Paul explains here that the process of the Christian life is one of being conformed to the image of Christ – that is, by the power of the Spirit being grown into people that reflect the character and attributes of Jesus Christ in how we relate to the world and to each other as believers.
For the purpose of this post, we’ll just consider the application for the image of Christ in our relationships with one another. Take a look at portions of Jesus’ prayer to the Father on the eve of his crucifixion in John 17.
Jesus prays for:
1. The unity or “oneness” of believers in Christ.
17:11b, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”
17:21, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
The unity of the Father and the Son is a picture of the sort of unity that should mark Christians. Certainly, this doesn’t mean compromising doctrinal truth for the sake of unity. Such a conclusion would contradict the very nature of the Trinity. It means there is total unity in thought, purpose, and mission. The mission being the glory of God in the salvation of all those who believe.
As Christians who continue to fight sin in our lives (something we should be doing by relying on God’s Spirit) we sacrifice unity for our pride and preferences. What’s confusing and hurtful to us in situations of conflict is that, because we’re sinners, we can often find ourselves on the “right” side of the truth but have a totally sinful attitude about being on the “right” side of the argument. Which, in the end, makes us wrong.
Consider the Epistle of James and how he commands Christians to handle conflict. James, 4:8-10, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
He doesn’t take sides. He doesn’t draw a line in the sand. He says, get humble before God. Draw close to God. Resist the Devil. Mourn that your conflict is a defiance of the character of God himself. Humble yourself because, even though you might be right, your attitude might be totally wrong. Humble yourself, because your attitude might be right, but you might be missing the mark of Biblical truth.
Let us strive for unity by trusting God’s Spirit to conform us to the image of the Son, who is totally united to the Father.
2. Jesus prays that we would be sanctified in the Truth of the Word of God.
John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
We may first be prone to “better” ourselves with programs, techniques, events, or good deeds. While none of these things are bad in any way – they are not the primary means of our sanctification. We are sanctified by God’s Word poured into our hearts.
3. Jesus prays that the love between the Father and Son would be in believers.
John 17:26 “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
You’ll notice this love grows out of having God’s name (and by extension all that He is in nature and character) known to us. Is this not convicting? It means where I sacrifice all the means that God has given me to know Him better, such as His Word, prayer, baptism, communion, the fellowship of the saints, the instruction of good biblical teachers, I cannot be as loving as I could or should be. We so often think we’ve got things figured out and so we don’t have to study God’s word diligently. When things are going well, why pray? It’s no big deal that I haven’t been baptized as Christ commands. It’s really not an issue when I habitually neglect the Sunday morning worship service. How foolish we are.