by Mike Ratliff
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:6-9 ESV)
The passage above from Isaiah 40 is quoted directly in 1 Peter 1:24-25, which is why I placed it there. We are commanded in God’s Word to be unified in Christ, to love one another in the Lord. We are commanded to stand firm and rebuke false teachers as we warn the brethren as well, but our role is not to cause division. We are not to separate the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats. That is not our job at all. That will happen when our Lord returns in judgment. However, that does not mean that we are to be unified with heretics or to call apostates our brothers. No, there is a unity that we are to have as the Body of Christ that is built by the Holy Spirit that He establishes in God’s truth first then as a visible unity which is the eventual fruit of shared submission to the Word of God.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25 ESV)
Τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν ἡγνικότες ἐν τῇ ὑπακοῇ τῆς ἀληθείας διὰ Πνεύματος εἰς φιλαδελφίαν ἀνυπόκριτον, ἐκ καθαρᾶς καρδίας ἀλλήλους ἀγαπήσατε ἐκτενῶς, ἀναγεγεννημένοι οὐκ ἐκ σπορᾶς φθαρτῆς, ἀλλὰ ἀφθάρτου, διὰ λόγου ζῶντος Θεοῦ καὶ μένοντος εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. διότι πᾶσα σὰρξ ὡς χόρτος, καὶ πᾶσα δόξα ἀνθρώπου αὐτῆς ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου. ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος, καὶ τὸ ἄνθος αὐτοῦ ἐξέπεσε· τὸ δὲ ῥῆμα Κυρίου μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. τοῦτο δέ ἐστι τὸ ῥῆμα τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν εἰς ὑμᾶς. (1 Peter 1:22-25 GNT)
The souls of you having purified in the obedience of the truth for brotherly love sincere, from clean heart one another love intensely having been born again not from seed corruptible but incorruptible through word of living God and staying. Because all flesh as grass and all splendor of it as flower of grass; was dried out the grass and the flower fell out; the but word of Lord stays into the age. This but is the word the good news having been preached for you. (a word-for-word translation of 1 Peter 1:22-25 from Koine Greek to English)
Peter’s point here is that genuine Christians possess a true unity that is created by the Holy Spirit that is not a superficial structural unity that papers over many contradictory views of the will of God as the liberals say nor is it a “unity” built around “submission” to the whims of some program set up by people that have goals that are outside of those Christ has set for His Church. That would include meeting the felt needs of everyone everywhere. That would include “transforming the world.” No matter how grand those goals sound, there is absolutely no Biblical evidence to support that being the proper goal for unity in the Body of Christ.
God saved me in 1986 and I was a Southern Baptist from that time until 2006. Prior to that, I grew up going to SBC churches and attended them regularly as an adult. In any case, the Gospel I heard continuously as well as the “let’s get busy” sermons, “the no one tithes enough” sermons, the “come forward for prayer in order to find out your role in our new program to do xyz” sermons, et cetera greatly affected my ingrained theology. The radical change of focus God took me through in 2004 which led to a new reformation in this heart eventually led me to leave my old church in 2006 when I was forced to take a stand against the Purpose Driven program the leadership there was implementing. Since that time I have been relearning theology. I actually thought I knew it already. When I became reformed in my theology I thought that was it, but that only deepened my surrender to the sovereignty of God. Since that time I have been going through some massive trials that some would probably classify as “fiery.” It has been through this and my continual surrender and repentance that I have come to realize how little I really know. I did not have a clear understanding of how deeply engrained that old confusion of law and gospel from my old SBC days was in my theology. It was as I listened to sermon review after and sermon review by my brother Chris Rosebrough as he dissected the words of Rick Warren, his disciples, and others that I began to realize that even though my theology about the sovereignty of God was right, my theology about our walk afterwards was still colored with a bit of that confusion.
I think I began to get it when Chris told why he left Evangelicalism and became a Confessional Lutheran. He used to work for Focus on the Family and he witnessed first hand the very bad teaching going on from that ministry about how to handle sin. This made me think of my own experience. My formative years right after my salvation was under a pastor I absolutely loved. He and I were close, but he had actually come from the same denominational background which was behind Focus on the Family. He is also the one who taught me that there were two levels of Christians, Disciples and Fleshly Christians. His goal was to get all of us to become Disciples and to learn to crucify the flesh each day. I can look back on that time as the point when I began my slide into despair with not being able to measure up. I am a sinner. I fail. I sin. I mess up every day. I remember walking through the parking lot at church looking up at the sky wondering if my “works” were going to be good enough to make it to that next level… Did any of this stuff cause us to be unified. No, it caused disunity, despair, and fractures in our Church because no one can measure up.
According to the passage above we are to be united in brotherly love for one another as we live in and abide in the word of God. It isn’t about works. It isn’t about perfectionism. We are all disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we are in Christ then we are brothers and sisters in Christ and that is our unity. On the other hand, all outside of that are in disunity.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9 ESV)
This passage actually teaches that all that man is and does that is outside of being in Christ is by His decree to be in disunity. Therefore, let us draw together my brothers and sisters in God’s truth and love one another from a pure heart. Those who refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ are in the disunity outside of that. Those who refuse to submit to the sovereignty of God over all things are in the disunity outside of that. Do you get the picture? Therefore, let us who are united in Christ pray for one another and obey God’s Word as commanded.
Soli Deo Gloria!