The Power of the Gospel to Sustain Unity

by Matt Erickson

unity in the churchWhen athletes from around the world compete, whether in the World Cup or in the Olympics, they seek to offer their best performance. While different sports have different measures, more than a few judge competitors against a perfect “10.” When you see an athlete offer a perfect 10, you know it, and so does everyone watching.

But what about in the church? Are we aiming for a perfect 10, or are we trying to become something else? I’d like to propose that a gospel-centered church should aim for “7.”

In Revelation 7:9-10, we read about the heavenly scenes of worship:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

This is a picture of the end of all things, where people from around the world and every echelon of society come together around God’s throne through the saving work of Jesus Christ. As God’s people, both individually and corporately, that is the aim we must have. We should, in a sense, become a snapshot of that multiethnic Revelation 7 community here on earth. We should seek to become a 7.

But what does it mean to become a 7 as the Christian community here on earth? If Revelation 7:9-10 is a heavenly vision, then we will likely not attain it fully on earth. However, we should pursue it as if that is the end toward which we are growing.

We must be intentional about this because we will arrive at an end goal one way or another. We are either intentionally moving toward something, or unintentionally sliding toward something else. I would rather intentionally pursue becoming the heavenly vision of God.

Let me suggest three aspects of the vision of Revelation 7:0-10 that are essential for God’s unified community to live our mission and identity.

#1: God Is the Center

In Revelation 7:9, we see the diverse community of God gathering before God’s throne and the Lamb. It is not our activity that is central, even though mission is important. It is not our multicultural identity that is central, even though that is essential to the gospel. It is not even our worship that is central.

Rather, the center of the community of God is God Himself in His regal authority and salvific identity. This may seem obvious, but it is not something we should skip over. The community of God unified in identity and mission is built around the presence and work of God. We do not attain the 7 of the heavenly community any other way than being centered on God. God is not a starting point; rather, He is the abiding point of our life.

#2: Jesus Is Lord

In order to live into the heavenly 7 of divine community, the people of God find life with God marked specifically by the Lamb, who is Jesus Messiah. He is the One who reigns as victor. This is the significance of the palm branches which acclaimed the victorious kings. He is also our saving sacrifice. This is the significance of the paschal imagery and the purity of the white robes.

The unity of the Church is marked and sustained by Jesus, and this is the center of our identity. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the reason for our unity and we must celebrate and uphold that in our daily life. He is the one who, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, has torn down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and makes us “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:15). Apart from Christ, there is no reconciliation, but by Him there is a new unity that we experience and enjoy.

#3: Everyone Is Welcome

Finally, we come to what may seem to be the practical reality of the heavenly community that is a 7. Revelation 7:9 describes the scene this way: “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.”

Here we see that when God is the center and Jesus is Lord, everyone is welcome into the kingdom. In fact, the ingathering of every nationality, ethnicity, and language group displays that a divine reality is at work. When the painful divisions of humanity are overcome, then the world actually experiences that life-changing good news.

We see that in God’s community there are no second-class citizens. This means that the present people of God must stretch toward that Revelation 7 type of reality. We must listen, learn, and change as God refines us by His Spirit into a new sort of gospel-centered and gospel-changed community where everyone is welcome.

Our identity and mission as God’s people must involve the Revelation 7:9-10 vision. Unity is intrinsic to identity and mission. Unity is not a hoped-for extra we anticipate in heaven. It is part of what it means to be God’s people now. This is why the psalmist says, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Ps. 133:1).

Matt-Erickson2Matt Erickson (@mathyouerickson) is senior pastor of Eastbrook Church. He is husband to Kelly and father of three boys.