Belong: We are God’s Family! (Week 1)

“The Big Story of Belonging!”

Play “Belong Series” video with reading of Luke 15:11-32.

This is the story for our new series “Belong: We are God’s Family!” It is classically called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but I personally title it, “The Parable of the Father’s Love for His Family.” It is the third of three parables given to us by Jesus with a searching theme—the Lost Sheep in 15:1-7, the Lost Coin in 15:8-10, and the Lost Son in 15:11-32.[1] When Emily Hurst and I were talking about this, she said, “I wonder if, for Jesus, it was like those moments a teacher has where they explain a concept one way, look out to a sea of blank faces, and dig deep to find another way to explain it until they begin to see the ‘lightbulb’ effect.” That is a great way to think about why a Master Teacher would use three parables in a row. That would make this one, the third of the three, very striking and important. Jesus sets up a pattern on purpose!

 

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to redeem humanity back into right relationship with God the Father. Luke 15 tells the story of God’s extravagant love and to what extent God is willing to go so that we know we belong to His family. A good parent desires to have the children at home, safe and secure. God the Father desires His children to go looking for one another and not to be focused on their own inheritance, but to be secure in His love. Now ask yourself: what is missing from this story? What’s missing is that no one went searching for the lost son! Where was the older son when his younger brother went off the grid in rebellion against his family?

 

That is why Jesus came: Jesus came to fulfill the role of the elder son! Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”[2] Listen to Galatians 4:4-8, “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.”[3]

 

We are God’s family! Look how far Jesus, our elder brother, came to search and to find us, the little brothers and younger sisters to bring us home and into the safety of the Father’s home and the security of the Father’s inheritance! As His household, we are the Father’s sons and daughters, and we are invited to be a part of God’s redemption plan “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10; cf. 14:21-24). Paul teaches us of our responsibilities as members of the household of God in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”[4] [emphasis added]

 

Here is a start to how we are to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ:

  1. We are to be patient and kind with one another, even when we have something hard to say.
  2. We listen to both sides of the story and aren’t quick to make judgments without knowing.
  3. We speak truth in love gently, remembering we can be right and wrong at the same time.
  4. When we mess up the first three we go to the person to get right and seek forgiveness.
  5. We help when a person can’t do it themselves. We encourage them to do it for themselves when they can, even if they would rather someone else do it for them.
  6. We talk about Jesus with people and build a healthy relationship to not only “save souls” but also “make disciples.”
  7. We pray for people and allow God to move our hearts toward them.
  8. We model a healthy life of work and rest, sacrificial giving, and biblical lifestyle choices.
  9. We keep short accounts: we forgive others just as readily as we ask God to forgive us.
  10. We strive to not be cliquish in the Family of God, either in who is here or in who we invite. Ambassadors represent Jesus to everyone for He wants all of His children safe and secure.

 

From the beginning, God designed us to belong! We were created to have a relationship with God—to belong as members of God’s family, to be His Image Bearers (Genesis 1:26-27), but our sin separated us from Him (Genesis 3:22-24; Rom 3:23). That is what it means to be dead in our sin (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13), it means we are cut off from the Family of God and from our inheritance of eternal life. When we are still in our sin we don’t belong because sin cuts off our relationship to God and damages all relationships (1 Corinthians 15:17). As Isaiah 59:2 states, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”[5]

 

But God did not want this for His creation so He did something about it—God sent the Elder Son to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10)! Through faith in Jesus Christ, we can belong to God and to one another forever. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection all point to this big truth: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). More specifically and more to the point of our series, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are” (1 John 3:1).

 

We are God’s Family in this life and in the Life to come![6] One day, we’ll be with God in the perfect relationship He intended from the beginning (Revelation 21—22). What a glorious day that will be; when we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6; John 14:1-6). This is the promise we anticipate for eternity, but this is also the hope we live in today. And as members of God’s household, we share this faith and hold tightly to this hope.

 

On some days here in this very broken world, our faith and hope in Jesus is all we have because we lose our faith and hope in people, including our families and our churches. But we hold on to our faith in Jesus which means we cling to His promises for His Family, His people who gather regularly to remember and to proclaim![7] We cannot lose hope! Without hope, we are done!

 

God’s Family is not our preference, it is God’s priority for our lives (John 13:34-35). We are God’s Family, held together by our hope and faith in Jesus Christ. Tim Keller diagnosed, “We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ.”[8]

 

We remain faithful to our family because we are held together by faith and hope in Jesus, not in one another. When I was discussing this with one of my fellow church members, that person said to me, “This is the big problem with unity in the church. We rely on other broken people, and we take it personally when they let us down.” Wow! Listen to Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”[9] We gather to refocus ourselves and others on Jesus—to belong!

