The Father’s love
One of my favourite books is Knowing God by J.I Packer. I especially love the final chapter titled “Sons of God”:
“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father… Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too.
Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning…and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of – a happy life? –yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life and of a God-honouring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.”
Packer is referring to the greatest mystery of the gospel– Adoption.
Our text is Romans 8:12-17
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
From Orphans to Sons
In another letter, the apostle John calls us to open our eyes and “look at what kind of love our heavenly Father has for us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Our heavenly Father’s love is a kind of love only explained by the gospel. It is nothing like the sentimental ‘love’ we see on romantic comedies or Valentine’s cards. It is a far cry from the ‘love’ that leaves when my needs are no longer met. It is the kind of love which goes on a journey in search of orphans faraway and brings them home, giving them a name, a destiny and writing them into his will as heirs. It is the kind of love that fiercely protects, defends, delights and grieves over his family. It is the kind of love that stays for the long haul.
We are those orphans. God our Father came in search of us while we still scorned and rejected His love (Rom 5:8). But His love was so persistent, so unfailing, so fierce, that He gave His own life to pay for ours.
Let me paint a picture of the Father’s love for his children: When we receive Jesus the Son as our redeemer, the Father adopts us as if we were his natural born children, (John 1:12-13). We exchange orphan rags for Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10; Rev 19:8). Our shame is replaced by bold confidence. (Rom 8:1, Heb 4:16). Our fear is traded for assurance of the Father’s provision. We surrender anxious striving for a permanent position in God’s eternal family. We will never be returned to the orphanage for bad behaviour. The signed adoption papers are God’s Spirit who comes to live in our heart as proof of our status (Rom 8:16). We are given a new identity card (Isa 43:1), a family mission statement (Matt 28:16-20) and a new wardrobe of clothes to wear (Col 3:12). We receive a personal tutor, the Holy Spirit, to help us live beyond the doors of the orphanage where we used to scrap for food and lived only for ourselves (Rom 8:12; 14). We now have a secure family and a home. Paul says we have received (not earned) adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15).*
Adoption is the ultimate unearned, undeserved privilege that every Christian inherits when we repent and believe in Jesus as Lord. There are no super-star children or runts in God’s family! No child is invisible or overlooked by this Father. No child is belittled, rejected or abandoned by this Father. This Father cannot be fooled or manipulated. He is the only perfectly good father.
It is hard to take on the world without the secure love of an earthly father who protected and cherished you. This vacuum can become a terrible handicap on the journey of life. But King David tells us that even if “my father and mother have forsaken me, yet the LORD will take me in” (Ps 27:10). No matter what your human heritage, no matter how wonderful or deficient your earthly father is, the father vacuum in our soul can only be filled by the Lord, our perfect Father. He will take you in.
As children of the most high God, we must knead the Father’s love into our minds every day so that even our subconscious dreams start to believe it! Seeing the beauty of this love and guarding it with all our might will prepare us for whatever we may need to suffer for Christ now and to share in His glory when he comes to take his children to our eternal home (Rom 8:17). Our Father’s love is not a mystical secret we can master through theories, books or religious practices. Nor is it a body of knowledge we can learn like maths or history. The Father’s love is something we can only know by experience as we walk in relationship with Him, just as the love of a husband or wife can only be known through the journey of marriage. It is a mystery that reveals more of itself day by day as we learn to walk like a child, in trust and obedience, with our Abba Father. “As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)
Live it out!
- Take a rain check on your soul: Are you wearing yourself out trying to prove yourself, earning your place in the world or the family of God? Do you sometimes feel like an orphan? The root of your weariness may be that you are not living as a child of the Almighty, in the shadow of your Father’s great love for you.
- Take time now to meditate on God as your Father and the love he has lavished on you throughout your life, even when you didn’t want Him. Think of how he pursued you and called you his own. Re-live your journey from orphan to son or daughter as you pray to your Father. Thank Him right now, express your praise and devotion as his beloved child. Pour out your heart and ask Him to reveal Himself to you as ‘Abba’ Father.
Join us next week for part 2 in the same text, as we dig deeper into what it means to be “Abba’s Child.”
*Note: In the Roman empire, it was only the firstborn son who could inherit his father’s estate. Daughters were not heirs. When Paul calls us sons and fellow heirs with Christ, he is conveying great status to our position in the family (Rom 8:17).