Grow in God's Family

Ephesians 1:5

The Bible is the story of God building a family.  From Genesis to Revelation, from Adam to Jesus, from Abraham to Cornelius.  A family – imagine God needing something – God who needs nothing needs a family.  Listen to how the NLT words Ephesians 1:5: “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.”

It’s not that God lacked anything.  The relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is the definition and epitome of relationships.  But it’s like a couple who marries – they have a wonderful marriage – their relationship is full – it lacks nothing that a relationship needs to make it complete – but there is more – and one day the couple looks at this wonderful loving relationship and says, “Let’s have a child to share this love with.”  And though they are complete without children, there is that drive to share it with children.

God created that drive, and I think it came out of his own desire to share that perfect, complete relationship with someone else.  And so he devised a plan to create us and bring us into his family.  Here’s how James says it:  “In his goodness he chose to make us his own children by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his choice possession.” (James 1:18)

Every human being is created by God, but not all are children of God.  The only way to get into God’s family is by being born into it.  You become a part of the human family by your first birth, but you become a member of God’s family by your second birth.  John’s Gospel describes this distinction – “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13).  And the Bible uses a phrase to describe that – “born again.”

Isn’t that a strange sounding phrase – “born again”?  It was strange to a fellow named Nicodemus who came one evening to ask Jesus a couple of questions.  Now, Nicodemus wasn’t used to asking questions, he was used to answering them.  He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin.  He was a great teacher in Jerusalem.  But when he came to Jesus he was the student.  Nicodemus wants to talk graduate level theology, but Jesus takes him back to his ABC’s – (Jn 3:3) “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Imagine hearing that for the first time.  Born again?  Nicodemus asks, “How….?”  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”  (Jn 3:5-7)

I hope you hear how radical and shocking that language is.  We get a little immune to it because we use it so often, but the very idea of being born again ought to send our minds reeling.  (It’s kind of like when you went through childbirth classes for the first time – you watched the videos, practiced breathing techniques, got advice from your friends who already had kids, but nothing can really prepare you for the real thing.)   And we throw the term “born again” around like it’s some kind of a political wrapper instead of the life-changing, eternity-shaking, life and death moment that it really is. 

Listen to how Peter describes it – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).   It is the most significant moment of your life.  I don’t care what else happens in your life – how many honors and awards, who you marry, where you live, what career you choose, how rich you become, how long you live – they pale in comparison with this moment when you are born again.  Everything changes – you are born again into a living hope, into an eternal inheritance, into a salvation that God has designed and prepared for you in heaven.

And it’s not just that it changes everything out there, somewhere beyond the grave.  It changes everything here and now.

And the reason the phrases, “born again” and “new birth” are so significant is that they describe our entrance into a family.  Baptism isn’t some religious ritual or legalistic membership requirement.  It is the delivery room, where a baby is born into a family.  A man or woman who, to paraphrase Peter “had no family, now is a part of the family of God.”

Listen to how Paul describes that – “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27)

Everything that is familiar and comfortable and secure – we leave behind when we go under the water in baptism.  When we come up out of the water, it is like a birth.  The new world we enter can be strange and unfamiliar – it is the world of God’s family.  We look around us, and like Paul writes, “from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:16-17)

All of the things that divide and separate us in the world don’t matter in the church – rich/poor, male/female, white/black/latino – in God’s family we are brothers and sisters without distinction.

And in many ways this spiritual family is even more important than our physical family.  God blesses us with earthly families, but they can be temporary and fragile, often broken by divorce, distance, death.  But our spiritual family will continue on into eternity.  Ideally our physical family is a part of our spiritual family, but it is the bond of Christ’s blood that is permanent and eternal.

There is a special relationship that exists among brothers and sisters in Christ.  Imagine a family where every family member has renounced selfishness and lives to serve each other – a family where we have all things in common and care about each others’ needs – a family who loves each other so much they would lay down their lives for each other and loves each other too much to let sinful behavior go unchallenged.

But the best thing about this family is the Father.  The Father who created us provides for all our needs – not just the begrudging bare minimum, but abundantly and beyond our expectations.  Jesus made a comparison in the Sermon on the Mount – “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9-11)

When Paul thought about how richly God had provided for him, he assured the Philippian Christians, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)  But as important as the physical blessings are, they don’t begin to compare with the spiritual blessings he pours out on us.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Eph. 1:3) And then Paul starts to name some of those blessings – grace, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, understanding, power.

Near the end of this recitation of these spiritual blessings, he summarizes them all this way:  “I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.” (Eph. 1:18)

And when he writes to the Galatian churches, he says it this way: “Now you are no longer a slave but God's own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you.” (Gal. 4:7)

But the most exciting thing about being a part of this family is that it does reach beyond the grave.  And if we think God’s blessings are incredible in this life – just wait for what is coming.  Remember what Peter wrote: “For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.”  (1 Peter 1:4)

And that’s where we find ourselves this morning – God’s children in God family – enjoying God’s blessings now, looking forward to the inheritance we’ll share together in heaven.  And in the meantime, spreading the word and inviting others into this wonderful family.

This morning we’re starting to examine this second part of our goal here at the Glenwood church.  We spent two weeks refreshing our commitment to be a church where everyone can come and experience God’s love.  And this week and next we’ll think about what it means to be a church where everyone can come and grow in God’s family.

It’s an exciting thought, when you think about all the dimensions of being a family – that in this group we have mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and cousins – but one thing we have in common is that God doesn’t have grandchildren or nieces or nephews.  We are all children of God.  And we all become his children the same way – we’re born again into his family.