Many Christians in the United States are raised in the faith, or at least around the faith. I, however, was not raised in a Christian home, and in fact did not begin to follow Christ until I was 33 years old. In my testimony half jokingly tell people that like Christ, I too died when I was 33, but that I died in myself to live in Him, a reference to Matthew 10:39.
I praise God that He called me to Him, but more so that He softened my heart to Him and opened my eyes to the truth so that I could respond rightly. My salvation is secure in His grace, but that is not the case for my extended family.
For those who raised me, I dread the thought that they may never know God’s grace in salvation. So, I bring them the gospel in ways they can hear it, and pray that the Holy Spirit convicts them of their sin so that they may repent of it and turn to the Lord and give Him their lives as living sacrifices. My extended family supports my faith, and tolerates my light evangelism to them, but many of our brothers and sisters of the faith are not so blessed.
Friends of mine who are in similar situations, or worse, that have family members who claim to follow Christ but live like the world, often face from their families ridicule, persecution and persuasion to abandon Christ. So, in their cases, their families are not merely the unsaved to whom we evangelize, but those possibly lost to the world. We never know who will receive the gospel and who will persecute us for it, and so we should evangelize to everyone. But, at some point, those who refuse the gospel–those whom have been exposed but reject it–will try to cause us to abandon Christ and join them in the world. Those are the lost, or least those whom we will not reach. Perhaps God intends another to reach them, but certainly not us.
When our relationships reach this point with the apostate, our family ties dissolve. The phrase, “blood is thicker than water,” is used to explain that family ties should bind tighter than others, but what this phrase doesn’t acknowledge is that our ties to and through Christ bind more tightly than those of the world, including family ties.
The synoptic gospels paint a clear and sad picture of the relationship between Jesus and His mother, Mary–one of reluctance on Mary’s part and resignation on Jesus’. Mary had been visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would bear the son of God and that He was coming to establish His unending kingdom. So, she understood, as well as she could, who Jesus was–deity–and why He was here–to establish His kingdom. But account after account shows her attempting to thwart, or at least slow, His ministry. This was not out of malice, but out of love for her son. But whatever her intentions, she was attempting to frustrate the will of God. The situation comes to a head when Mary and some of Jesus’ siblings attempt to counsel Him against speaking:
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. [Someone told him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak to you."] But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
(Matthew 12:46-50 ESV)
Once we dedicate our lives to Christ, we join a new family: the body of Christ, the universal church. Our natural families are our first ministry if they have not already come to a right relationship with God through Christ. We love them, we share with them the gospel, but if they reject it, we regard them as we regard the rest of the apostate world. That is to say, we continue loving them and continue sharing the gospel, but we break fellowship with them.
No longer do we have family gatherings with them solely to enjoy their company, as we once may have. Gone are the days we call them family. They are to us no different than the stranger on the street who doesn’t know Christ. If we gather with them, it is to share the gospel and love them to Christ. But, if they make it impossible to share the gospel, or they persecute us for it, then we pray for them and cease being in their company. Every gathering with non-believers is an opportunity to share the gospel, and if it is not, then we should not be in that gathering.
Paul makes this point abundantly clear in his fourth letter to the church at Corinth:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
(2 Corinthians 6:14-18 ESV, parenthetical statements mine)
This may sound harsh, to put away our families if they reject a right relationship with God, but if we do not, then we become idolaters. Jesus said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37 ESV)”
Why would we put away our other idols–money, sex, fame, vice–but hold tightly to others? Let us all be as courageous as Abraham, willing to sacrifice his own son for the pleasure of God, and put away all of those who openly reject Christ as their Lord and Master, including our families. And in doing so, remember:
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29 ESV)”
Idolatry of Family