If you are a Christian who was born into a “Christian” household, let me ask you a question: If you had been been born into a household that was not “Christian,” would you have still believed in Jesus Christ at some point and thereby gotten saved?
Let me get even more specific. If you had been born into a Jewish household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Judaism to Christianity at some point? If you had been born into a Muslim household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Islam to Christianity at some point? If you had been born into a Hindu household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Hinduism to Christianity at some point? If you had been born into a Buddhist household, can you say with certainty that you would have converted from Buddhism to Christianity at some point?
Now let me ask the same sort of question about the different denominations of Christianity. If you are a Southern Baptist — and by that I mean that your denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention, not just that you are a Baptist who lives in the south — are you a Southern Baptist by choice or by family tradition? If you are an Independent Baptist, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Freewill Baptist, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Methodist, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Presbyterian, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Pentecostal, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Charismatic, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are a Lutheran, are you that by choice or by family tradition? If you are Church of Christ, are you that by choice or by family tradition?
The fact is that one’s background can be a very, very hard thing from which to break clear. This is especially true in cases where the individual looks back with fondness upon his or her upbringing. I once had a fellow who had been brought up in a certain denomination, one that has some doctrines and practices with which I differ, attend the church I was pastoring. He came a few Sundays at the urging of his wife and her parents, all of whom hold to the same doctrines I do. This fellow is a great guy and we are still friends to this day, but I’ll never forget what he told me just before he and his wife stopped attending my church and went back to his family church. He said, “Russell, if I accept as the truth everything that you teach, it will mean that my parents have been wrong for years in what they have always believed.” Needless to say, since he loved his parents dearly, that was a bridge that he just wasn’t willing to cross.
It took nothing less than a personal visit from Jesus to get the scandalous Samaritan woman to understand that her Samaritan religion was in error and that she needed to believe in Jesus, a Jew, as Savior (John 4:4-42). It took nothing less than a physical encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road to get Saul of Tarsus to lay aside his Jewish upbringing and believe in Jesus as Savior (Acts 9:1-19). It took nothing less than a divine vision from heaven to get Peter to step outside the walls of his Jewish upbringing and come to the knowledge that Gentiles can get in on the same salvation that God offers to Jews (Acts 10:1-48). Each of these stories can be cited as evidence that breaking clear from your religious upbringing and background doesn’t happen easily.
Reading these stories should make us appreciate Abraham (whose original name was Abram) all the more. There he was in the city of Ur in the land of Chaldea, minding his own business, married to Sarah (whose original name was Sarai), living his life, worshiping the same false idols his father Terah worshiped (Joshua 24:2). Then one day God said to him, “Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1, N.I.V.).
Did Abraham just hear a voice or did He have some type of vision? The Bible doesn’t give us the details. Either way, though, can you imagine God speaking to you right now and saying, “I want you to leave behind everything that you know and everybody that you know (except for your spouse and your children), and I want you to follow my voice as I lead you to a completely new land, a completely new way of life, and a completely new religion?” I wonder, would you be able to do it?
Actually, even Abraham’s obedience wasn’t perfect. Whereas God wanted him to leave behind his father and the rest of his family (except for Sarah), Abraham took along not only Terah (his father) but also Lot (his nephew). As a matter of fact, the way Genesis 11:31 reads Terah was actually the ramrod of the operation. That verse says:
And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. (N.K.J.V.)
Notice two things about this verse. First, notice that Terah, not Abraham, is the dominant character in the verse. Did Terah horn his way into God’s unique call upon Abraham’s life? More likely, Abraham didn’t mind having his father and his nephew along for his trip into the unknown. Second, notice that the whole operation ended up settling down in Haran, which was only about the halfway point between Ur and Canaan, the land where God ultimately wanted Abraham. Evidently, Terah liked it in Haran and decided the family had traveled far enough. They even acquired some servants there in Haran (Genesis 12:5).
It wasn’t until Terah died that Abraham, Sarah, Lot, and those servants pulled up stakes from Haran and pressed on into the land of Canaan (Genesis 11:32; 12:4-5; Acts 7:4). Commentators believe that Abraham spent many wasted years, possibly as long as twenty-five years, in Haran. You see, this is the damage that can be done by the powerful pull of family, especially the pull of parents, especially the pull of fathers. We are even left to wonder if Abraham would ever have made it to his God-given land of Canaan if Terah had not died. Remember, neither Terah nor Lot were even supposed to be along on the journey!
What I’m trying to show you in all this is that family and upbringing can be powerful dams that prevent God’s river from flowing in your life. Putting it another way, Satan can use your background against you to keep you from living out God’s will for your life. Certainly this holds true in regards to salvation itself, but it also holds true in regards to what we might call the various “stations” of your life. By “stations” I mean: where you live, where you work, which school you attend, which church you attend, which political affiliations you hold, etc.
I guess what I’m asking you is, “Are you really your own person or is your life dominated by your raising?” I’m not suggesting that God wants everybody to forsake family, friends, and all that they know so that they can head off into the wild blue yonder with Him. But what I am suggesting is that each of us needs to be enough of a “free agent” that we can mind God completely no matter how radical His will for our life gets. Think of it this way: If God has a Canaan in mind for you, you will never know His best if you either stay in your Ur or settle for a Haran. And if you reaching that Canaan requires you to break away from your family and your upbringing, then so be it. Putting it simply, it’s a price worth paying.