Unity comes in many forms and from many places, but the good news of Jesus brings enemies together as friends. It can (and does) unite strangers and creates a new blood-bought family. The gospel unites people from every tribe and tongue through the blood of Jesus for the everlasting worship of the Lamb who was slain.
Yet ironically, the gospel also divides. When a person hears the gospel and God opens their eyes to see and savor Jesus, a decisive break with the world becomes unavoidable. That person is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), a citizen of a different kingdom (Phil 3:20), and part of a worldwide family that’s called to be in the world, to serve the world with the self-giving love of the gospel, but not of the world and its patterns of life and worship (John 15:19; John 17:14–16). [JC4]
Since through the gospel God creates a new blood-bought family, a family that lives according to the ethics of a heavenly kingdom, the gospel often clashes with world-driven agendas and families. All those who do not come to Christ remain outside that blood-bought family, even though every Christian longs to see their closest earthly family join their heavenly family.
When a son or daughter embraces Jesus, while mom and dad do not, the earthly family is divided at the most basic level of reality. The believing son or daughter is now a child of God, an heir with Christ, and part of an omni-ethnic, global Christian community. Mom and dad, on the other hand, remain outside of Christ as enemies of God, destined for a terrible place.
There is no middle ground. Either you’re part of the family of God through faith in the person and work of Christ, or you’re not. The only ones for whom there is now no condemnation are those who have already come to Christ by faith (Rom 8:1). Until then, you’re in the world and of the world as enemies of God (Rom 5:10).
The gospel simply divides. All of humanity divides at the cross of Christ. The biggest question every person will answer in their life (whether they know it or not) is where they stand with Jesus.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told us we’d see this pattern play out in the world. Our Lord said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…” (Luke 12:51–53). What he meant was that how people respond to him, either with belief or unbelief, will divide the whole world into two camps. Those who are with Jesus and those who are against him (Matt 12:30).
Yes, the gospel unites. But, in a very real sense, it divides.
We see this pattern clearly in Acts 4:1-4 as Peter and John preach to the people. The division is clear. Most rejected the gospel and put Peter and John in prison. But “many of those who heard the word believed” (4:4). In Acts 14:1–4 we see the pattern again. There, Paul and his companions preach the good news in Iconium. Some believe. Some do not. The gospel has divided the town (14:4). Scripture, particularly Acts, is replete with such examples of gospel-driven division.
Christian history has followed that same trajectory. Followers of Jesus traverse the globe and proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name, only to strangely divide villages, towns, cities, regions, and the world into two factions while strangely they unite people who never could have dreamed of being united before. This rubber meets the road in a clear place: the cross of Christ as the hope for sinners.
Why does this matter: Gospel Ambassadors of Reconciliation
It matters because the gospel draws a line in the sand. Anyone and everyone that we interact with is on either side of that line. They are either part of the blood-bought family of God through Jesus, or they are not. They are either enemies of God or friends of God. No one can straddle the fence.
The way to eternal joy in the presence of God is not found in a life fixated on the world while they fill the pew on Sundays (i.e. straddling the fence). The way to eternal joy is to go all in through the only door in the fence, Jesus Christ, and to count all else as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing him.
Whether or not someone enters through this door will be the great divide at the end of the age. Followers of Christ will enter into the everlasting joy of their Master. Those who never come to Jesus by faith will enter into everlasting torment and suffer the punishment their sins deserve. We will all enter one place or another.
Because we know this, and because we know that the gospel is God’s power to save all who believe (Rom 1:16), we proclaim the good news of Jesus as ambassadors in a foreign land to our neighbors and the nations (2 Cor 5:10-21). We call people from every people group and every region to turn from sin and be reconciled to God. We lay down our lives and open our mouths so that through us God can make his appeal to an unbelieving world.
In other words, we are gospel ambassadors of reconciliation. We proclaim the gospel as ambassadors of Christ. The gospel draws the line in the sand. But by the grace of God, and through the power of the Spirit of God, those who were once on the side the kingdom of darkness are transferred into the kingdom of the Beloved Son (Col 1:13) as they move from unbelief to belief.
Belief in the gospel is the only way anyone can cross the gospel line and experience eternal life. No one can believe the gospel who doesn’t hear the gospel (Rom 10:14–17). Therefore, as you read this, pray that God motivates and moves us (and you!) to share the gospel as long as we have breath in our lungs. And let us plead with God that as we seek to persuade others to cross the gospel divide and come to Jesus, that he would win multitudes to Christ for their joy and his glory.
It is true that we cannot save. Salvation is from the Lord. But, we can obey the call to be witnesses to the world (Acts 1:8) so that those around us might hear and believe.
Until Christ returns or calls us home, let’s give ourselves to the proclamation of the good news of Jesus.
As we do, the gospel will divide the world as a line in the sand is drawn.
But, by God’s grace, as we preach the gospel, God will unite a people into one eternal family who’ll joyfully sing the praises of King Jesus from this day forth and forever more.