One church I visited during sabbatical did something that weirded me out a bit. You know what they did? During the worship service they introduced themselves to new guests by saying, “We’re a family here, and we want you to be a part of our family.”
You might be thinking, “Joel, why did that weird you out? Don’t many churches say that?”
Well, as a first-time guest there, I have to be honest that when I heard them say they wanted me to be a part of their family, it felt intrusive and odd. I thought, “Does this church really think that I could become part of their family after one visit? I’m not part of their family after just one visit.”
Or how about Olive Garden Restaurants which once had an advertising slogan stating, “When you’re here, you’re family”? That’s nice, but it’s not true. Deep family-like relationships take time. You can’t just walk through the doors of restaurant or a church and instantly become family, right?
Then it hit me. I call Faith Church a family too! Our church newsletter used to be called The Family of Faith newsletter. We often start our weekly church emails with the line “Dear Family of Faith Church.” I had to admit that though I felt weirded out at that other church, I still want Faith Church to be a family, not just a label, but an actual family.
I believe that identifying as a family and acting like a family is a primary distinguishing feature of what any local church should be. But as I sat in that other church service, I had a whole new perspective. You can’t just declare that people are your family, can you?
I know, I know, maybe I’m being picky. Good for those churches or any organizations that want people to feel like family. That’s really the important thing, right? We want the people in our church to become like a family, to act like a family, and for new people to become part of the family.
This week we continue looking at 1st Peter, and we come to the end of chapter one, verses 21-25. Remember that Peter is writing to Christians scattered around the Roman Empire. He has called them strangers and aliens. But are they a family? Read the passage and see what Peter has to say.
After you read the passage, look with me at the middle of the passage. Did you see in verse 23 that Peter brings up the idea of being born again? What does “born again” mean? This is the second time that Peter has mentioned this. The previous time was in verse 3. What does it mean to be born again?
Born again means a new beginning, a new life, but this time the Holy Spirit of God is with you, helping you and empowering you to be different.
It is an image that points to the transformation that we Christians should be seeing in our lives. And furthermore, just as we saw last week, our new birth in Christ means we have citizenship in a new country. In the same way, our new birth in Christ means we are born into a new family.
Now let’s go back and add verses 21 and 22. Peter says that being born again starts with belief (which he mentions in verse 21). Being born again starts with believing in God who raised Jesus from the dead, so that our faith is in God. Belief, faith, and trusting in God is the critical starting point. But it doesn’t stop there. True faith in God, and the evidence of new birth, Peter says, is obedience to the truth (as he mentions in verse 22). Put these two things together (belief in verse 21 and obedience in verse 22) and you get the words of the classic hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
As we have seen so many times already in his letter, Peter is not teaching something new here. He is repeating what Jesus taught him. Jesus often told his disciples that they, followers of Jesus, first say, “Yes, Lord, I place my faith in you,” and then follow up that faith with action, obeying the teachings of Jesus. When that trusting and obeying happens we can know that we have been reborn into a new family that resides in a new Kingdom.
What is so interesting, then, is that when Peter talks about obedience in verse 22, he mentions one thing that is the outflow of the obedience. He has all kinds of actions he could choose from to illustrate obedience to Jesus here: Tell the truth. Be honest. Preach the Gospel. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Give to the poor. He doesn’t choose any of those. Later in his letter he’ll get to some of that. But for now, he chooses one thing and one thing only to illustrate obedience to Jesus. That means this one thing he chooses is probably very important for us to learn. What is that one thing? Look at the final phrase of verse 22.
“Love one another deeply from the heart.”
Once again, Peter is teaching something that Jesus taught him. Check out Jesus’ teaching in John 13:34-35. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”
There you have it: Christians, followers of Jesus, are born again into a new family that is marked clearly by loving one another deeply from the heart.
Check back in tomorrow as we explore further what Peter meant by “love”. It might surprise you.