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John 17:6-15 Study Guide: One in Christ

Community Group Study Guide — One in Christ
John 17:6-15

Study Information:
Jesus died for and prayed for church unity. We’re studying Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17 which is the last recorded prayer we have from Jesus before he went to the cross. The hour had come to go to the cross and he had glorified God through his obedient and holy life and would glorify God through his death and to get ready for that he spends time in the Garden of Gethsemane praying. One of the main things on the heart of Jesus during this prayer was the unity of his followers! Jesus made this clear when he prayed in John 17:11 “that they may be one, even as we are one.” 

Unity, in the mind of Jesus, was a commitment to one another because of a shared identity in Christ and a shared faith in God. The 12 disciples of Jesus were anything but cookie cutter and uniform. There were fishermen, business men, political revolutionaries and even tax collectors who were people the society would have seen as traitors because they worked with the Roman government. Unity does not mean sameness; unity is a commitment to loving one another and loving God despite our worldly differences. In this study guide we will explore what creates this type of unity and how this type of unity is radically different than the world offers.

What Makes Followers of Jesus “One” in Christ?
John 17:6-10
Jesus began this section of his prayer by recounting how the disciples came to believe in him. He called out three specific things in his prayer. 

First, they all had the same revelation from God (John 17:7-8). The disciples came to know that the teaching and works of Jesus were in accordance with his relationship God the Father. Having a common revelation is key to true unity in Christ. Today, we have the words of God given to us in special revelation in the Scripture. We are not making up theology or doctrine on our own, we instead have God’s word and that gives us unity with believers around the city, country and world who also look to God’s word for truth. 

Second, unity comes from a shared belief that Jesus came from the Father (John 17:8). Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus spoke about how he came from Heaven and was sent by the Father. Jesus was the fulfillment of the hopes the Jewish people for a Messiah and the one sent to bring all peoples back to the father through faith (John 1:11-12). You cannot be one with other followers of Jesus if you do not believe that Jesus came from the Father. Jesus was more than a good man or a good teacher; he was God the Son incarnate and if you truly believe that you have more in common with a believer across the world in a different culture than you do with someone who shares the same family values as you, or went to the same school or even with a family member who does not yet follow Christ. 

Third, unity comes from being set apart by God (John 17:9-10). Jesus prayed specifically for his people and “not for the world.” This was Jesus’ way of introducing the theme of being “set apart” or “sanctified which is something that he will expand later in the prayer. To be “set apart” is to be made holy and sanctified, which means that God has made his people distinct for a purpose. Jesus prayed that we were given to him and that we belonged to the Father through him. God has made all humanity in his image, but through faith you are different and unique when compared to the rest of the world. Likewise to be sanctified is to be set apart for a purpose; God has given you the mission to glorify him in your words and actions which means to reflect his character to the world. 

These features of unity are picked up later on by Paul in Ephesians 4:4-6 which said that our foundation of unity with other believers is that we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all… 

How Is This Kind of Unity Different than the World?
John 17:11-15
Jesus prayed we’d be kept, guarded or one in Christ, which means that our salvation and identity in Christ is secure. Through Jesus we receive a new identity as being “not of this world” and that being a disciple will come with opposition from people who hate Jesus. What’s important to remember is that what created our unity and belonging was not conformity to some sort of outward code or standard but receiving forgiveness from God and adoption into his family. This is one of the reasons we can disagree with other believers about secondary things or things that are a matter of opinion (Romans 14:1) without jeopardizing our one-ness in Christ. Often “worldly unity” can be fragile because it often requires a high degree of sameness. Unity in Christ is different because it is formed by God’s plan of redemption and faith in who Christ is and how we’re made new through that faith in Christ, and at the same time we can have big cultural differences with other followers of Jesus. Imagine going to a Christian worship service in China, Ghana or Ecuador… it is likely that things will look very different in terms of how people dress, how long the songs and sermon are, maybe the order of services, but you have a profound unity in Christ because of a common belief in the same God, and will worship and pray to the same God and you would hear similar truth that you would hear at a church like ours on Sunday morning. Think closer to home, are your core friendships with other believers built on cultural sameness or similarities you have like liking the same shows, clothes and sports; or are they built on your shared faith in Jesus? It is crazy to think that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector could both be disciples and have profound unity and love because they came from such different and hostile backgrounds. But Jesus chose them both to display to the world that even two radically different people can have salvation and unity through the power of the gospel. 

Second, this unity is different than the world because it models the kind of unity that God the Father and God the Son had before the foundation of the world (John 17:11). Jesus prayed that his followers would be “one, even as we are one.” This is a pretty shocking prayer! Jesus was not praying that we’d be God-like in our essence like how God the Son and God the Father are both God, rather Jesus is praying that we’d experience unbroken fellowship and mutual love for one another in a way that is similar to what the different persons of the trinity share. The Father, Son and Spirit all share love and desire to glorify one another and their fellowship is never hindered by sin, guilt or shame because of God’s infinite holiness. It is hard to imagine that type of relationship with other people in this world, but that is what Jesus was praying for and something we can look forward to in New Creation. 

Think about your relationships with other Christians, what characterizes your unity with them? What most threatens your unity? Is your unity with other followers of Jesus built more on worldly similarities or a shared belief in following Christ? Finally, what steps can you take to grow in relationships and fellowship built on Jesus?

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 17:6-15

What are some of the key things Jesus prayed for in these verses?

What are some of the things that makes followers of Jesus “one in Christ” according to this prayer?

How are followers of Jesus “one, even as we (God the Father and God the Son) are one?” 

Unity is difficult to maintain, what are some things we can do to build unity in the Church and what are some things that threaten unity with other followers of Jesus?