There are only three ways to get a new family: Get married, get adopted, or get saved.
When you get married, like it or not, your spouse’s family becomes your family and their relatives become your relatives. When you get adopted you get a whole new family of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Whenever you marry or adopt someone, there’s a great deal of love involved in the relationship – just about the highest amount of love that humans are capable of. It just so happens that both examples apply in terms of joining the family of God. It may come as a surprise, but the Bible describes all Christians as being the “Bride of Christ,” and we’re also adopted into His family as “children of God.”
When you love God, He is the foremost love of your life. Even if you love your family, and I hope you do, if you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, your love for your family will be a distant second to your love for God. “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 NLT)
Having said that, it doesn’t mean God wants you to stop loving your original family. In fact you’ll most likely love them a whole lot more! You’ll start praying for their salvation. You’ll start feeling compelled to forgive them, heal old rifts, and stop holding grudges.
You’ll also realize that without the shared bond of belief in Christ, your relationships within your original family seem somehow incomplete. As much as you love your family you’ll be aware that something extremely important is missing.
When you’re adopted as a member of God’s family, you may be able to stay an active member of the family you were born into. They may make fun of you for your new beliefs or think it’s just a passing phase. Then again, they may not accept you at all. Many cultures and religions immediately banish and disown any family member that becomes a Christian. Fortunately, if that happens, you’re not left without a family!
If the family you were born into rejects your Christian beliefs, don’t be shocked if they reject you as well, or think you’re crazy. But if that happens, you’re in good company – the same thing happened to Jesus! And look who He said His real family was: “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said…. Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived at the house where he was teaching. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. There was a crowd around Jesus, and someone said, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Then he looked at those around him and said, ‘These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:21,31-35 NLT) Fortunately, His mother Mary and at least two of His brothers (the same James and Jude who wrote books in the New Testament) later became devoted followers in His real family.
Pastor Rick Warren has written about what it means to become part of God’s family. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“The entire Bible is the story of God building a family who will love him, honor him, and reign with him forever.”
“When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our Father, we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family. The family of God includes all believers in the past, the present, and the future.”
“Your spiritual family is even more important than your physical family because it will last forever. Our families on earth are wonderful gifts from God, but they are temporary and fragile, often broken by divorce, distance, growing old, and inevitable, death. On the other hand, our spiritual family – our relationship to other believers – will continue through eternity. It is a much stronger union, a more permanent one, than blood relationships.”
“Being included in God’s family is the highest honor and the greatest privilege you will ever receive. Nothing else comes close. Whenever you feel unimportant, unloved, or insecure, remember to whom you belong.”
“Why does God insist that we give special love and attention to other believers, why do they get priority on loving? Because God wants his family to be known for its love more than anything else. Jesus said our love for each other – not our doctrinal beliefs – is our greatest witness to the world.”
WE’VE ALL BEEN ADOPTED INTO GOD’S FAMILY
Paul never mentioned having a wife or children of his own, but he often referred to Timothy as his son. When you have close relationships in God’s family, they can be just as close or closer than your biological family.
We often hear Christians talk about the Christian body as our community, and we talk about living in community, and many churches call themselves a “Community Church.” Community is great, but biblically speaking we’re more than just a community; we’re a family!
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God’s very own children, adopted into his family — calling him ‘Father, dear Father.’ For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we will share his treasures — for everything God gives to his Son, Christ, is ours, too. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Romans 8:14-17 NLT)
We often refer to other Christians as brothers and sisters. Our new family includes those in your church, and those Christians all over the world. It also includes God’s people who have lived throughout the centuries. You’re in the same family as Peter, Paul, Moses, Jeremiah, and so on.
RUTH, PART OF THE ROYAL FAMILY
One of the most moving examples of devotion in all of Scripture is the story of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi and her husband were Israelites with two sons. When a famine hit Israel, they moved to the neighboring country of Moab. In Moab there was food, but the Moabites worshiped pagan gods. Ruth’s sons both married Moabite women. Then Naomi’s husband and both sons died. Ruth was Naomi’s daughter-in-law, and after the death of her husband and sons, Naomi decided to return to Israel and told her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their own people and gods. The first daughter-in-law went back to her people and gods; but not Ruth: “’See,’ Naomi said to her, ‘your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I will die where you die and will be buried there. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!’” (Ruth 1:15-17)
Ruth was not only dedicated to Naomi; she was dedicated to God and to His people. She accepted God’s people as her family even above her biological family, which is something every believer does. Because of her devotion to God’s family, she literally became part of God’s family tree! Ruth soon was remarried to Boaz, and they were the great-grandparents of King David, from whom Jesus Himself later descended. It’s a great story, and I hope you read the entire book of Ruth. (It’s just four chapters, so no excuses.)
