By Trillia Newbell, Director of Community Outreach for the ERLC and member of the SBC Women’s Ministry Advisory Council
Recently, I had the joy of meeting with various women’s ministry leaders throughout the SBC. In the course of those interactions, I was struck with the fact that we were all so very different. There were varying ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and doctrinal convictions, but we had one thing in common, the gospel. Because of that, it was as if we had known each other forever. We easily entered into fellowship with one another and shared joys, burdens, and suggestions freely.
I’m not saying that if we lived in the same city I am sure we’d get together every Tuesday morning for tea, just that our shared sisterhood—our shared gospel connection—allowed us to be unified in spirit even though we’d just met. This spirit of unity is common among all Christians.
Here are four ways I believe the gospel unites us in our differences:
1. The Gospel Creates Level Ground
You’ve likely heard the saying, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” I love this statement for a number of reasons. First, it reminds us of our posture before the Lord. We stand, in awe and thanksgiving, at the foot of the cross, “where grace and mercy meet.” Our only response can be, Thank you, Jesus, as we humbly recognize our great need for a Savior.
That saying also reminds me that we all stand in equal need of a Savior. We are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Not one of us was made apart from the creative, thoughtful design of our Creator God. As image bearers, we were all made to reflect the Lord. God doesn’t discriminate in his design. He doesn’t create one human being greater in value than any other.
Regardless of the color of our skin, our culture, our backgrounds, we all need God’s saving grace. The fall of humanity affected every one of us, and we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The good news is that Jesus died for every tribe, tongue, and nation. He did not discriminate. His mission is to seek and save the lost—everyone. God loved the world and made it possible that anyone who believed would have eternal life. He made the way for all people. The cross—and the cross alone—puts each of us on level ground and enables us to be unified.
2. The Gospel Makes Us Family
Our differences of opinion, and even convictions, do not negate the fact that we are family. As born-again Christians, we are adopted children of God. We are children of God, heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17).
It’s sometimes hard for me to imagine that there could be anything quite as special as one’s blood family—they are extremely important. But in God’s kingdom, we have a new bloodline: the wall of hostility separating us from one another has been broken down by Jesus and we are reborn as fellow citizens of the household of God (Ephesians 2:11-22). Our church family is of great value to the Lord and should be to us, too.
Even before his death, Jesus affirmed the importance of being a part of the family of God. On one occasion, when he was addressing the crowds and his mother and brothers stood outside, Jesus said, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:48–50).
Jesus wasn’t saying that our biological families are no longer important (see Matthew 15:3). Rather, our unity in Him is greater than that found in even biological connection. He takes priority, and so does His kingdom—so much so that those who follow Him are counted as His brother and sister and mother—His family. One of the easiest ways for us to start loving and caring for the entire church is for us to get a big God view of the family of God. The family of God, the kingdom of God, is very diverse in every way.
3. In the Gospel, We Share the Great Commission
If we are followers of Jesus Christ, then we have a shared mission: to see more people know him. It’s our shared hope for the world, as in, the whole world. Jesus doesn’t charge his disciples to, “Go and find people who look and sound just like you,” but to make more disciples of all nations, loving and serving people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We were all created by God; we all sinned and fell from God; so we all need to hear the gospel and be reconciled to God. Jesus’ gospel reaches to and is for all people.
4. The Gospel Reminds Us That the End Is Near
I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but our time on earth is short. Really shorty. Often it seems we live as if this earth is our final destination. The here and now isn’t the end; we have eternal life to keep on living. And when Jesus returns, all the sin that keeps us fighting and divided now will suddenly disappear. From that point forward we will worship and rejoice together, completely united.
Revelation records striking accounts of the last days, when all nations, tribes, and tongues will be worshipping Jesus. In Revelation 7, we see a magnificent picture of a multitude of nations worshipping as one, people from every nation, tribe, people, and language. What divided them on earth no longer stands between them, as they cry out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (9-10)!
Since that is where we are headed, why not live that way now?
The kingdom of God is diverse. Every page of our Scriptures points to this truth. Heaven won’t be filled with homogeneous people—except for the fact that we will all be glorified and sin-free. Free of the sin that divides us, we will finally be able to know and love one another, completely and fully, as we are completely and fully known and loved by our great God.
This side of heaven, we will have differences. We will have disagreements. But because of the gospel, those differences and disagreements don’t have to define us. There is one race, the human race; one problem, sin; one savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; one commission, to “go and tell;” and one hope, the resurrection. Our unity in that should be greater than anything that separates us.
Throughout all of Scripture, we see God working to redeem a colorful and diverse people for himself, a people from every tribe and tongue and nation. And he will do it. He will take the divided families of the earth and weave them together into a beautiful tapestry, united in Christ. We in the church are that family now. So let’s learn to walk in unity, brothers and sisters who can enjoy and celebrate our differences while still recognizing the family resemblance.