Developing Your Family Identity

When I was a kid growing up in a small Indiana town, my father would send me to the local market to buy a loaf of bread.  Sometimes I would pass an old man sitting on a city bench with my dollar bill flapping in the wind.  If he were to ask me “where are you going with that money?” I would have had a ready answer.  “I am going to the store to buy a loaf of bread for my father.”  I knew exactly what I was doing with the money because I knew exactly what my mission was.  In the same way, we should be just as clear in our answer when someone asks, “What are you doing with these children that God, the Father, has given you?”

When we set out to establish our family direction, we hear voices.  Our friends, our extended family, our neighbors, our pop culture, our school, and even our church all have an opinion of where you should go.  As we strike out on the path of establishing our own family identity, we need to be able to answer two questions.  First, “What do you think the voice of Jesus is saying to you at this point in your family life in the context of the challenges and opportunities you are facing?”  Second, and just as critical, “What indicators give you some measure of confidence that it is indeed Jesus speaking to you rather than someone or something else.”

When Rhonda and I set out to discover our family identity, we had no desire to elevate ourselves or our family.  Our desire was to elevate Christ.  Our desire was to elevate God’s Word as our guide for faith and practice, our guide for marriage and parenting, our guide for developing our family identity.  When we did this, our family identity of loyalty, service, giftedness, and character found us.  It wasn’t something we specifically went looking for.  We soon developed the phrase, “This is what the Lehmans do” to help our kids understand the type of family we were becoming as we followed God’s leading.  This was not designed as a point of pride or a judgment on other families, it simply became a way to explain our actions to our children.

May I encourage you to think about this topic with your family.  What identifies you as a family?  Do your children know what habits, what character qualities are important to Mom and Dad?  Do they know there is a biblical basis for the family decisions you are making?  Open the Scriptures, ask God to guide you, and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit inside.  Then follow where God leads.

The Christian Family

The balance of truth and grace in a family setting is the theme of  The Christian Family, a highly-recommended book by Larry Christenson.  I especially like the process that brought Larry and his wife, Nordis, to the principles explained in the book.

The Christensons were part of a small group of families who in 1963, as parents of young children, came to the realization that standard approaches to family life (at that time centered around a mixture of Dr. Spock, pop psychology, intuition, Sunday School, expediency, Ann Landers, and the-way-I-was-raised) led to a result that was “ten parts frustration to one part satisfaction.”  Let Larry himself pick up the story of what happened next from the preface of his book.

“So we took a very simple, and, as it turned out, a very radical step.  We decided to see what the Bible said about family life, and try to put it into practice.  The result astounded us.  At once we found a new way of relating to one another as husband and wife, a new way of relating to our children.  It was like putting a new clutch in an old car:  the gears began to mesh the way they were designed to, and the vehicle began to move forward with much less clashing and grinding!”

“Two key concepts emerged from this experiment in family living.  These later provided the basic structure for the book:  the first key was divine order, and the second was practicing the presence of Jesus.  The first showed us the biblical structure for family life, the way that husband, wife, and children are meant to regard each other and relate to each other.  The second pointed us to the power that would enable us to live this kind of life in our families.”

I like the author’s focus on the divine order (God’s truth) and the divine power (God’s grace and all that comes with our new identity) to put it into practice.  Another example of the balance of truth and grace, the balance of love and control that is so important to life as a new identity family.

The New Identity Family

We now want to explore what the new identity looks like in a family setting.  Remember, our new inclination at its deepest level is to practice our moral resemblance to Christ; to imitate the author of our everything new.  “And the Word [Jesus Christ] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).  We want to imitate the “grace and truth” of Jesus Christ in our family life.

What does imitating Christ in truth look like in a family?  It starts with a family life built on the truth of God’s Word.  The most succinct explanation of God’s plan for your family is found in Ephesians chapters 5 and 6 and Colossians chapter 3.  “Husbands love, wives respect, children obey, parents train.”  This divine instruction flies in the face of the myriad of voices proclaiming expertise in modern family life who, in my opinion, not only have no clue as to the spiritual realities of family life but seem to have lost their common sense as well.

What does imitating Christ in grace look like in a family?  It starts with love, acceptance, affirmation, and forgiveness.  The practice of grace in your family is not only of utmost importance, it is of incredible value.  Grace in your family is centered around building relationships and the only way to build is with love.  Love that trumps knowledge and a million other things that we hold as important.

Before I became a parent, I thought the New Testament had very little to say about family life.  But over the years, God has revealed just how much our families are mini-churches and how all the biblical instruction concerning body life in the church can be applied to the family.  Grace-infused family life is all about relationship building.  One of the strongest desires in the life of a community of believers, and rightly so, is the desire “to know and be known.”  We were created for community.  It works the same in a family.  To quote Charles Swindoll, “Developing a relationship with your child is as important as establishing rules of control.”

