1. We can talk to God like a child talks to its father.
‘The Spirit . . . calls out, “Abba, Father” ’ (Galatians 4:6). The Spirit gives us the confidence to address God as our Father. We’ve a number of friends who have adopted children. And it’s always a special moment when the adopted child starts calling them ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’. God is infinite, holy, majestic. He’s a consuming fire before whom angels cover their faces. He made all things and controls all things. Can you imagine calling him ‘Father’? Of course you can! You do it every day when you pray–most of the time without even thinking about it. How is that possible? Step back and think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize what an amazing miracle it is that any of us should call God ‘Father’. But we do so every time we pray, through the Spirit of the Son. This is how John Calvin puts it:
With what confidence would anyone address God as ‘Father’? Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ? . . . But because the narrowness of our hearts cannot comprehend God’s boundless favour, not only is Christ the pledge and guarantee of our adoption, but he moves the Spirit as witness to us of the same adoption, through whom with free and full voice we may cry, ‘Abba, Father’.1
We cry out to God because the Spirit assures us that God is our Father and our Father cares what’s happening to his children.
Think of those adopted children saying ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ for the first time. What must that feel like for them? Perhaps they do so tentatively at first. They’re still feeling their way in the relationship. And that’s often what it’s like for new Christians, feeling their way in this new relationship. But think, too, what it means for the parents. It’s a joyful moment. It’s a sign that their children are beginning to feel like children. It’s a moment of pleasure. That’s how God feels every time you call him ‘Father.’ Remember, he planned our adoption ‘in accordance with his pleasure’ (Ephesians 1:5).
2. We can think of God like a child thinks of its father.
‘So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child’ (verse 7). Slaves are always worried about doing what they’re told or doing the right thing. They fear the disapproval of their master because there’s always the possibility they might be punished or sacked. Children never have to fear being sacked. They may sometimes be disciplined but, as with any good parent, it’s always for their good. God is the best of parents. And we never have to fear being sacked. You can’t stop being a child of God–you’re not fostered. You’re adopted for life, and life for you is eternal!
The cry ‘Abba, Father’ is not just for moments of intimacy. It was actually the cry a child shouted when in need. One of the joys of my life is that I’m good friends with lots of children. Charis always cries out, ‘Tim!’ when she sees me. Tayden wants me to read his Where’s Wally? book with him. Again. Tyler wants me to throw him over my shoulder and swing him round. Josie wants to tell me everything in her head all at once in her lisping voice. They all enjoy having me around. But here’s what I’ve noticed. Whenever any of them falls over or gets knocked, my parental instinct kicks in and I rush to help. But it’s not me they want in those moments. They run past me looking for Mum or Dad. They cry out, ‘Dad’, and Tim won’t do. That’s what ‘Abba, Father’ means. When we’re in need, we cry out to God because the Spirit assures us that God is our Father and our Father cares what’s happening to his children.
3. We can depend on God like a child depends on its father.
‘And since you are his child, God has made you also an heir’ (verse 7). When Paul talks about ‘sonship’, he’s not being sexist. Quite the opposite. In the Roman world only male children could inherit. So when Paul says ‘we’ (male and female, 3:28) are ‘sons’, he’s saying that in God’s family, men and women inherit. Everyone is included. And what we inherit is God’s glorious new world. But more than that, we inherit God himself. In all the uncertainties of this life we can depend on him. He will lead us home, and our home is his glory.
What could be better than sharing in the infinite love and infinite joy of the eternal Father with the eternal Son? Think of what you might aspire to in life–your greatest hopes and dreams. And then multiply them by a hundred. Think of winning Olympic gold or lifting the World Cup. Think of being a billionaire and owning a Caribbean island. Think of your love life playing out like the most heartwarming romantic movie. Good. But not as good as enjoying God.
Or let’s do it in reverse. Think of your worst fears and nightmares: losing a loved one, never finding someone to marry, losing your health, not having children. Bad! But Paul says, ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us’ (Romans 8:18). The only time Jesus is quoted as saying, ‘Abba, Father’ is in the Garden of Gethsemane as he sweats blood at the prospect of the cross. Even when you feel crushed by your pain, God is still your Abba, Father.
Where does joy come from? It comes from being children of God. How can we enjoy God? By living as his children. How can we please God? By believing he loves us as he loves his Son.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.20.36–37.
This article is adapted from Reforming Joy: A Conversation Between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today by Tim Chester.
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