EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt of Agents of Grace: How to Bridge Divides and Love as Jesus Loves. It is used with permission.
One of my favorite books is the narrative nonfiction story Boys in the Boat written by Daniel James Brown. I first read it several years after a recommendation from a friend. I know almost nothing about crew, a sport that has never piqued my interest. Yet Brown’s beautiful storytelling and the unmatched narration of the late Edward Herman made this a compelling audiobook listen from the very first sentence.
Boys in the Boat follows the lives of young men from the western United States in the 1930s. The times were tough: crippling economic conditions, the dust bowl and the specter of a second World War. The boys hailed from working class families and worked their way through school at the University of Washington, where they were recruited onto the crew team by legendary boat designer George Pocock and coach Al Ulbrickson. Ulbrickson shaped these motley men into a surprise championship squad, upsetting more well-established and well-financed teams on the East Coast before going on to a surprise gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
What drew me into this book was not its vivid depiction of the physically and mentally demanding sport of crew but the way in which Brown describes the uncommon unity of this unlikely championship team. Nine young men from varied backgrounds put aside their egos and worked together for a common purpose.
Act unified because you are unified
Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and think about unity, but we appreciate it when we see it, whether it’s the perfect synchronization of Olympic crew, the silent symphony of a functioning automobile, or the spectacular sight of a winter flock of geese, flying in V-formation toward warmer climes.
Unity is woven into creation, from delicate environmental ecosystems to the harmony of the human body’s many interdependent systems. Many moving parts, working in concert, is what gets us up in the morning, gets us to work in the morning, and gets us home at night. When just one of these parts is not working; when there is a discordant note in our day, we feel it. A pain in our joints. An oil leak in the minivan. A natural disaster in our town.
The Bible speaks of this kind of togetherness when it comes to the way Christians are called to relate to each other. When we think of Christian unity, perhaps we don’t often envision the seamless cohesion of an Olympic rowing team. Instead, unity hits our ears and sounds like something sappy and sentimental like a bunch of religious people holding hands in a weird circle around a campfire. Or like the formulaic schmaltz of Hallmark movies.
However, togetherness is an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You may not have realized this, but the day you met Jesus – in a dorm room, in a church aisle, watching a church service online, at a friend’s house – you not only were reunited to God as your Father, you became part of something new:
For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:13 CSB)
At the moment of salvation, you joined the largest family in the world. This word from the apostle Paul was to a troubled church in the city of Corinth, one that had been riven by division and disharmony. Like a bone out of joint in an otherwise healthy body or a broken valve in your car, or an out-of-tune instrumentalist in a symphony, this local congregation was discordant. Paul pleaded: you are all brothers and sisters. You have been joined to each other and joined to Christ.
In one sense, the togetherness of Christians is not something we create, but something God has already done in Jesus. Whether we recognize it or not, we are unified with Christ and unified with the people of God. This is what is symbolized at our baptism as we are plunged into the waters of death and as we rise again in newness of life. We are in Christ and we are also plunged into the worldwide communion of saints in heaven and in earth.
One of the primary marks of a Christian becoming more like Jesus is the earnest, heartfelt effort to love their brothers and sisters. John Woodbridge and Timothy George, in their classic, The Mark of Jesus write:
To be baptized in the name of the crucified and risen Christ means that we have acquired a new set of comrades. We now wear the same cross on our uniforms, and we march together under the same banner, the bloodstained banner of the Lamb. We are soldiers engaged in battle, but we must not direct our weapons against one another, but against the real Enemy who has come “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).
We wear the same cross on our uniforms and march under the same banner. This identity we have – as the blood-bought, redeemed, rescued, and resurrected people of God – is why the New Testament is so adamant about the way we treat each other.
To “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Make every effort means that loving other Christians, overlooking flaws, putting aside difference, tolerating quirks, forgiving, etc is not just a nice thing to see happen. It is essential to our identity as God’s people. This is why Jesus prayed to the Father about the church in John 17, “that they may be one as we are one—in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ is a way we show an unbelieving world that we are unified with Christ, who is unified with the Father and the Spirit.
“The unity of the church,” Gavin Ortlund asserts, “is not an optional add-on—something we can get to later . . . The church’s unity is foundational to her identity and mission.”
 “The Mark of Jesus: George, Timothy, Woodbridge, John: Amazon.Com: Books,” 35, accessed February 18, 2022, https://www.amazon.com/Mark-Jesus-Timothy-George/dp/B003L1ZXYI.
 Gavin Ortlund and D. A. Carson, Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 33.