There are two aspects of faith we struggle with at times. Both happen to be “O” words; which works nicely for our ABC’s of faith. As we talk about them it’s easy to slip into thinking of faith as religion, denomination, church, belief system, or practice. But even in these “O” words the emphasis is on our relationship with God and trusting Him. To some these “O” words seem restrictive – I hope that you will find freedom. To some these “O” words justify judgment and condemnation – I hope that you will discover the log in your eye. Some have abused these “O” words to drive personal agendas instead of leaning into God’s desire – I hope that you will see God’s trustworthy love.
Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NASB95) Let the arguments begin. One body? There are hundreds of denominations. One baptism? The churches can’t even agree on that part. As a solution to this problem some have adopted an attitude of “We’re the only church that gets it right!” But Paul prefaces these words of oneness with a call to humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance in love, and unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (See Ephesians 4:1-3)
One faith is not a statement of division but of unity in the midst of diversity. Now, before you think I left the rails of God’s word and turned “one” into chaos, consider this. Paul continues, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:7, NASB95) He goes on from there to discuss various giftings and offices within the body of Christ. An abundant gift of grace that is fitted to the person. Diversity and uniqueness fitted together by the Spirit in unity.
What is our one faith? God is. God created. Humans rebelled and continue to rebel. Jesus, God the Son, came in humble love to provide the way for us to return, for our sins to be forgiven. When a man, a woman, a girl, or a boy – regardless of their place, their position, their race, or their history – turn back to God and accept the gift of Jesus they are born anew from above and indwelt with the Holy Spirit. One faith with many expressions.
Hand in hand with one faith is obedient faith. Paul bookends Romans indicating that obedient faith is his purpose in writing and his prayer for the Gentile readers. (Romans 1:1-5, Romans 16:25-27) In Romans six Paul explains, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:14–18, NASB95) The last word that comes to mind in connection with obedience is grace. Punishment, restrictions, loss of will and control, and discipline seem like a more suitable combination than grace. Yet grace it is.
Do you see how grace pulls one faith and obedient faith together? We can (and many have) make one obedient faith into something that divides God’s family into the haves and haves not. But grace is not about division but multiplication. Grace opens the door, all who are weary, overburdened and thirsty may come (Matthew 11:28, John 7:37). Jesus went on to say, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.””(Matthew 11:29–30, NASB95) And “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” (John 7:38–39a, NASB95) With grace comes learning and the pull towards unity and obedience.
Without grace one faith and obedient faith would be the harsh taskmasters some have made them out to be. That false unity and manufactured fruit looks appealing until you take a bite. Yes, we have one faith as followers of Jesus. God’s Good News binds us together in ways we often fail to recognize or appreciate. God does have desires and expectations and rules for His children. But God also provides the grace and the Spirit to help us grow into them. It is wearying and burdensome to enforce false unity and obedience. Perhaps it’s time to submit to the gentle, humble, and empowering yoke Christ offers us which will lead us further into one obedient faith.