i. It has to take form in real life, not just in the realm of the invisible. One faith will have to be obeyed in one baptism. It will have to be lived out in one real body, not in an imaginary one.
ii. At the World Missionary Conference in 1910, a delegate from the far East said, “You have sent us your missionaries, who have introduced us to Jesus Christ, and for that we are grateful. But you have also brought us your distinctions and divisions: some preach Methodism, others Lutheranism, Congregationalism or Episcopalianism. We ask you to preach the gospel to us, and let Jesus Christ himself raise from among our peoples...a Church conforming to his requirements...This Church will be the Church of Christ in Japan, the Church of Christ in China, the Church of Christ in India; it will free us from all the isms with which you colour the preaching of the gospel among us.” (Quoted by C. May, Preacher Talk)
iii. The problem starts with attitudes...and so does the cure!
1. There is one hope because of what one Lord has done for us. One Spirit has made known what his work means and what that hope is. One faith accepts that truth in obedience and trust.
2. The unity worthy of our calling, therefore, includes being “united in the same mind and the same judgement” (1 Cor. 1:10).
3. Think again of Eph. 6:23– “Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”