How you should view other Christians who are committed to the gospel and belong to a local church is pretty clear in the Bible. We're one people, "God's household," as Paul calls it in Ephesians 2:19, which means we're members of the same family. The Greek word translated into English as "household" here is oikos, which is the basis for the word "economics." It was a common term used by Paul to refer to Roman households, or oikoi. These houses held together a number of different classes of people (free, semi-slave, slaves), but they were all seen as the master's property. In the New Testament, the concept of oikos is taken out of its Roman cultural context and extended to include people from all nations, tribes, and tongues who are under the reign of King Jesus.

You Are Family

So, if you're an evangelical Christian and you've been baptized into Jesus and his cross, you are now part of God's house. This means the best way to think about your identity as a Christian is not with the word "Christian." That word just refers to what we believe. Christians believe the Bible is God's Word. But more than that, we actually live as though Jesus came to the world to die for sinners like us, and has raised from the dead so we can be reconciled to God and given new life through him. And we show this new life by the way we relate to each other and care for each other - as family. So instead, you need to stop thinking about yourself as "a Christian" and start to think of yourself as "a child of God" (John 1:12, Romans 8:16).

As children of God, you are living in the middle of God's household. You are a part of his royal family and he is the head of that family (Ephesians 5:23)!

This means your first loyalty is not to politics (this will be the case whether you're liberal or conservative!); it's not to sports (though you do love your teams); it's not even to family (you must always put your earthly family second to your heavenly family!); but rather it's to follow Christ wherever he leads you. You are like the sons of Israel in Exodus - a group of enslaved people being led by Yahweh and called to be a blessing to the nations of the earth. And because of that mission, we've gotten in deep trouble before (just look at how Israel treated the Canaanites when they were invading the promised land!) and will get in trouble again!

Peter says it this way:

We are like exiles, most of us having our faith tested as well as suffering from all sorts of persecution, even to death... so let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:12-19

We have been made a part of God's kingdom in order to participate in his missionary initiative in the world. And that mission means we have to rely on God. As John Calvin said,

"The kingdom of heaven is a kind of enemy fortress which no soldier may gain possession of without first engaging in fierce fighting, and thus showing himself to be an enemy of the flesh."" Calvin, Institutes, III.xviii.1

If you feel like a Christian is a second class citizen, especially while you are still alive, then maybe you aren't rightly related to Christ.

You Have Family Members

In addition to all of these ideas above, one of the ways you know you are part of God's household is that there are other people around you who are also family. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are fellow citizens of the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20)!

There's a lot we can say about this fact (see Dr. Taylor Barker's excellent post on brotherhood here), but I'm going to keep this simple today for our purposes. Basically, everyone who belongs to Christ makes up the family of God. That's why you can visit a new church and know instantly that you're among your people - because regardless of size, culture, age range, or economic status, you are all united under Christ and in his body! You might not feel like you fit in because you look different or talk differently than the majority. You might find it hard to speak up publicly (which is what happens when you visit a lot of big churches!). But you ARE part of the church and you do belong. You really are a part of God's family!

This is why if you are a Christian you should choose to interact with your brothers and sisters in Christ often. You should choose to have community and you should choose to pray for those same believers. But more than that, you should choose to do life with others in small groups, community groups, small groups, life groups, whatever you call them these days, where you can share life together regularly. If you want to check out some examples of small groups we've had on this blog, go here, here, here, and here.

In addition, while small groups seem like an easy thing to do from the outside (you meet up with other Christians every week or so), once you try to run one as a pastor, you quickly learn that leading one of these groups requires a ton of relational labor. We have to share life with each other and form strong relationships within our groups, which means that much of the work of discipleship happens in our lives one-on-one. That's why pastors are trained not just in preaching, but also counseling and visiting: they're expected to do the work of discipleship in the life of the church (and many, many more things, but this is a post on family!).

Now, a final note on our families before we dive deeper into this topic.

Sometimes I wish there were a better name than "family" in the Bible for people who are part of God's new people. There are parts of the Bible where we are called "family" in the literal sense, but more than that we are called "brothers and sisters" in Christ. And given how easily that label gets used and abused these days, perhaps we should find something else, but there is no better word for it. Our relationships are built on a close kinship that is only possible because of Christ's death. Because he was raised from the dead, we too are raised and become part of this body of believers who make up his family. Just like Jesus died for a family of people who weren't his first family (his biological family, who didn't even understand his mission), we are also to die for those who aren't related to us by blood.

This means, in the words of Leon Morris, "the tie of blood is superseded by the tie of grace."

Recommended Reading

One last recommendation for further reading is John Piper's book Brothers, we are not Professionals. This little volume is more about the danger of professionalism (placing a career over the gospel of Jesus), but his chapter titled "The Family of God" is worth its weight in gold because Piper takes readers back to the Scriptures in order to see what true love in Christian community looks like, which is especially helpful if you do not feel like a full member of a Christian community!

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