Many people are shocked when they learn I’m of Mexican descent. I recall during a panel discussion at a church in the Nashville area, our family friend Trillia Newbell looked over to me right after I shared my ethnic heritage, and, without missing a beat, put her microphone up to her mouth and said, “I never knew you were Mexican!” We all laughed and to this day, my children remind me of that amusing moment.
Often people tell me my last name, Horton, throws them off any trail of coming to a conclusion regarding my ethnicity. After all, Horton is not a Spanish or even Latin surname. The truth is my dad, Ray Horton, was adopted. We know little about his biological parents outside of the fact his biological grandmother was 100% Choctaw Nation, his mother being 50%, while his biological dad was said to be simply “Caucasian.”
My mother on the other hand is 100% of Mexican descent, although she is 2nd Generation Mexican-American. Last names on her side of the family include Anaya, Camacho, Canchola, Conchola, Florido, Ojeda, and Valdivia. When my wife Elicia and I talk to our kids about our family lines, the last names expand even more to include Acosta, Cisneros, Gonzalez, and Ramirez. What we share with our kids is that although we have different last names, live in different homes, and have different life rhythms, the fact we’re connected through our family bloodline makes us family.
This whole train of thought got me thinking about my spiritual family in Christ. As Paul informs us in Ephesians 2:13, it is by the blood of Christ people from various ethnicities, genders, and social classes have been brought together to form the one family of God. While on a panel with Thabiti Anyabwile, I once heard him say the family of God is a “spiritual ethnicity.” Although we may have different denominational memberships (e.g. AME, Anglican, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist, or Presbyterian), hermeneutical convictions (e.g. Covenantal or Dispensational), or theological preferences (e.g. Arminian, Calvinistic, Cessationism, Continual, and A-, Pre- or Postmillennial), if we have been born-again, we are the one new man (Ephesians 2:16).
Each of our “last names” should provide us distinction but not disfunction as the family of God. Since Jesus’ work has reconciled us to God (2 Corinthians 5:17) and each other (Ephesians 2:16) we are called to live in peace with each other. We must be wise in our understanding (Ephesians 5:15) that the worldly system governed by the evil one (Ephesians 2:2-3) does not want us to live at peace with each other. Ours is a day where political affiliations seem to be more of a test for orthodoxy rather than loving our neighbors. Racial tensions are heightened. Social media allows everyone a platform to digitally process without a community to filter out extremes. So our work for practically living out the peace we’ve been given has been cut out for us.
As Francis Schaeffer once asked, “How should we then live?” Church history reveals our fathers and mothers of the church’s infancy saw people drawn to our family based not only by the common beliefs we shared, but also by the compassion-filled behavior we displayed. The family of God in America would do well to recapture familial living. One pathway forward we can personify is found in Galatians 5:16-26. Living in step with God the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside of each believer, provides us with the ability to live like we’re family, even though we have differences in opinions and preferences. Three practical truths we can remember from this passage are:
- We Are Spirit and Flesh. Galatians 5:16-18 reminds us as believers that we can consciously chose to live by the Spirit or the flesh. We’re commanded to walk by the Spirit to keep us from gratifying the desires of our unredeemed flesh.
- We Must Not Habitually Practice the Works of the Flesh. Galatians 5:19-21 lists ways we gratified our flesh before becoming born-again. Those who are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit live out these practices without coming to a place of repentance. When we as believers obey our flesh and have a lapse in judgment (Galatians 6:1) we are to confess our sin (1 John 1:8-10), receive forgiveness, and seek to be restored to spiritual health.
- Walk in Step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-26 lists the fruit that the Holy Spirit bears through the lives of believers. When we are keeping in step with the Spirit we will live in peace with each other. Living in step with the Spirit means we will not be conceited, we won’t provoke (to compete with) or envy one another.
In a world filled with broken relationships, we as the Body of Christ have the perfect opportunity to be what Mark Dever has properly called a “compelling community.” Our love for each other and familial affection should draw the watching world toward us. However, when we’re fractured because of denominational tribalism, political affiliation, or unrepentant sin the watching world will move away from us and search elsewhere to be known and loved. So let us hold to our common confession in Christ and let us draw near to Him and each other. Let us appreciate the distinctions we may and let us stop allowing them to cause dysfunction in our relationships. Let us fulfill the Law of Christ and love each other because, at the end of the day, we are family.