Today, we are living through what is arguably the most rapid change in family structure in human history. Standards and principles that were once commonplace now seem on the verge of extinction. As David Brooks puts it, “The sexual revolution has come and gone, and it’s left us with no governing norms of family life, no guiding values, no articulated ideals.”1 In such a cultural climate, it is absolutely vital for us to know what we believe about the role of the family, where we belong in relation to the family, and how, as outposts of God’s kingdom, our families ought to operate.
All in God’s Family
Perhaps the best place to begin is for Christian families—husbands, wives, parents, children—to understand that the immediate family is part of a larger family, the church, which is integral to any family unit’s success. In his book Devoted to God’s Church, Sinclair Ferguson offers us a reminder along these lines:
My family needs the church family for its own growth and health. No single family possesses all the resources it needs to be a truly and fully Christian family. We need support, friendship, example, wise counsel and much else from the church family. Two Christian parents are not in themselves adequate to rear one child for Christ—they were never meant to be. So the resources of our own family—no matter how wonderful—are scarcely adequate. We—and perhaps especially our children—need the church, and in that context we will be blessed beyond … expectation.2
Ferguson’s words aptly reflect the context of the household codes of Colossians 3. There, before Paul addresses particular relationships in the family (vv. 18–25), he situates the family as fellow participants in the body of Christ (vv. 12–17).
In verse 12, Paul identifies his readers as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” We must first understand, then, that regardless of our place within our earthly families, God has drawn each one of us up into a vast spiritual family that He has been gathering since the beginning. We are His chosen ones. He sought us out when we weren’t looking for Him. We belong to Him. He has made us the objects of His love and set us apart from what we were to Himself. We are beloved children.
Moreover, the text is telling us that as God’s children, our conduct ought to reflect who we actually are in Christ. In the language of the text, we ought to wear, or “put on,” what we really are. Our pre-Christian closets were full of a bunch of ugly stuff. In the grace of God, that attire is being removed, and now we put on our new clothes from a wardrobe that is being “renewed … after the image of its creator” (v. 10). We put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 12). We are to be characterized by forbearance and forgiveness and, above all, love. As one spiritual family, we experience the peace of Christ, and together we allow the word of Christ to permeate us. Only in this communion of saints can we really learn to live for Christ’s sake and to give gratitude to God continually.
A Stabilizing Force
When our immediate families are under the care of the broader local church family, we can then expect this new “wardrobe” to stand out in a culture that has little concept of what a biblical family is or does. It seems nowadays that where marriage is adopted at all, it is no longer primarily about child-rearing but about personal fulfillment—hence the rapidly declining birthrate in America and so much of the West. Add an epidemic of loneliness to the decentralization of the family, and we have a recipe for some serious problems.
Precisely at this point, our families need some ballast in their boats. The seas of our culture can be so rough that a Christian family can feel rocked to and fro to the point of nausea—or, even worse, to the point of being tossed overboard or capsizing altogether. How can we ever hope to find stability in such a storm? We need our church family! We need our brothers and sisters in Christ!
You see, God never intended any of His people, let alone their families, to set sail on their own. Only in the community of the redeemed can we hope to “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love (Eph. 3:18). Only together will we overcome sin, temptation, and the cultural forces that tear so many families apart (Heb. 3:13).
The church family is made up of the King’s citizens, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. No amount of cultural upheaval can prevail against Christ’s church.
We may not always see it clearly, but the church, if ordered according to God’s plan, is the solution to what ails us and our society. The church family is made up of the King’s citizens, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. No amount of cultural upheaval can prevail against Christ’s church (Matt. 16:18).
Homes of Light
As individuals, as families, and as churches, we find ourselves in a continual war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We win some battles; we lose plenty of others. We get it right some days; we get it wrong the others. We sin in our words. We sin in our deeds. We tear down the people closest to us. We have nothing to say in defense of ourselves, save the righteousness that is found in Jesus and the hope that is found in His Gospel.
We have nothing to say in defense of ourselves, save the righteousness that is found in Jesus and the hope that is found in His Gospel.
In the end, where else can we turn to go deeper in the good news than our church family? If husbands, wives, sons, and daughters have any hope to overflow to one another and our communities with faith, hope, and love, then we need our brothers and sisters in Christ to help keep us steady and stable. We need our local kingdom outposts for refuge in the storm.
In our present climate, we may feel very much like strangers among our neighbors—and that is not at all far from the truth. But it’s not time for us to curse the darkness and circle the wagons. Instead, it’s high time for us to live out the story of the Gospel imaginatively, graciously, and kindly and to emanate its brilliant light from our homes.
This article is adapted from the sermon “The Christian Family — Part One” by Alistair Begg.