In our last post we looked at the radical change in a person’s life when he is adopted by God. If we take that teaching one step further, we recognize that being adopted into God’s family along with other people means that we have brothers and sisters in God’s family. That is why the Bible refers to “brothers” and “sisters” so much when one believer refers to fellow believers. For most Christians, we probably recognize the side of being adopted as God’s child before we recognize the side of being adopted into the same family as fellow believers. As Jim Putman said in his book Discipleshift, “It can be easy for us to accept the good news that we have a Father who loves us, yet fail to relate to other believers as brothers and sisters, but the two are connected.” The reality is that any person who has genuinely accepted the Gospel and trusted in Christ alone for salvation started and ended in the same place. If we have accepted Christ, and another person has as well, then at one point we both were in the same terrible situation: separated from God and deserving His wrath. But now, we have both been adopted as God’s child. Just as in a physical family when two children are adopted, we both become brothers or sisters in God’s spiritual family. So adoption by God affects not just our relationship with God Himself, but also with those around us.
For some, the reality of adoption into a family of God is a great blessing and encouragement. Both in the time of the New Testament and in the present day, many who turn to Christ face opposition from their family. The New Testament never calls on believers to turn against unbelievers and attack them in any way. But it does recognize that there is a difference between a believer and an unbeliever. On one hand, this difference was initiated when the believer turned to Christ, since previously both the believer and unbeliever were in the same position. So in a sense, it is because of something that the believer did. But on the other hand, the New Testament never advocates the believer using this difference to put down, criticize, or attack an unbeliever. However, that does not change the fact that sometimes the unbeliever will turn and attack the believer, whether verbally or physically. These types of attacks by family members or other close associates of new believers are one of the major problems addressed in both 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter, as well as numerous other passages in the New Testament. From the time of the New Testament through today, many believers have faced rejection, abuse, and outright attack, even from their own families.
But even when physical families reject a believer, the promise from Christ is that the new believer is adopted into God’s family, with both God as Father and fellow believers as brothers and sisters. This was the point of what Christ said in Mark 10:29-30, which says, “And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” The promise is that the new spiritual family can help fill the void of what was lost in the physical family. We are quite literally related to a large group of new people, and those people can help and encourage the one who is facing rejection from a physical family.
This promise brings great encouragement, particularly to the one suffering rejection. But it also brings great responsibility for believers. We as believers have the responsibility to show the love and care to fellow Christians who are in need. The truth of being part of God’s family is a great blessing and encouragement, but it also gives us a great responsibility, one that we should not take lightly.
Understanding that we are part of God’s family also affects how we look at one another when we have a disagreement. Philippians 4:2 says, “I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.” Paul asked these two women, Euodias and Syntyche, to reconcile their differences. Sometimes we do have a difference in personality with someone. Sometimes we look at life differently or have different priorities in our lives. But for two Christians, the bond that unites them (Christ) should be greater than anything that might separate them. For Euodias and Syntyche, we don’t know what divided them. But the unity that they had in Christ was more powerful than any clash of personalities that threatened to separate them. Even if one of them did something to wrong the other one, then the one doing the wrong should seek forgiveness, and the one who was wronged should be willing to offer forgiveness. They were now adopted into the same family; they were now spiritual sisters. At times we may have disagreements with fellow Christians. But we are still united in the same family, and we should show them the love and care that a family member deserves. Our unity in Christ is greater than the differences in personality that threaten our unity.
On the other hand, we may also run into a spiritual family member who has gone astray from what is true and right. The Bible teaches that we are in the same family, but that does not mean that we overlook something wrong in someone’s life, for this is not how God treats us. Hebrews 12:6-7 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth [disciplines], and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” In a family, a father (and mother) should discipline their children. They discipline them in love, showing them the correct way to go. In our spiritual lives, God as our Father does discipline us, because He loves us. When we go astray, whether in doing the wrong thing or in believing the wrong thing, the loving thing is not to ignore the fault. The loving thing is to discipline us to show us where we have been wrong. So God, as a loving Father, disciplines us.
In a similar way, we will face confrontation with fellow believers (family members) when someone goes astray. How do we respond? We should respond by treating him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 says, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” This is one of many warnings in the Bible to be faithful to what God has said. It is a warning against new teaching that contradicts what God has said in the past, as the contradiction is one way to know that the teaching is false teaching. God will not contradict Himself, so even as the revelation of the Bible was being given, nothing would contradict what God had already said. For instance, nothing in the New Testament would contradict what the Old Testament said. So the warning to a Christian is to withdraw from “every brother” who walks disorderly, who goes astray from what has already been given by God and established as truth. When a person goes astray, we are to withdraw from following that teaching (or lifestyle, if that is the area where they went astray). But what is our attitude toward them? Is it one of anger and resentment? Is it one of a critical and hateful spirit? 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 says, “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” If someone rejected the message from God written in this epistle (letter), then the other believers should withdraw from following that person and getting caught up in the false teaching. But Paul says specifically in verse 15 not to treat him as an enemy. Instead, we should admonish him as a brother. Adoption into God’s family means that we are spiritual brothers and sisters with fellow believers. Even when one goes astray, they are not our enemy. They are not excluded from God’s family. Our responsibility is to treat them as a brother. That doesn’t mean we overlook the fault as if it is meaningless. But it does mean that we treat them and guide them lovingly, striving to bring them back to the truth. 2 Timothy 2:25-26 says, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” Our goal in correcting a fault is not to prove our superiority or to put down someone that we disagree with. Our goal should be to help a family member get back on track. When we accept Christ, we are adopted into His family. This adoption greatly affects our relationship with God, but it also affects our relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.