Unity in Christ challenges the power of self head on, but it is the only path to overcome the futility of the mind and reveal the full nature of Christ.
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, (Ephesians 4:17)
I recall someone saying once that whenever we encounter a ‘therefore,’ we need to stop and find out what it’s there for. Today’s verse occurs within the context of Paul explaining unity in Christ. In essence, he tells us that we’re all made differently. We have individual purpose with varying spiritual gifts. But we’re called to unity in Christ, our ‘umbrella’ calling, as it were. Our ‘differentness’ fits together to reveal the complete picture of Jesus.
Unity in Christ and the futility of the mind.
This seems like such an odd expression – though extremely powerful – to use within the context of unity in Christ. But it gets right to the heart of the matter. It raises the fundamental issues that characterises non-believers: the self-driven mindset. Self remains firmly entrenched in the area of the mind, from which it rules with an iron hand. It’s not by accident that Paul, when talking of spiritual warfare, makes particular reference to all lofty imaginings that raise themselves up against the knowledge of Christ.
We can see immediately that self and unity in Christ are at complete odds. They absolutely cannot co-exist. Self demands absolute focus and obedience. Christ expects complete submission and obedience. Yet is only through true unity in Christ that we discover our full purpose and the peace and joy of a surrendered life. Something that is futile is simply ‘not going anywhere.’ It’s a worthless exercise. There’s absolutely no point in wasting any more time on it. This is possibly the most noticeable practical difference between believers – who live with minds surrendered to the obedience of Christ – and ‘the rest of the gentiles.’ The futility of the mind is the territory of the unsaved, unregenerated, and unsurrendered.
Self, our mind, and true unity in Christ.
A classic example of the power of the mind can be seen in our quickness to take offence. Even born-again, Spirit-filled believers are easily offended by some real or imagined slight. If we look around at human relationships, we’ll find this is a common thread. It’s also a very clear manifestation of self. And, of course, it’s the mind that interprets, assimilates, and responds to the event. It all processes through the mind, and the rest of us follows obediently where it leads.
Unity in Christ, on the other hand, asks us to ‘lay ourselves down.’ It instructs us to not take offence, and if we do, to hurry to rectify it. We’re told to ‘turn the other cheek,’ to love our brothers as we love ourselves. Every single one of these sentiments or commands – and the Bible is full of them – is essentially a direct challenge to self. They are a deliberate campaign to end the ‘regime of the mind’ and overturn its rule. Unity in Christ is an outright declaration of war against self.
Unity in Christ brings the opposite of the futility of the mind.
To grasp this, we need to understand that the rule of the mind is focused on elevating self above all others. Everything it does is calculated towards self-gratification and self-elevation. Even our relationships are carefully built around what is ‘good’ for us. The result of this is self-isolation. We only give of ourselves when it ‘works for us.’ There is a ‘what do I get out of it’ attitude that governs our responses and our engagement. When self is the core focus of our existence, it results in the exclusion of everything else that isn’t self-driven. Unity in Christ has no place in a self-driven life.
This is part of the ‘futility of the mind’ Paul speaks of. There is no real spiritual growth. Even our ‘religion’ exists solely for self-gratification. It’s rather like a traffic circle that simply goes round and round with no exit. The island in the middle is ‘me-myself-I’ and everything revolves around that. The most futile thing of all, though, is that we never discover our greatest purpose. Unity in Christ opens our lives to the limitless possibilities inherent in life in Christ. It releases us from repeating our futile circle and exposes us to growth and spiritual experience. It challenges us, but it also brings peace, joy, and all the other wonderful things God has in store for us.
Unity in Christ means knowing who and what we are.
Perhaps the greatest grace that unity in Christ brings is that of knowing our real identity. First, we understand the reality that without Jesus, we are nothing and have no hope of relationship or intimacy with God. We get to see our weaknesses, failures, sinful natures, and even that our strengths and abilities are irrelevant. Outside of Christ, we are and can do nothing. Second, we discover our real identity in Christ. We learn that we are sons, not petitioners. Suddenly, our potential is limitless because it is in the hands of one who possesses all the power and glory. It’s a radical change of perspective.
Unlike the futility of the mind, unity in Christ places us firmly in the context of relationship and vulnerability. It’s through interaction and humility that the edges are knocked off and we gradually become the ‘puzzle peace’ that fits perfectly in the right place. While we matter just as much as we do in the self-view, it’s from the perspective of God, not self. We see that He has created us to be a certain piece, without which the picture would be incomplete.
There is no hamster on the wheel with unity in Christ.
The futility of the mind – often commented on in cartoons or satires of even non-believers – has us spinning the wheel in a futile quest. With unity in Christ, on the other hand, our focus is on the will of God. We learn to see things from His perspective, to understand that even the smallest action is important. Self begins to take second place because we experience the joy of working with God for His purposes, and in obedience to a will that is so much greater than ourselves.
The Bible says that ‘all things’ work to the good of those who love the Lord. But it also says ‘if you love me, you will obey me.’ We cannot separate one from the other. Surrender is something of a ‘four-letter word’ in the language of self, but it’s the only way to step from an exercise in futility to absolute fulfilment. Unless we take the first step and start to make unity in Christ something we pursue constantly, we will deprive ourselves of the joy and peace that comes from God alone. Only in living the purpose for which we were created can we discover absolute fulfilment. Pursuing unity in Christ is the practical means towards this.
The difficulties of living unity in Christ.
Of course, were all human. Self sneaks in the back door and the mind rears up in a kind of mental guerrilla warfare when we least expect it. The reality is that there are so many people out there we simply don’t like. They rub us up the wrong way. Our personalities clash, and our natures are too different to make for easy co-existence. The truth, though, is that we don’t have to like someone to love them. Did Jesus love the Sanhedrin or the mob that demanded He be crucified? He was human while on earth, so it’s very unlikely. Yet He loved them enough to die for them anyway.
Grace is released when we realise that God knows all of this. That is the very reason why He has given us the Holy Spirit to work from within. His grace gives us the ability to rise above the reactions and response of self and empowers us to love, even when we don’t like. Unity in Christ has nothing to do with the ways of the world. It’s entirely supernatural, with practical manifestations. It’s the thing that sets us apart from ‘the rest of the gentiles.’
Unity in Christ is a way of life.
We understand the power of unity in Christ when we see the absolute love Jesus had for the world. It’s a love to vast for any single person to reveal effectively. Only through the collective body of believers living in unity in Christ can the full height, depth, width and limitless measure of the love of God be revealed. When we are in Christ, unity in Christ becomes a way of life designed to bring us all together to complete the perfect puzzle. The Bible says that by this – loving one another – will all men know that we are His disciples. It’s a lifetime journey, but it starts with our one small step of obedience. Today, let’s set aside self and seek the mind of Christ, rather than the futility of the mind that drives self.
Thank You, Lord, that You empower and enable us to do what is impossible in our own strength. Forgive us for the times when we fall back into human responses. Help us to love the unlikeable and to keep the image of Jesus at the centre of all our relationships and interactions. Teach us to love as You love, so that our unity in Christ will reveal Your love to the world.