Mystical Union: The Only Path to Maturity

The posts on mystical union appear to have touched a nerve in the FG community.  Clearly this is an area that warrants much more investigation and discussion; I am much encouraged that we’re on the right track .  And so we continue…

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for all who believe in Him to be one: “I do not pray for these [eleven disciples] alone, but also for all those who will believe in Me through their word….”  Please note, Jesus is not asking for a loose alliance, but that we would be one “as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You….”  Jesus wants us to be one as the Trinity is one.

Is that even vaguely possible?

Of course not.  It would take a miracle.

And that’s exactly what Jesus prays for–a miracle: “…that they also may be one in Us.”  We cannot unite with each other apart from God; what we can do is be joined to the Trinity, and thereby be united to each other.

Jesus has a purpose in mind: “…that the world may believe that You sent Me.”  This tells us something about the unity He is praying for.  All believers are joined to Christ invisibly, but that is not the answer to Jesus’ prayer.  Jesus is praying for something that unbelievers can see, so that they might believe.

By what tools are we to be thus visibly united?  How do we do it?  “And the glory You gave Me, I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one.”  The Father gave glory to the Son, and the Son has given that glory to us.  By that glory we are to be united.

But what does it mean?

I’m having a hard time describing it here.  If you’ve seen Jesus’ glory revealed in two believers in the same place at the same time, then you’ve seen what he’s talking about, and the unity that inevitably flows from it.  If you haven’t, I’m not sure I can explain that particular miracle to you, except to say that when the glory shines forth, we recognize our mutual Friend Jesus in each other, and for His sake we love one another, and find ways to get along.  When our sins obstruct the glory, suspicion reigns, and there is no unity except the pseudo-unity that comes from having common enemies.

All this is not only an answer to Jesus’ prayer and a witness to the world; it is also necessary for our own spiritual growth: “I in them and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one….”  The path to perfection, to maturity, lies in the sort of unity that Jesus prays for.  One of the great sins of conservative evangelicalism is the presumption that division leads to greater purity, and thence to maturity.  It simply isn’t true; Jesus says that we will be made perfect in one.  Divided, the Body will never be mature.  (Now, this same Jesus taught us about church discipline and so on, so it’s not as though division never happens in an obedient church.  But although division may be necessary at a particular time, it is a setback, and we should treat it like one.)

And again, Jesus has a purpose in mind for the miracle He is praying for, and he expands on it here: “…that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as you have loved Me.”  Not only will the world see the sign and know that Jesus is who He says He is; our visible unity will also be a sign to them that God loves us, just as He loved Jesus.

Knowing this, they will want to be a part of us, the people on whom God pours out His love.  What a witness it would be!  What a witness it is, on those rare occasions when it happens to some degree!

The key to it all is “in Us” in verse 21.  This is a miracle from top to bottom, and none of it is going to work if we are not united to the Trinity.  Only by being in the Father and the Son will we be able to unite with each other.

Conversely, if we find ourselves unable to unite with each other, what does that say about our relationship with the Father and the Son?

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10 Responses to Mystical Union: The Only Path to Maturity

  1. Jim Reitman says:

    . . . and the telos of all this—that they may be one and that the world may know…—is all worked out in First John, an exposition of the praxis of John 17.

  2. Tony L Smith says:

    yes, unity causes growth. All our selfish ways and thoughts are challenged as we begin to come under one head, even Christ. This is an area that I am being strectched in right now, We are having to learn how each part of the body finds placement and function.
    So good word!

  3. Tim Nichols says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Tony

  4. Michele says:

    Hi Tim,

    Nice post. I liked this comment:

    “We cannot unite with each other apart from God; what we can do is be joined to the Trinity, and thereby be united to each other.”

    And we are.
    Thanks.

  5. Tim Nichols says:

    Michele,
    As always, thank you for your kind words.

  6. Bobby Grow says:

    Someone once said within a framework of “mystical union”:

    This is the exchange which out of his measureless goodness he has made with us: that receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that taking our weakness upon himself, he has strengthened us by his power; that having received our mortality he has given us his immortality; that, descending to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him.

    Keep fighting the good fight, Tim; you are providing plenty of FG’rs with substantial/Trinitarian stuff when you push into the Scriptural teaching on ‘in Christ’ union with Christ Pauline Marital theology. Salvation is Personal & Trinitarian through and through, or it’s not salvation!

  7. Tim Nichols says:

    Calvin or Torrance?

  8. Bobby Grow says:

    I make it too easy, don’t I 😉 ? Calvin (Institutes 1536, IV.24).

  9. Tim Nichols says:

    Throw in a little Servetus or Origen once in a while, just to keep me guessing…

  10. Bobby Grow says:

    Nah, I’m not into heresy so much 😉 . . .

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