Family in the rWorld

Family isn’t easy.  In fact, for a lot of people, family is a source of tremendous grief and emotional weight.  We began this series by talking about love—which one writer described as a feeling of “rootedness” to the world and people around you.  And as we pointed out, we live in an era of the “homeless mind”—a world of alienation and estrangement. While we might look for “rootedness” in our families, the years of broken relationships only magnify our sense of fragmentation.  We may spackle up these pieces with forced smiles, but end up leaving our holiday get-togethers feeling as if we’ve committed some strange form of emotional treason.

This, I think, is why the gospel’s message of “reconciliation” is so powerful today.  John Stott once called reconciliation “the opposite of alienation.”  Reconciliation is about putting a broken relationship back together again.  So, says Stott, “reconciliation, peace with God, adoption into his family and access into his presence all bear witness to the same new relationship into which God has brought us.”[1]


The promise of the gospel is a new family.  To the church in Ephesus, Paul writes that God “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5).  Now, before we try and add in “and daughters,” we need to understand how radical Paul’s words are.  To be adopted means to be the rightful heir of the adopting parent.  The rights and privileges of living in the parent’s kingdom are now transferred to the adopted child.  Culture, however, historically favored the male heir.  So for Paul to write a letter to a church that included women and tell them that they, too, had been “adopted as sons” is radically counter-cultural.  Christianity says that men don’t enjoy special privileges in God’s new family.

For all of us, this means that the gospel transforms our understanding of “rootedness”—away from strictly earthly connections to God’s greater kingdom.  Paul tells us that we are “children of God” and “fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17).  Twice Paul tells us that this new standing grants us the privilege to cry out “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).  The term “Abba” was a term of respectful endearment (though not as casual as “daddy”[2]), a term used only in the context of relationship.

The gospel, therefore, promises us a new story, a better story.  No matter how bizarre our family background, we have the promise of a new family in Jesus.


This “spiritual family” refers not only to our vertical relationship in Christ, but also our horizontal relationships with other believers.  This is why Jesus would tell the crowds that obedience to God created a whole new family system:

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

Reflecting on this text, Christian blogger Jared Wilson says that this has profound implications for us when our biological family members embrace values that conflict with ours.  Wilson’s example is of a Christian father who agrees to perform a same-sex wedding for his son.  There’s a good chance that each of us might be faced with similar circumstances.  But, says Wilson, even though our views may leave us at odds with—or even estranged from—our biological families, we can rely on the new connections we have in fellow followers of Christ.  Wilson writes:

“Christ would have us focused on him, loving him above all else. And when all else, including our beloved families, asks us to betray Christ and his word in order to serve them, we face Abraham’s excruciating dilemma. But pledging our hearts to heaven, we will not look back to Egypt or Sodom, trusting that true mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters are those who follow Jesus and that obeying God is worth any cost, including hurting the feelings of those we love.” [3]

Let’s make no mistake: there are some communities in which you are expected to not only accept a person’s identity, orientation or lifestyle, but to greet it with full-throated celebration.  Anything less than that is dismissed as bigoted and oppressive.  There’s a chance—a strong chance—that in the years to come, your Christian values will place you at odds with your family members.  But the gospel says that the “rootedness” we may lose in our biological families we regain in our spiritual family—the church.  I realize that doesn’t deaden the pain of family brokenness, but it at least helps us understand that our truest value lies in Christ, not in the approval of our families.


Finally, we must recognize that as much as Christianity offers a place of spiritual “rootedness,” Christianity equally points our gaze forward.  In his obscure novel Demian, Hermann Hesse uses one of his characters to tell us that “One never reaches home.  But where paths that have affinity intersect, the whole world looks like home, for a time.”[4]  Christianity says that our truest home is not the earth of the present but the earth that becomes reborn at Christ’s return.  We long for this home, though we do not ever reach it this side of the resurrection.  But God’s family, this spiritual community called the Church—well, this is as close a picture of “home” that we’re ever going to have.  Yes, it’s still messy, yes it’s still difficult.  But in the winter of our discontent, Possibility unfolds like Spring’s first blossoms.  Church is an institution that focuses our eyes on Christ, but in so doing we begin to see our fellow believers as fellow travelers on our journey steadily homeward.



[1] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 191.

[2] James Barr, “Abba Isn’t Daddy,” Journal of Theological Studies, vol. 39, 1988.

[3] Jared C. Wilson, “When our children ask for stones, let’s give them bread instead,”

[4] Hermann Hesse, Demian, p. 145.

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