The Fatherhood of God
Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts related to the attributes of God. Here are the links to the previous posts (Why Study the Attributes of God, The Holiness of God, The Power of God, The Presence of God, The Knowledge of God).
J.I. Packer, in his book, “Knowing God,” wrote the following concerning the fatherhood of God:
“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God” [p. 126].
Since the whole purpose of studying the attributes of God is to grow in our knowledge of him―because God is known only through his attributes, this knowledge of God as the believer’s father is essential to understanding God better. Hence in this post, we will look at God as our Father.
The process through which God enables us to call him as Father is what the Bible calls “adoption.” This is the highest privilege we experience—even higher than justification. Let me explain.
Justification is the process by which we receive forgiveness of sins. Here is when a guilty sinner standing condemned to die is freed from guilt due to repenting from sins and placing faith in Jesus Christ. Justification is foundational to every other blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. However, it is not the highest blessing. Why? It is because justification is a legal term that views God as a Judge. It has to do with our standing before the holy law of God.
Adoption, on the other hand, is a family idea. “This is the process whereby God makes us members of his family” [Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 736]. Adoption views God as a Father, thus indicating closeness, affection, and generosity. “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is far greater” [J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 253]. Perhaps this illustration might help one understand this concept better.
Suppose someone killed your son and is thrown in prison facing a death sentence. You forgive that man and set him free. That in itself would be a great thing. But, you don’t stop there. After the person is released from prison, you now adopt that killer, make him your own son and grant him all the privileges that your son would have had! How would that look like? People may even call you insane! But that would show the height of your love and the height of blessing experienced by the one who killed your precious son.
Yet, is that not the biblical picture of justification and adoption? God could have stopped with justification. But he did not. On top of the blessing of justification, he gave us an even better one—adoption whereby he made us his sons and daughters. Wow! That is why we can say adoption is a more incredible blessing than justification. And it is through adoption that we see the Fatherhood of God so clearly displayed.
The concept of God as being a Father was present even in the Old Testament [Ex 4:22, Psalm 103:13, Isaiah 64:8]. However, it is in the New Testament, we see the Fatherhood of God in the fullest sense since the concept of adoption is more clearly revealed to us. The word translated adoption appears 5 times―all its occurrences in the letters of Paul [Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4, Gal 4:5, Eph 1:5].
Paul’s readers would have clearly understood this concept because adoption was more common in the New Testament times than in the Old Testament times [though Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses]. In Roman times, it was common practice for the wealthy to adopt young adults who they saw as fit and carry on the family name. Many of the Caesars even followed this practice.
However, the concept of God adopting us is more different and higher than human adoption. God has adopted us not because he had a need or because he saw something good in us to benefit him. All he saw in us were rebels who turned their backs against him. Yet, he adopted us because he simply chose to do so―out of sheer love [Ephesians 1:4-5]. Such love is mind-boggling!
In John 17:26, Jesus asked the Father to love us with the same love he has for his Son “love you have for me may be in them.” No distinctions in the divine family. We are loved just as fully as Jesus is loved! No wonder the apostle John burst out in praise, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” [1 John 3:1]!
And such love, which brings about our adoption, results in at least 4 practical benefits.
1. Adoption enables us to call God as our Father.
The term “Abba, Father”, was a term used by Jesus when addressing God as his father [Mark 14:36]. We, too, can call him “Abba, Father” [Gal 4:6] through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. A wonderful new relationship that will last for all eternity has been established. We are loved, well taken care of, and will never be separated from this wonderful heavenly Father of ours!
2. Adoption enriches our prayer life.
Jesus taught us to address God as “Our Father in heaven” when we pray [Matt 6:9]. This intimacy enables us to approach God our Father will all our requests because he cares for us. We can be free from worry. We can be free from guilt. He forgives all our sins when we confess them. A loving father always hears his children’s prayers.
3. Adoption strengthens our hope for the future.
Paul tells us in Romans 8:23 that “we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” He went on to say, “24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
In essence, Paul is saying that the fullest experience of adoption will be in the future when we get glorified bodies and until then, we endure the trials of this present life with strong hope. According to 2 Corinthians 1:22, God has placed “his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” The phrase “guaranteeing what is to come” refers to the fact that we will be with the Lord in our glorified state for all eternity in the future. This truth also strengthens our hope.
4. Adoption enables us to be trained by our heavenly Father.
Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “5 … My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” And the writer goes on to mention, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children” [Heb 12:7]. In essence, the writer of Hebrews says that because we are God’s children, God disciplines us. And that’s a good thing! It shows we are his children! The end goal of this disciplining process is stated in Hebrews 12:10, “in order that we may share in his holiness.”
In the light of these 4 benefits of adoption [and more could be added], what should be our response? Simple. We are to “Imitate God our Father.” If we are his sons and daughters, then we should display family resemblance! This means we are to pursue holiness since God is holy [1 Pet 1:15-16]. We are to love as God loves [Eph 5:1-2], a love that extends even to our enemies [Matt 5:44-45].
God’s children should never forget that we are one family. This means no room for bitterness, jealousy, and fighting. We share the joys and sorrows. What a loving Father we have in God. And what a glorious future we have! I trust these truths would strengthen our holy resolve to imitate our Father!
And if you are not God’s child, if you still cannot call him as your Father, today will be a good day to settle that issue. You can be adopted into his family by turning from your sins and embracing Christ as your Lord and Savior. We are told in John 1:12, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And then you too can enjoy all these benefits of being adopted!
Don’t hesitate. Please come. God always has room in his family for more children! Human fathers have weaknesses, and they often fail. However, the one and only heavenly Father—the father of the Lord Jesus Christ has no weaknesses. He never fails. He will love you with perfect love for all eternity!
NOTE: Click HERE for the related audio sermon that goes into greater detail concerning this attribute.