by Timothy Paul Jones
To embrace God’s redemption is to be adopted as God’s heir, gaining a new identity that transcends every earthly status (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 3:28-29; 4:3-7; Eph. 1:5; 2:13-22). What this means for followers of Jesus is that our children are far more than our children; they are also potential or actual brothers and sisters in Christ.
Husbands and wives, parents and children, men and women, orphans and widows, the plumber’s apprentice and the president of the multinational corporation, the addict struggling in recovery and the teetotalling grandmother—all of us who are in Christ are brothers and sisters, “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17; see also Gal. 4:7; Heb. 2:11; James 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:7).
Seen from this perspective, my relationship with my children takes on a very different meaning. These daughters whom I adore will remain my children for this life only. I am the father of Hannah and Skylar until death, but—inasmuch as they embrace the Gospel—I will remain their brother for all eternity. Put another way, if your children stand beside you in the glories of heaven, they will not stand beside you as your children (Luke 20:34-48) but as your blood-redeemed brothers and sisters, fellow heirs of God’s kingdom. Remember the words of Jesus? “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:50). Paul echoed this perspective when he directed Timothy to encourage “younger men as brothers” and “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
Does this mean that, once a child becomes a brother or sister in Christ, the relationship of parents to children somehow passes away? Of course not! The Gospel doesn’t cancel roles that are rooted in God’s creation. Jesus and Paul freely appealed to the order of God’s creation as a guide for Christian community (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:5-9; Acts 17:24-26; 1 Cor. 11:8-9; 1 Tim. 2:13-15). Paul called children in the redeemed community to respect their parents (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20; 1 Tim. 5:4). Meaningful labor was present before the fall and persisted in God’s plan even after the fall (Gen. 2:1-15; 2 Thess. 3:6-12). Far from negating the order of God’s creation, the Gospel adds a deeper and richer dimension to the patterns in the first act of God’s story.
Glimpsing a dimension deeper than creation and fall
What does this truth mean for the day-to-day lives of parents? As a parent, I am responsible to provide for daughters and to prepare them for life; as an elder brother, I am called to lay down my life for them (1 John 3:16). As a parent, I help Hannah and Skylar to see their own sin; as their brother, I am willing to confess my sin (James 5:16). As a parent, I speak truth into their lives; as a brother, I speak the truth patiently, ever seeking the peace of Christ (James 4:11; 5:7-9; Matt. 5:22-25; 1 Cor. 1:10). As a parent, I discipline my daughters to consider the consequences of poor choices; as a brother, I disciple them, instruct them, and encourage them to pursue what is pure and good (Rom. 15:14; 1 Tim. 5:1-2). As a parent, I help these two girls to recognize the right path; as a brother, I pray for them and seek to restore them when they veer onto the wrong path (Matt. 18:21-22; Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16).
Because I fully expected that Hannah would one day embrace the Gospel, I began developing the habits of a brother long before our first conversation about what it means to follow Jesus. Because I anticipate that Skylar is moving toward becoming a follower of Jesus, I do the same with her here and now. I did all of this imperfectly; I still do. I fall far short of living as a parent, spouse, and fellow heir within my family—and so will you. The central point is not that you or the members of your church will perform these deeds perfectly. It is, instead, that family members embrace the Gospel more fully and begin to view one another in a renewed way, as brothers and sisters participating together in the “grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7).
Children are wonderful gifts from God—but they are far more than that. Viewed from an eternal perspective, every child in a household is also a potential or actual brother or sister in Christ. Until parents perceive their children in this way, they fail to see who their children really are.
This post originally appeared in The Family Ministry Field Guide. It is reprinted here with permission.
Timothy Paul Jones serves as professor of leadership and associate vice president for online learning at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before coming to Southern Seminary, Dr. Jones led churches in Missouri and Oklahoma as a pastor and an associate pastor.
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