Over the last several weeks, I’ve thought deeply about what it means for us to be involved in Christian community. What does God desire for us in regards to fellowship and community? What does it mean to be in the “family of God”? Why don’t our churches look like the community we see in Acts 2? What is required of us as followers of Jesus in regards to community? Is community an accessory to our salvation, or is it an essential and necessary part of our salvation and sanctification?
This post is the first of several focusing on the idea of Christian community. The big question I’m asking is, “What is God’s intention for humanity in regards to community and family?” In this post, I look at the broad, overarching story of the family of God throughout scripture and attempt to come to some conclusions about this topic.
1. God wanted one big, united human family from the beginning.
When God created the first humans in Genesis, we see several of God’s intentions for us. He wants us to represent him on earth (1:27), he wants us to multiply and fill the earth (1:28), and he doesn’t want us to be alone (1:18). In the beginning, God didn’t merely create individuals, his intention was to create a growing family of people who glorify him together.
2. Because of the fall, the family of God disintegrated and continued to fracture throughout history but God made a promise to Eve.
However, only several verses later, Adam failed and severed his relationship with God. After the fall, we see the family of God fractured when Cain kills Abel. Genesis then chronicles the further, continuous division and disintegration of the family of humanity.
However, this isn’t the end of the story. After Adam and Eve rebelled against God, God promised that a descendant would come, and though the serpent would bruise his heel, this descendant would crush the serpent’s head.
3. God calls Abraham and establishes a new family through which all nations of the earth will be blessed.
Later, in Genesis 12, we hear about Abraham (or Abram) for the first time. In this story, we start to see the restoration of the family of God. God calls Abraham to go to a different land that he would give to his descendants. God promises him that he will make a great nation out of him, and in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. It’s also important to note that the idea of “nation” and “family” are almost synonymous in the Old Testament. Later, in Genesis 22, God repeats this promise by says all “nations” will be blessed rather than “families”.
4. God fulfills the promises to both Eve and Abraham through Jesus.
In the book of Matthew, we are introduced to Jesus who is both the descendant of Abraham and the descendant of King David. Throughout the book of Matthew, we see that Jesus is both the promised King from the line of David and the blessing to all the families of the earth promised to Abraham. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, forgiveness, salvation, and inclusion into the kingdom of God is available to all people. Through Jesus, people from all nations on the earth will be grafted in to God’s family tree.
I also see two instances where we can clearly see that Jesus defeated the serpent and crushed his head. The first is in the wilderness where he was tempted for 40 days and passed the test. This is in contrast to the failure of Israel to remain faithful to God during their 40 years in the wilderness. The second is when Jesus submitted to the will of the father in the garden of Gethsemane. He then is crucified, absorbing the wrath of God against sin and death.
While Adam’s failure barred us from the tree of life, Jesus’ obedience opened the door to a new tree of life that we refer to as the cross. The cross makes eternal life accessible to people from all families and nations.
Jesus crushed the serpent through his life, death, and resurrection; and by crushing the serpent, he opened the door to adoption into the family of God to all people of every nation.
5. Jesus promises us a much bigger family than the one we left behind when we choose to follow him.
In the gospels, we see that one of the promises of following Jesus is being placed into a big family. There is an exchange where a rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers him by telling him he must sell everything he has, give it away to the poor, and then follow him.
After this exchange between the rich young man and Jesus, Jesus’ disciples look to Jesus and say, “We’ve left everything to follow you.” Jesus responds by telling his disciples that everyone who has left mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters will receive a hundredfold mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters in both this life, with persecutions, and the next.
Like Abram being called out of Ur and given a new name to create a new lineage, we too are cut from our old, dying vine, rooted in Adam’s transgression, to be grafted into the family of the new Adam: Jesus. We now are a part of the vine growing and flourishing out of the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ so that we can bear fruit and plant the seeds of the Gospel, creating an ever-growing choir of worshippers made up of brothers and sisters who have also been plucked out of a dying world and given a new name and given a part in an everlasting lineage.
6. “The Family of God” is not symbolic imagery; it is a real family and should be treated as such.
When Jesus speaks of calling us to himself or speaking of those who follow him, he often uses collective and connected imagery: flock, vine, roots, branches, family. The desire for Jesus is not to only forgive us of our sin. He is not simply a psychological or spiritual tool to remove our guilt and shame so we can turn over a new leaf. His desire is to place us in his new family that he has created. This isn’t a sentimental statement to make us feel warm and fuzzy; it’s a reality bought for us by the suffering of Jesus. His blood has given us a new family and identity.
When I look at passages like in Mark 3 where Jesus says that those who do the will of his Father are his family members or the exchange between Jesus and his disciples after the conversation with the rich young man, I believe that Jesus isn’t only saying this in a metaphorical sense when taken in context of the whole story of scripture. I don’t believe he is saying that his people, the Church, are like a family. He is saying that the church is a family. We are not merely like a distinct people with a distinct culture; we are a distinct people with a distinct culture.
7. God intends for us to be a part of his growing family, and this is why we are saved.
Jesus died to give us a place in his family, a people forgiven, saved, and redeemed to our original purpose. Jesus intends for us to be in community, and the new family we have been given is a part of the package deal of salvation and sanctification. They are not separate events or parts of your life that you can pick and choose.