Bible Exposition

What Is a “Christian” Family?

by John Pate

family on the beach with dad holding child on his shoulders

Several years ago, my wife and I traveled through the eastern US, ministering in various churches. Though we enjoyed many conversations with fellow believers during those months, one conversation, for some reason, has stuck with me. It was at a small church perched in the hills of West Virginia, and a dear lady in her middle years began to disclose a sorrow that ran deep in her life.

Her children were far from the Lord, and her grief was palpable. She could not understand why, after all those years, they would suddenly turn from everything they knew.

“I just don’t know what happened. They were in church every Sunday!”

Perhaps you see why that conversation has lingered in my heart. Not only was her sorry heartbreaking, but she also expressed a dangerous misconception about what it means to be a Christian family.

What is a Christian family? Is it a family that attends church regularly? Is it a family that prays before each meal and talks about Jesus on occasion? Is it a family that abstains from certain vices or follows a few set principles for life? Is it a family whose children land good jobs and live decent lives? Or is it a family that has family devotions on a fairly consistent basis?

When we look to God’s Word for the answer, we find that a Christian family is defined, not by its habits or appearance, but by a Person, the very Person in the word “Christian”!

A Christian family is a family built on Jesus Christ.

A Christian family does not “tack Jesus on” to all the other activities and priorities in our home. Instead, He is the center of our home. He is the theme, the Lord, and the Savior, and we must make every effort to point our children to that Savior.

To see this truth, we need look no further than the beginning of the Bible’s story. In Genesis 1—3, we find the good news about Jesus Christ in its “seed” form, the same good news which should be the pervasive theme of every Christian home.

The Purpose for the Family

Genesis 1:26–28 speaks of God’s purpose for both individuals and families. Notice how verses 26–27 describe this purpose:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Why did God make you and me? He made us to reflect His “image,” to represent Him on earth. He gave us at least two ways to do this. We represent Him through our care of the earth (v. 26) and through our relationships (v. 27), in particular, the marriage relationship. We haven’t even concluded chapter 1 of the Bible, and God is already beginning to define His good design for the family. The family is central to God’s creative design.1

In other words, what happens in your family can be one of the most powerful testimonies to the glory of God. Others should look at you and your family and get a clearer picture of what God is like. Verse 28 shows us how this good plan will continue for years to come:

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

This verse is a blessing, a command, and a blueprint wrapped up in one. God created humans to reflect His image on earth, and He created the family to multiply those “image-reflectors” all the way to the four corners of the earth. God designed the family to fill the world with the glory of God.

The Destruction of the Family

All you have to do is take a road trip with your family to find out that something has gone wrong along the way. If you ever spot my van on vacation, it’s possible you won’t catch sight of the blessings described in Genesis 1. What you may see instead is a hurtling hunk of metal surrounding a dark center of sour attitudes and poopy diapers. (I promise I do enjoy vacations with my family.)

In all seriousness, the problems present in families around our globe reach far deeper than a difficult road trip. Instead of God’s character reflected in families, we see dysfunction, divorce, abortion, abuse, and gender confusion. In fact, we could almost call Genesis 4—50 a “History of Dysfunctional Families.”2

So what happened between Genesis 1 and Genesis 4? We find the answer in Genesis 3:1–19, what is known as “The Fall.”

God’s adversary tempted the first woman and her husband to sin by pursuing their own glory. Instead of following God’s rule, they pursued self-rule (v. 5). Instead of accepting God’s blessing, they pursued self-sufficiency (v. 6). Their sinful choice introduced conflict. It separated humanity from God (vv. 7–13), and it separated us from each other (vv. 14–19). Our roles as male and female, designed to bless the world, have become points of contention.

So what happened to God’s good plan? Instead of reflecting God’s image and filling the earth with “image-reflectors,” we desired our own glory and filled the earth with chaos. In so doing, we fell “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

No amount of church attendance will fix this problem. Praying before meals will not fix it. Moral living will not solve the problem of sin. The answer to broken families is not better families.

The Redemption of the Family

The answer is Jesus Christ. Amazingly, we see this good news right in the middle of the bad news. God’s curse to the serpent contains this promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

That word “offspring” or “seed” is important. After this verse, it shows up at least 46 more times in the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis points all of us to the perfect Seed who would one day save humanity from destruction, the Son who would redeem the family.

Though we failed to reflect God’s image, Jesus Christ is the perfect Savior who fills the world with the glory of God. Only the blood of Christ can free the members of your family from the bondage of sin so that they can once again reflect His glory.

So you and I must point our families to Jesus. Your family’s greatest need is not to do better, or be better, or lead moral lives. Your family needs to hear the good news about Jesus. And God has chosen you, dad, to make sure that the story of the gospel is your family’s story.

Maybe you’re not completely accustomed to talking about Jesus with your family throughout the day and you’re wondering how to get started. Although we’ve covered this topic before in various articles, here are a few starter ideas:

Talk about Jesus during the tough times.

  • When you’re breaking up another fight: “Did you know that Jesus actually endured the cross to forgive your sin? He wants you to forgive just like He forgives.”
  • When you’re disciplining your child: “Do you know of anybody who can save you from your sin?”
  • When your child is heartbroken at the rejection of a friend: “Jesus’ love for you is greater than any other because He laid down His life for you. Let’s thank him for that.”
  • When you’re apologizing for sinning against your child: “Your dad is a sinner too. But Jesus is my Savior and paid the penalty for my sin.”
  • When your family is experiencing an intense need: “We know that Jesus actually cares about us and is using this in our family’s life. Let’s thank Him for His love for us!”

Talk about Jesus during the good times.

  • When you’re noticing something awesome about creation: “Can you believe that a God this powerful loved us enough to become a man and die for us!”
  • When you’re sitting down to read God’s Word together: “God actually wants to talk to us right now, and He wants to tell us something about Jesus. Let’s try to see what He’s telling us.”[^3]
  • When God has answered a specific prayer request: “God actually hears us when we pray! Let’s thank Him for this answer and for the way it shows His love for us.”

Of course, our goal is to present the gospel. For a helpful look at presenting the gospel to your kids, see Kristopher Schaal’s article, Counseling Your Children About Salvation.

In all of these conversations, remember that a Christian family is not a perfect family. Instead, it is a family where the good news about Jesus Christ takes center stage. It’s a family built on Jesus Christ.


  1. Does this truth exclude a person who is single from God’s plan? Not at all! In fact, though the family is important, it is the church, or the “family of God,” that is at the heart of God’s kingdom today (Matt. 16:18–19; Eph. 3:10, 21; Col. 1:10). Those who do the will of the Father (true believers) are a part of the most important family of all (Matt. 12:46–50). If, as a single person, you are looking for a family, begin by finding and ministering with a Bible-believing local church.

  2. See, for example, Cain and Abel (ch. 4), Abraham (chs. 12, 20), Lot (ch. 19), Jacob and Esau (ch. 27), Simeon and Levi (ch. 34), Joseph and his brothers (ch. 37), Judah (ch. 38).

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