Ephesians 2:19-22. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
When you think about who you are what comes to mind? There’s no doubt that two of the answers that will emerge will be related to your nationality and your family.
I happen to have a bunch of British in me. The Wolcott tribe came from England to America in the early 1600’s. So I tend to try to identify with British stuff – the union jack, the EPL, bad teeth. Of course I’m actually an American citizen. So I more deeply identify with very American things too – freedom, democracy, capitalism, occasionally eating food cooked outside. And then there’s my household. The family I grew up in has had a tremendous influence on me – education, beliefs, work ethic, stunted emotions.
Can you relate?
These things become our identity. How we define ourselves. For those without Christ they often ARE the identity. “Family is everything” is one of the highest ethics in our culture today. Feel good hit TV shows like This is Us or Parenthood proclaim the supreme importance of family above all else. Even “feel bad” shows like Breaking Bad depict a man who turned to evil, but why? For his family.
The gift of family…and a great opening theme song.
In Ephesians 2:19 Paul calls the church two things: a kingdom (fellow citizens), and a family (household). This is really important language. You see the Jews would have said that they alone are the kingdom of God and the household of God. “Our Jewish king is ‘God’s son’ (Psalm 2). Our Jewish nation is God’s empire.” And over time this national identity became their source of security, pride, and even salvation. This is why John the Baptist, and Jesus, and Paul all had to warn the Jews that they are not in God’s kingdom simply because they are Hebrews, but by faith in Christ alone. Both Jew and Gentile had to be “reconciled to God” through Christ Jesus (2:16).
But God made the family and God made the races didn’t he? Aren’t they good things? So why does he want to subvert something so positive?
Because God knows that good things can become “God things” that keep us from him. From trusting him. Relying on him. Which of course is disaster waiting to happen.
But the gospel turns our entire identity on its head. Not that national and family identities are bad, but they cannot be ultimate. They can’t give your heart the glory it is seeking. Nations fail you. Families hurt you. But God never does.
Now British, American, Roman, Nigerian, Filipino, Chinese, these are no longer the Christian’s core identity. And your earthly family is no longer your core identity. Your national and family identities are now to be found in Christ and his church.
Placing all our identity in our family or nationality is what is often referred to as tribalism. But tribalism breeds division. It keeps the walls up. It keeps enemies as enemies. It keeps us from mission. It makes us narrow minded as if God only exists for one particular group or nation (#Godblessamerica). It segregates churches. It sacrifices the gospel on the altar of politics. It puts children above church. It puts getting married above being single and holy. It makes the church exist for the family instead of the family for the church. It is self-preservation over self-sacrifice.
It makes us Jonah.
“As long as my people are OK, I’m OK.”
“God doesn’t really want to rescue those people.” (we would never say this out loud)
“I can’t be expected to reach out to folks who are so radically different from me can I?”
“I’m too busy serving all the people here (who are just like me) to be able to go there.”
When your family, tribe, or nation are your core identity it WILL ultimately separate you from others, breed division, and prevent the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ from advancing. But when “to live is Christ” is your core identity it will open your heart up to all kinds of people, cultures, and traditions. You will be ready to learn from others while serving them, leading them to the gospel of grace, and loving them as your new family in God’s kingdom.