Biblical students and scholars have often interpreted John 17 in ways that deny the obvious meaning of Jesus’ prayer for our unity and oneness. Did Jesus intend for us to share in the eternal unity of the Father and Son, or what we call the ontological unity of the Godhead? Yes, in a sense, but primarily the answer is no. We do share in the life of God and we have taken on the divine nature in the sense that 2 Peter 1:3-4 teaches. The ancient church called this process deification. By this the church fathers did not mean that we become God (ontologically) but rather than we become fully human as those made in the Triune image of the relational God. We become more and more like God by the Spirit’s transforming power making us more and more like Jesus.
This is the very key to John 17. Jesus is not praying that we will all join one church or that we will all agree on every point of doctrine. (There is a pattern of true faith that all who love him will, or should, embrace!) He is praying that we will become more and more like the relational Trinity, loving each other in a way that embraces our human relationships, by the Spirit, in Christ. I call this relational unity. I talk about this in an interview related to my book, Your Church Is Too Small.
There is surely room for all of us to explore together the point I make here. I do not pretend to understand every aspect of this text but I am quite sure that this “relational” idea is exegetically correct and theologically sound. I am also convinced that the Apostle Paul gave his life for this unity if you read his letters with any degree of care and openness. Do you give your life for it? Do your pastors and elders make this a priority in their labors in your local church or have they settled for simply drawing more people to worship services on Sunday? Do we even care?
I think a growing number of people do care. I think a movement of the Spirit, a movement that seeks for this relational unity, is growing all over the world. I pray that you will see this simple, but radically profound. truth. I also pray that you will join me in this movement of God for the visible unity of his whole church. Jesus does pray that we will come to “complete unity” (NIV, John 17:23). This much is unmistakably clear.