Healthy family life is a balance of truth and grace.  A balance of love and control.

Full Circle

With our latest post on perfection, we have, in a way, come full circle.  We started this blog with the conviction that rightly understanding the extreme newness of who we became in Christ at our conversion will influence how we live.  Particularly, how we relate to and achieve victory in our conflict with sin.  Our theme has been, “Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).  Our thinking has progressed something like this:

  • At salvation, we were given a new identity and all kinds of new that came with it.
  • Our new identity has a moral resemblance to God Himself.
  • This fact is something we need to know.
  • This fact is something we need to “reckon” or write in our accounting book.
  • This fact is something we need to “walk in”.
  • We walk in this fact by walking in the Spirit.
  • We walk in this fact by walking by faith.
  • Walking in the Spirit (obey) and walking by faith (trust) lead to victory over sin.
  • The root of our sin is selfish ambition, pride, or any expression of the old nature.
  • The expression of our new nature is love, the essence of God’s character inside us.
  • The ultimate fruit of our faith is love, not theological knowledge.
  • We can only love well by the power of the new life.
  • We received the power of the new life at salvation when we were given a new identity and all kinds of new that came with it.

God is love and we demonstrate His life inside us when we love well.  Let me close with this quote from To Love as God Loves, an introduction to the writings of the desert fathers (circa 300-500 AD), pointing to love as the ultimate goal, “Perfection is a concept that appears over and over in a wide spectrum of early Christian literature, and our own suspicion of the idea would have struck our Christian forebears as both odd and frightening.  The gospel, after all, is clear in its demand for perfection…To be a perfect human being, a human being the way God intends human beings to be, is to be a fully loving person, loving God, and every bit as important, loving God’s image, the other people who share the world with us…For the sisters and brothers of the desert, ‘to love is human; not to love is less than human.’ ”

We like to think “to err is human.”  And it was under the old arrangement, the old covenant, the old nature.  But for the believer, “to love is human”; the full expression of who we have become in Christ and the new normal, the “supernatural Christian life.”

Perfection and Perfectionism

The lawn mowing season in Texas is a long one.  Ours started a couple of weeks ago when we were blessed by two young fellows coming over to mow the lawn.  (Our former, conscripted yard crew up and left for college last fall – can you believe it?)  As our new charges took turns on the riding lawn mower, their father asked me, out of the blue, “Why do you think believers do not take what Jesus said more seriously?”

I believe our lack of taking “what Jesus said more seriously” is two-fold.  In the first instance, Jesus’ radical call to discipleship which is a large part of what my friend was referring to is at odds with our pursuit of selfish ambition, materialism, the American dream, personal peace, affluence, or whatever else you want to call it.  You know what it is.  This challenge has been addressed many times with the current title, Radical:  Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt, the most recent incarnation.  It is a question we must all consider.

The second instance for downplaying the seriousness of Jesus’ words is more subtle.  It stems from our confusion over perfection and perfectionism.  Perfectionism is a judgmental, self-righteous attitude that was condemned by Jesus on many occasions.  It parks itself on the faults of others and is unsympathetic to the frailty of the human condition.  It is an attitude of superiority that no one likes and appropriately so.  It is the opposite of humility.

However, in our effort to appear “humble” and our desire to rightly avoid the perfectionist label, have we rejected the worthy goal of perfection as summarized by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)?  Have we “dumbed down” our expectation of following Jesus’ call as closely as possible and the seriousness of His teaching so as not to appear too “pious”, not to appear too “holier-than-thou”?  Do we downplay our spiritual progress fearing that sharing our successes may appear too prideful?  We somehow think that labeling ourselves as “sinners saved by grace who have not made much progress since” is a sign of humility.  It is a false humility at best.  At worst, it is an outright rejection of God’s gift of a new identity for those in Christ Jesus.

We become what we label ourselves.  When we label ourselves as sinners, first and foremost, we are turning our backs on God’s gift of a new identity, a new heart, a new nature, a new power, a new Spirit, a new purity, a new disposition, a new relationship with sin, a new everything that we have been writing about in the last few months.  And, quite frankly, it becomes an excuse to not aim higher, an excuse to shirk the goal of spiritual maturity, an excuse to remain in our sin.  We were made for so much more!

Will we arrive at moral perfection on this side of heaven?  No, we will not, but we will certainly move in that direction in new and exciting ways when we understand and enjoy all that became new in us when we embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  And we will wholeheartedly pursue all that Jesus taught.  Rather than talk our way out of the seriousness of what Jesus taught, let’s join arms to lift each other up to higher expectations.  Not to reach some height of moral superiority, but to lay hold of what God has given us by His divine power: “…everything pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet 1:3).  This is the good outcome of taking what Jesus said more seriously.