God the Father
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14–15). Ultimate reality is not cold, dark, empty space. Ultimate reality is the Father reaching out and gathering in sinners as his own dear children through the grace of Jesus the Son. Graciously, our heavenly Father shares the wonder of his fatherhood with us men. To be a father, therefore, is a sacred privilege and a high calling.
Unique to the Bible is the vision of the one God as the Trinity—God the rejoicing Father, God the obedient Son, and God the loving Spirit as the Presence between the Father and the Son. It is amazing but not surprising, then, that such a God would create us fathers on earth to embody something of his glorious fatherhood above.
What does the Bible say about God as our Father? The Old Testament says surprisingly little. Though the Old Testament clearly calls God “Father” a few times (for example, Isa. 63:16; 64:8; Jer. 3:19; Mal. 2:10), the writers of the Old Testament lay greater emphasis on our distance from God and the reserve we should feel before him. God is revealed more as separate from us and beyond us, and he is seen less as intimate and close to us. This Old Testament view of God is true and wonderfully humbling for us. We hasten to bow low before our powerful Creator and high King.
But in the New Testament, although God remains holy and majestic in our eyes, Jesus adds a strikingly clear emphasis on God as Father—both his Father and our Father (John 20:17). It is Jesus who calls God “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36). It is Jesus who teaches us to pray to God as our Father (Matt. 6:9). It is the Spirit of the Son who leads us into intimacy with God as our own Abba Father (Gal. 4:6). Now we know that, as our Father, God cares for us and provides for us (Matt. 6:25–34). As our Father, he hears and answers our prayers (Matt. 7:7–11). As our Father, he disciplines us (Heb. 12:3–11). As our Father, he receives us and forgives us and rejoices over us when in repentance we come home to him (Luke 15:11–32). That God the Father has made himself God our Father means that he is personally, emotionally, and even sacrificially involved with us.
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The greatest glory of God, therefore, is not that he is separate and far beyond us; the greatest glory of God is that the One who is separate and far beyond us, who is high and lifted up, who created all things and needs nothing . . . that glorious God also chose to become our Father, lovingly adopting us as his own children forever (1 John 3:1). Pastor Tim Keller helps us understand how wonderful it is to have God as our Father: “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.” And this astonishing right of entry into the presence of God is not a minor emphasis in the gospel. It is the heart of the message. To quote J. I. Packer, “To those who are Christ’s, the holy God is a loving Father; they belong to his family; they may approach him without fear and always be sure of his fatherly concern and care. This is the heart of the New Testament message.”
We as Fathers
What then does the Bible say about us earthly fathers? Many significant things, both glorious and tragic. The Bible says that fatherhood shapes personal identity and self-awareness, for both good and ill. Fatherhood can pass down a rich spiritual inheritance, binding our hearts to God (Ex. 15:2; Deut. 32:7; Ps. 44:1; 78:1–4), and fatherhood can also pass down a history of failure that we must not deny (Neh. 1:6; 9:2). Fatherhood is also how training, nurture, and wise correction influence the rising generation (Prov. 3:11–12; 4:1–4). In fact, God punished Eli for not restraining his foolish sons (1 Sam. 3:11–13). At a deeper level, Eli’s sin was honoring his sons above God (1 Sam. 2:27–30).
The Bible records many weaknesses in fathers. For example, Lot harmed his family by his half-hearted concern about the degrading influence of Sodom (Gen. 19:15–16, 30–38). Jacob unwisely showed favoritism to his son Joseph over his other sons (Gen. 37:3–4). Samson’s father weakly gave in to his son’s wrong desire for a woman from outside the covenant community (Judg. 14:1–3). David bungled a crisis in his family by failing to discern a threat to his daughter Tamar and by failing to discipline his sons Amnon and Absalom justly and effectively (2 Samuel 13).
That God the Father has made himself God our Father means that he is personally, emotionally, and even sacrificially involved with us.
It is also true that a wise father, in disciplining his children, is careful not to be so impossible to please that he drives them up the wall (Eph. 6:4). Moreover, a godly father is rightly graced with dignity and honor, and he can expect long-term impact (Ps. 127:3–5). To lead a family happily united in the Lord is a beautiful experience for a father (Psalm 128). A faithful father is not lazy or heedless but conscientiously takes responsibility for his children’s spiritual welfare (Job 1:4–5). He boldly claims his family for the Lord (Josh. 24:14–15). He leads his family through life with unmistakable spiritual commitment (Deut. 6:4–9). He brings his family before the Lord in prayer (John 4:46–53). He provides for his family with good earthly things, according to their legitimate needs (1 Tim. 5:8). He responds to their requests with good gifts (Luke 11:11–13). He looks into the future and plans an inheritance for his family (Prov. 13:22). In it all, in both failure and success, a Christian father is strengthened by his awareness that his own Father in heaven loves him and approves of him for Jesus’ sake (Rom. 8:15–17; Eph. 5:1).
The saddest part of being a father is the awareness that what theologians call “original sin” passes down to the next generation through natural fatherhood (Gen. 5:3; Rom. 5:12–21). Original sin is a negative energy within us all that resists God in order to play God. It is an irrational reflex of eagerness for rebellion and folly, heedless of the deadly impact, willing to risk misery and hell rather than bow before God. It is a kind of living deadness that only God can remedy (Eph. 2:1–10). And when we fathers see original sin acted out by our children, we must sadly acknowledge our own sinfulness reproduced in the ones we most love.
But the happiest part of being a father is seeing divine grace manifest in our children, as our Father in heaven performs the miracle of a new birth, so that our children come alive to God (John 3:1–8). God is able to give our children a new heart, a new nature, that loves God, loves other believers, and cherishes the gospel (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1–4). We fathers play a role in our children’s second, supernatural birth by praying for them and raising them in the paths of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).
Finally, the Bible makes clear that a believing man becomes a spiritual father, as he leads someone to faith in Christ (Philemon 10). The New Testament holds up as an ideal a Christian leader who accepts fatherly responsibility for the spiritual growth of others (1 Thess. 2:11–12). When a man shows such gentle care for others, he may find that he has weighty influence in their lives (1 Cor. 4:14–17). May we fathers be faithful moment by moment to pursue our high calling, by God’s grace and for his glory, and for the eternal happiness of our children.
This article is written by Ray Ortlund and adapted from the ESV Men’s Study Bible.
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