Written by: Barnabas Piper
Barnabas Piper is an assistant pastor at Immanuel Nashville. He is the author of several books, including Help My Unbelief and Hoping for Happiness, and is co-host of The Happy Rant podcast. Barnabas is married and has two daughters.
This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked HERE.
Editor’s Note: This article is a short extract from Belong by Barnabas Piper. How is a ‘gospel culture’ developed? What other elements of church life are essential for your church being a place of belonging? Read the book to learn more, and use the free small group kit to dig deeper into this topic with your church.
One of the kindest things you can say about friends is that “they feel like family.” It’s a statement of trust, closeness, identity, and responsibility. When we describe friends this way we are reflecting something beautiful about God’s design and desire for humanity, that familial relationships are meant to be near and dear to us. We were made to be part of a family.
Made for Family
We see this shown from the earliest pages of the Bible, where God made Adam and Eve for each other and commissioned them to be fruitful and multiply, that is, have a family. We see it when God tells Abraham that through his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1–3). We see it when God establishes the people of Israel as twelve tribes, the offspring of twelve brothers (Gen. 49:1–28). The Bible uses familial language and descriptions throughout because they are the most foundational relational reality we have.
It also becomes clear throughout the Bible that God’s idea of family extends far beyond biology. Someone else defines our closest, most meaningful relationships: Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “Who are my mother and my brothers? . . . Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:33, 35). When his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, Jesus said, “When you pray, say Father . . . ” (Luke 11:2; my emphasis).
In these two brief exchanges, Jesus is expanding and defining what it truly means to be family. He points to those who faithfully walk with him and calls them his family. We know that Jesus is the Son of God, but he then points at his Father and tells us to talk to him as our Father. The Bible doesn’t say we are like a family; it says we are family.CLICK TO TWEET
Consider Romans 8:14–17: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Heirs with Christ
All who believe in Christ have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” We are children of God, and this is why Christ called us family. We are heirs with him. This changes everything about what it means to be in a family. For those with healthy, close families it lifts their eyes to an even greater reality. For those whose families are utterly dysfunctional, who are lonely, abandoned, orphaned, or divorced, it is a warm invitation into real family. In God’s family, we share Christ’s familial rights and standing in the eyes of God, and that means we will inherit the glories and riches of the heavenly kingdom.
But this family is not merely about a status or a right. It’s about affection.
I know a few men and women who were adopted as children and legally became members of a family. They shared in the citizenship, the rights, and the last will and testament of their adoptive families. But some of them never received the love and affection that children should. Being adopted left them feeling like outsiders, like projects, like they didn’t belong. This is not the case for believers in the family of God. Later in Romans 8:38–39 we read, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” When we are adopted through the work of Jesus Christ into the family of God, we receive unconditional, immovable, eternal love as God’s children. We could not be more loved. This is what adoption is supposed to look like.
Children of God
Adoption and family are not mere metaphors to help us understand how we relate as Christians. The Bible doesn’t say we are like a family; it says we are family. Receiving the Holy Spirit transforms us, we become new people, and that means we are no longer strangers, enemies, or rivals. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are children of God. Mark 10:29–30 explains what that means for us:
“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.’”When we are adopted through the work of Jesus Christ into the family of God, we receive unconditional, immovable, eternal love as God’s children. We could not be more loved.CLICK TO TWEET
Family with a Promise
Belonging to the family of God is not just an identity change—it comes with a promise. Even if following Jesus separated you from your family of origin (and following Jesus can be that costly) or if you do not have family with whom you are close, in the church you gain a family exponentially, what Jesus called “a hundredfold.” You become part of a family marked by the sacrifice and humility and love of Jesus Christ. We get it wrong often. We sin against one another. We hurt one another. But, as my friend Sam Allberry reminds us, “The blood of Jesus is thicker than the blood of biology.” We have the unfailing love of God, proven by the sacrifice of Jesus, so we can freely repent and be forgiven and grow with one another as children of God. In Christ, we belong to a new and eternal family.