 

What holds us together? Listen to some excerpts from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

 

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave [Jesus] as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Therefore I, [Paul], implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.[10] [emphasis added]

 

Jesus is the head of His Body and we must remain yoked with Him and have connective tissue that holds us together, working under the direction of the One who is Head, Christ Jesus. But God established it where we would not only absolutely depend on Jesus, the Head of the Body (there is no life apart from Him), but our fellow members of the Body as well. We each need to be connected and working together because that is the way a body works. This is why we have called everyone to the 7:1 Initiative at FBC: 7 friends and 1 place of service to invest yourself into to the glory of God and the building up of His body! We each need 7 friends in this church who know and love us and who have permission to hold us accountable for our Christian walk. We each need 1 place of service to be the functional part of the Body God designed us to be.

 

Until Jesus’ return, God has designed His plans to be accomplished in the world through His Family, the church.[11] I am discerning that currently we don’t have the connective tissue as His body to do God’s will in us or through us. We have enough members at FBC, we just don’t have enough connection to one another as His body. We are not belonging to one another as God has saved us to be, commanded us to do, and designed us to walk—as one body, His body, not as individual body parts! This is why we are calling everyone to the “7:1 Initiative” at FBC!

 

To illustrate this need: in the human body, none of the 12 organ systems in the body are fully self-reliant. The cardiovascular system does not work without the musculoskeletal system. The musculoskeletal system is useless without the nervous system. And none of it is worth a thing if the lymphatic system doesn’t keep up our immunities.[12] This is the same in the body of Christ—we need one another, of all generations, men and women, working together with our spiritual gifts, talents, resources, perspectives, and backgrounds fully at play. None of us should resort to childish tactics, “I’m taking my ball and going somewhere else to play” just because of an issue in the Family or because of “I want it my way” or “I know best” thinking. That includes the pastor doing this (many people remember those moments from decades ago), but it also includes each of us doing this (and what a problem this is on a month to month basis, every year)!

 

The church is not ours! It is God’s Family and God is like a Father with 2 sons. In Jesus’ parable, neither son, younger or older, is submitting to the Father at their hearts and fulfilling their responsibilities as members of His Household. How could they? They are too busy focusing on their entitlements and their inheritance, on what they can get from the Father. They both are doing their own thing while claiming the status and rewards of being a member of the Household of the Father, but not desiring to be with the Father or one another.

 

How does Jesus’ parable apply to the churches of our day and age?

 

Please watch this video to find out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_bkNkrWdz8

 

Ask not: How can I make the church more about me? That is the trend in our culture and at FBC! Rather ask this: How can God use me to be a blessing to His Family and to help others belong?

 

We believe that you BELONG in God’s Family at FBC!
 
Belong Week 1:  Listen to it here
 
 

Footnotes:

 

[1] I was first tuned into this perspective by Timothy Keller in his book The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008).

 

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ro 5:8.

 

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Ga 4:4–8.

[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, 2 Co 5:17–20.

 

[5] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Is 59:2.

 

[6] “Paul’s writings make much of the filial status and relationship that believers in God, through Christ, attain to the moment they believe (Rom. 8:14–17, Gal. 4:4–6). Not only are we pardoned at law, through the representative obedience and suffering of Christ, but through our union with him by faith, we are received as extra children at the Father’s hearth and home, the brothers and sisters of Jesus, whom he loves like his only Son (Rom. 8:28–30). He lavishes his love and care on us, because we are precious to him as those he has predestined for adoption” (Douglas J.W. Milne, “The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15,” Themelios 27, no. 1 [2001]: 20).

[7] Jesus invites us to belong to Him and to one another! Those who worship Jesus Christ together in truth and spirit (John 4:23-26) are promised to be together for eternity where we will worship in the very presence of our resurrected Lord (Revelation 7:9-17). When we worship in truth and spirit, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds because we are being conformed into His image, from the inside out (Romans 8:29; 12:1-2).

 

[8] Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2008), 100. This connect beautifully to the rest motif found in Matthew 11:28-30.

 

[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Heb 10:23–25.

 

[10] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Eph 1:22-23; 4:1-6, 15–16.

[11] Kevin DeYoung stated about the church in his book Crazy Busy, “The only work that absolutely must be done in the world is Christ’s work. And Christ’s work is accomplished through Christ’s body. The church—gathered in worship on Sunday and scattered through its members throughout the week—is able to do exponentially more than any of us alone. I can respond to Christ’s call in one or two ways, but I am a part of an organism and organization that can respond and serve in a million ways” (Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy: A (mercifully) Short Book about a (really) Big Problem [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013]).

[12] Thank you to Emily Hurst for this wonderful illustration and insight.


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