“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” Ephesians 2:19 NIV
This is a wonderful verse that fills us with joy at the thought we are considered part of God’s family, members of His household. Yet this verse also may create sour feelings within us as we consider just how large, or perhaps small, this household is. We may look at loved ones in our family or to good friends and wonder, perhaps worry is the better word, if they too are part of this family of God. Of course it is our desire that they be such and the thought they may not be fills us with dread. We want to feel inclusive.
In my personal Bible reading I am again introduced to the many tribes of Bible times; Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites among others. In our day within Christianity has sprung up two new tribes, which are really quite old: the inclusivites and exclusivites.
Inclusivites don’t handle well the thought of anyone not being found in God’s family and so they will make it as big as they possibly can. There are two ways to do this. One is to declare that all roads lead to God. The second is to declare that the only road to God is through Jesus, but that God will ultimately put those on another road on a detour that will get them on the right road. Hence, your fears over the journey s of your loved ones are put to ease. And you get a pat on the back by society for being inclusive.
Then there are the exclusivites. They tend to think that God’s family is very small indeed, in fact it is made up of only people who think and act just like them. Like the old joke that God will separate the Baptists from everyone else in heaven because He just can’t bring Himself to break it to them that they are not the only ones there. Mind you, I have not met very many exclisivites in my travels, even among Baptists. It is far more common in our day to meet an inclusivite.
How do we deal with our anguish over God’s family and the thought it is not big enough to include our loved ones? Should we join a tribe? Perhaps the inclusivites so that can think our loved ones are okay and that our fears are much ado about nothing? Or the exclusivites who sometimes end up redefining loved ones as those in the ‘club’?
Ephesians 2 suggests a way forward. Here is the short route (the long route will be traveled by those who join us in church this morning!):
- Be solid on Biblical theology: Which in this case means being solid on who the “you” refers to in our verse above. See verses 1,2, and 11.
- Recognize our default position, yes, even ours: See verses 1,3, and 12.
- Recognize the amazing grace of God in our passage: See verses 4-8. And then recognize that this grace is not just a theological term that pastors like to use, but a reference to the amazing generosity of God.
- Recognize how fences and walls between peoples are destroyed in the Kingdom and family of God. See verses 14-18 and Galatians 3:28. It is like John Lennon’s “Imagine” only it is not left to the imagination as a pipe dream, but to the will of God as a sure thing.
- Recognize that God’s family is not primarily about destiny, but about identity. See verses 15,19-22. We tend to only look to the future, fretting about who God will “let into heaven” and then we get annoyed with Him when we think our loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, will not be there (and we may even insinuate that we are more generous than God). We should look instead to who is recognizing the Father and demonstrating a ‘family likeness’ to God’s family right here and now and consider who’s will is at work in that. And while we are at it, let us consider our own family resemblance.
Finally, we do well to follow the example of Jesus who was inclusive in His invitation to the Kingdom and inclusive in His service to others. But Jesus did not throw open the gates of heaven by denying the truth of sin and the damage done to our relationship with God, rather He became that gate. That feeling of tension that we may feel over the household of God is a good thing. It inspires us to the noble task of evangelism, being inclusive in our invitation and service, and always ready to point to the gate.