Belonging to the family of Christ
But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. Mt. 12:48-50.
There can be no greater privilege than to be related to Christ in the bonds of family. And yet that is exactly what the Scripture holds out to us: that it is possible to belong to the family of God. We are offered the closest possible relationship to the Father through Christ. As our Lord himself puts it in his high-priestly prayer in John 17, those who belong to Christ enter into the experience of love that is shared between the persons of the Holy Trinity. No wonder the apostle John exclaimed, “Behold, what manner of love is this, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 Jn. 3:1).
We are also told in Scripture that this experience is given to us by grace: we are “predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself [God the Father], according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:5-6). No one earns his/her right into the family of God. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23). Adoption, like justification, is not something we earn; it is a gift given to the ungodly and unworthy. There is something very steadying knowing that it is God's grace, not our goodness, that provides the foundation for our place at the table in the family of God.
And yet the Scriptures with equal plainness teach us that those who belong to the family of God must and will live a life of righteousness. Our text is one of them. In verse 50, our Lord declares, “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” In this verse, Jesus identifies those who belong to his family (v. 49). They are those who are his disciples, who do the will of the Father who is in heaven. These are the ones who can claim to belong to the family of Christ.
Now this seems at first glance to contradict other Scriptures which teach that belonging to the family of Christ is a matter of grace. In other words, on the one hand, you have Scriptures which tell us that we are adopted on the basis of grace, and then on the other hand we have Scriptures that tell us that one must do good works in order to identify as a child of God. Which is it?
The fact of the matter is that there is no contradiction here. And the reason there is no contradiction is because adoption into the family of God does not happen apart from regeneration. Regeneration is a Biblical term that means renewal. Paul uses it in Titus 3:5, when he reminds his protégé that we are not saved “by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” God by his grace takes people who are foolish, disobedient, deceived, and serving lusts and pleasures, who are living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another (Titus 3:3), and renews them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Note that it is of grace that God does this. It is then that we are made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (ver. 7). So regeneration precedes adoption, and paves the way for it. In other words, you cannot bear the family name (adoption) without also bearing the family likeness (regeneration).
You see the same thing in John 1:12-13. There the Apostle John writes, “But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Here again, you see this inseparable connection between the new birth, or regeneration, and adoption into the family of God.
But regeneration makes a person different. A person who is born again does not live like they did before they were born again. If we think otherwise, we need to reexamine our doctrine of the new birth in light of Scripture. This is the Apostle John’s whole point in his first epistle. Just to take one example, he writes, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 Jn. 3:8-9). Note the point he is making; because you are born of God you cannot commit sin. (Not committing sin here does not refer to sinless perfection but to making a lifestyle out of sin. It could be translated, “does not go on sinning.” Cf. 1 Jn. 1:7-10)
Therefore, you cannot call yourself a child of God in any saving sense, unless you are born again. But you cannot call yourself born again unless you are no longer living a life devoted to sin. A child of God will be doing the will of the Father.
Good works therefore don’t get us into the family of God. They don’t even keep us there. But they do provide the inevitable and necessary evidence that we are in the family of God, and anyone who is not producing good works in their life has no business claiming to God as his Father and Christ as his Brother. Living a life of good works is inseparable from having the good name of the family of Christ.