When Your Family Doesn’t Support Your Faith

sword

You’re a brand new Christian. You’ve made the decision to follow Christ, to call on him as your Saviour and Lord, and start a new life built on your faith in Jesus. This journey will bring all sorts of experiences: some of them wonderful, some of them confusing, some of them exciting, and some of them challenging. Nevertheless, you are prepared to move forward and find out where this journey with Jesus will take you.

But there’s just one problem, and it’s not a small one.

Your family doesn’t approve.

People you have grown up with all your life don’t understand this new chapter in your life. Those you have leaned on for everything think you’re making a mistake, or that you are justing going through some temporary phase, or that you’re full-blown crazy. They think you are joining a cult. Or perhaps, they are just downright hostile to the notion that you would become a Christian. Whatever the exact details look like, the point is that the people you call your family are now not as close to you as they once were….and it’s all because of a choice you felt the need to make.

Lot’s of Questions

It’s not a fun experience when there is a wedge driven between family members, and that experience is doubly painful when you believe that you are the cause of it. After all, it was your decision to become a Christian and disturb the waters of peace in the family. You might have even known ahead of time that it wouldn’t have been taken too well. Yet you chose anyways. And now the backlash has become real and painful and you’re filled with all kinds of significant questions.

  • Is it worth the difficulty of standing my ground?
  • Should I hide my newfound faith?
  • How far do I let the fighting go before I concede to their demands?
  • Why would God allow me to go through this?
  • Is this whole thing my fault?
  • What should I do about it?

These are legitimate questions and don’t have easy answers. Therefore I would encourage anyone who is experiencing strife in their family because of their faith to not take it lightly or try to brush it off.

Jesus Also Had Unbelieving Family 

When it comes to how Jesus’ family thought about him, John 7:4 tells us that “not even his brothers believed in him”. Imagine what that would have been like for Jesus, God in the flesh, to be rejected by his own family. No doubt it hurt, but it did not throw him off of his mission to follow the will of God. The Father was first priority, and Jesus never wavered one bit, despite all the pressure that was on him.

For instance, in Mark 3:21, Jesus’ family members show up and attempt to take Jesus home with them, because they thought he “was out of his mind”. They considered him to be an embarrassment to the family. But they couldn’t have been more mistaken! Jesus was absolutely in his right mind. He was seeing things clearly and walking in obedience, bringing glory to God. Yet his family simply didn’t get it.

Some Christians will face these kinds of circumstances. Family members will think you are crazy, they will persuade you to remit your faith, and even accuse you of bringing shame on the family and being a public embarrassment. Like Jesus, do not let these accusations cause you to falter. Know the truth and walk in it, and in the meantime pray that God would open the eyes of your family to see what you see about the beauty of God.

What Jesus Has to Say

Jesus had many things to say about the relational cost that would come from following him (he certainly knew it would be an inevitable reality for some), but perhaps none address it more directly than his words in Matthew 10:34-39…

[34] “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. [36] And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. [37] Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. [39] Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Jesus says he came to bring division and not peace. This should catch us off-guard. Didn’t the angel announcing Jesus’ birth say “peace on earth, and good will towards men”? Wasn’t the point of Jesus’ coming to resolve sin, bring back love, and heal humanity? So what’s all this about bringing a sword?

Don’t misunderstand: Jesus IS in the peacemaking business. But he is not into peace at any cost. He is into peace that comes from righteousness. In other words, Jesus doesn’t fight for peace at the expense of truth or through compromise. He is after the right kind of peace in the right kind of way. Not all peace is virtuous. So when Jesus says he came to bring a sword and not peace, he means that he is not advocating for a certain kind of peace.

What peace is he avoiding, and what peace is he affirming? Read the rest of the text. The kind of peace Jesus doesn’t desire is the kind that comes when people compromise the truth in order to get along. Specifically, Jesus has no interest in bringing peace to family members when one of them loves Jesus and the other hates him. Evidently there is a higher priority that is more important than relational peace in that situation. What is the higher priority? The glory of Christ.

Why God Allows It to Happen

It works like this: God allows people to be rejected by their family members for their faith because he wants to display to the world how valuable he is. God desires for his glory, his worth, to be known. One way for that to happen is for believers to be willing to give up other things instead of God. So when a person finds faith in Jesus but is slandered by their family for it, when they refuse to recant and continue to walk with Christ, they show to the world that Jesus is more valuable than even their own family. Their actions shine forth the worth of Christ.

Some people will take it the wrong way, accusing them of hating their family or being selfish or intentionally stirring the pot. But that’s not the case. What is really going on is that a person whose soul was dying has found life, and they can’t help but be compelled towards it. That’s what Jesus offers: the fullness of life. And when you experience that for yourself, you can’t walk away from it, no matter the cost, because the life you have in Christ is worth more than anything this world can offer, be it riches, health, comfort, or even family.

A New Family

God, in his gracious provision, provides for those who cannot find a home among their own blood family, by having a home among God’s family. The Christian Church is referred to in the Bible as the “household of God”, and we are “adopted” into God’s family as his sons and daughters. The language points to the reality of a new family, one that is bound together not by shared genetics but by faith in a common Lord. The strongest, most meaningful bond between any two people possible is the sharing of love for Christ. So the promise and hope for those who are pushed away by family because of their Christian faith is that there is a new family ready to embrace them.

Not that this makes the pain go away. It doesn’t mean things won’t be difficult. Who would want to make choices on purpose that will hurt their family? Only one who saw that something greater than family peace existed. Only one who looks at Jesus on one hand and family on the other and says, “though I do so with tears, if I was forced to choose, I choose Christ”. And the only people who would ever make such a decision are those who have truly seen the glory of Christ and been born again.

A Few Practical Considerations

So what should you do, if you find yourself in a situation where your faith in Christ is driving a wedge between you and your family?

  1. Pray for God’s direction. Ask him to show you what to say, what not to say, what to do, and what not to do.
  2. Pray for the salvation of your family. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, after some miraculous turn of affairs, God gripped the hearts of your family members and they joined you in your worship of Jesus? Such things are possible. Jesus’ own family later believed in him. Pray to this end.
  3. Never walk out on your family. Choosing Christ is not walking out. Having a family who refuses to allow you to choose Christ is forcing you out. In as much as it is possible on your end, aim for peace and be there for those who might not be willing to be there for you. If there is any animosity at all, let them be the guilty party, and not you.
  4. Embrace your Christian family. Build relationships with fellow believers and be spiritually fed by your church family. Doing so will feel like a breath of fresh air.
  5. Do not hide your faith. If you truly believe that Christ is the means by which a person receives forgiveness and eternal life from God, then it would be horribly unloving of you to know that truth and experience its benefits while hiding it from those who need it.
  6. Feast on Bible. How can you expect to keep choosing Jesus, even after years of nothing but negative backlash for it from your own family? By reminding yourself of promises like the one Jesus said earlier: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Daily reminders of the worth and beauty of Jesus is the only thing that will sustain us in the long haul.
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