JESUS: THE FIRSTBORN OF GOD’S FAMILY
In the family of God, Jesus is called the firstborn in the sense of being the highest ranking in the family. As the firstborn in God’s family, the entire family of God lives to exalt Jesus and aspire to emulate Him. “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn, with many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NLT)
Even though He was born as a human on earth two thousand years ago, that’s not the moment when He first began to exist. Jesus pre-existed throughout all eternity past as the second Person of the Trinity. As God, Jesus is never-ending and never-beginning. He even made appearances on earth, known as “theophanies,” prior to His birth as a human, such as when He wrestled all night with Jacob. Even though Jesus is fully God and not a member of the created beings known as angels, in these theophanies He is often referred to as “the angel of the Lord” (as opposed to “an” angel of the Lord). The Scriptures use the word “angel” in the sense of being a messenger, and these were times when God chose to deliver a message personally.
Jesus is the highest ranking member of God’s family, and the highest ranking in all creation. Again, Jesus was never created but He is called the firstborn in the sense of being the highest ranking of all that exists: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:15-18 NIV)
ARE NON-CHRISTIANS “CHILDREN OF GOD?”
When you are born again, you’re reborn into God’s family. Before that, a person is created in the image of God but not yet adopted into God’s family as a child of God. Adoption is a privilege the Bible tells us is only for those who choose to join the family by receiving Christ as their Savior: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12 NASB)
You can mingle and interact with unbelievers, but you can only have fellowship with other members of God’s family. Sometimes you’ll meet unbelievers who share many of your same interests and personality traits, but you can tell there’s something missing in the relationship. What’s missing is your common membership in God’s family. Then again, as a member of God’s family, you’ll meet other believers that you might not have anything in common with whatsoever except you’re both members of God’s family, and you’ll feel an unexplained love for each other. Your common bond in Christ allows you to have an instant basis for a relationship. You’ll find yourself growing close to people who share no mutual interests except the interest that matters most – Jesus. The Bible refers to unbelievers as our neighbors, but not as our family. And as you know, we’re still commanded to “love thy neighbor.”
WE HAVE FAMILY OBLIGATIONS
Part of accepting God’s family as your own is accepting the fact that you are now part of that family, and therefore you have family obligations.
If you’re not plugged into a local body of believers, you’re not using the gifts God gave you to help the body. They’re like a body that is missing a vital organ. Every single member of the body of Christ is vital. There are no non-vital members. On the other hand, if you’re not connected, you’re like an organ without a body, so you’re in even greater danger!
When I was little, at Christmas my mother would have gifts for other family members that the tags said were from me! She would give it to me but it really wasn’t for me. It was a gift given to me specifically for the purpose of giving it to someone else. That’s kind of how our spiritual gifts are.
When we join God’s family, we’re given at least one spiritual gift for the purpose of serving and building up other members in God’s family. These spiritual gifts are chosen and given supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. We don’t get to choose the gift or gifts we are given, but whatever it is it’s perfect for you.
There are tests and surveys you can take to help you discover what your gifts are, but here’s what I recommend. Volunteer for several types of ministry in your church. If a certain type of ministry drains you and makes you feel depleted, and if time seems to creep by at a snail’s pace when you’re doing it, I feel safe in saying that’s not your gift. But when a type of ministry does the opposite and seems to energize you when you do it, and people comment that you’re good at it and they were helped by what you did, I’d suggest you’ve found your spiritual gift. The more you exercise your gift and practice it the better you get at using it to build up other members of God’s family.
Your gift goes stagnant if you only use it to build up yourself or hog its benefits for yourself. No gift is given simply to edify yourself, and if that’s what you’re using it for, you are misusing it. As with any area of service, by using your gift to serve others you keep it fresh. According to Rick Warren: “The old comparison between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is still true. Galilee is a lake full of life because it takes in water but also gives it out. In contrast, nothing lives in the Dead Sea because, with no outflow, the lake has stagnated.”
But as Paul told Timothy, don’t neglect your gifts! You meet so many people who profess to be Christians and yet have no interest in getting involved in church. It’s just “Jesus and me.” But God has invested a lot in you. How can all those other believers benefit from the gifts God gave you if you never see them? And how can you grow from their gifts if you never see them? Isolating yourself from other believers is nothing more than rolling out the red carpet for attacks from Satan. You’re like the one sheep that wandered off from the flock.