My toddler daughter recently went through a stage where everything was “Mama”: Papa is Mama, Grandma is Mama, the toy is Mama.
Even now, there are many mornings when “Mama!” is the first word out of her mouth when she wakes up. She then continues to patiently call out, “Mama? Mom? Mama?” until I finally come get her out of bed.
Sometimes the inflection in her voice, “Mommy?”, tells me that she has something very important to tell me.
Other times, it seems like she simply likes to say the word: I can be standing right next to her, having already responded to her request and given her what she was asking for, but she continues to say it over and over again, “”Mama, Mom, Mama”.
Such moments hit a soft spot in this mama’s heart, for there was a time when I wondered if I would ever have a child who would call me “Mama”. Hearing Talitha repeat that word over and over again melts my heart and makes me treasure these tender moments with my daughter.
I cannot help but think that if I, the imperfect and sinful mom that I am, can love my child with such tender love, what must God the Father feel towards His children? Indeed, perhaps one of the most tender and personal depictions of God’s relationship towards the believer is that of a parent/child relationship: God calls us His children. He is our Father.
So what does it mean when Scripture tells us that we are God’s children and He is our Father?
God has adopted us as sons
John 1:12 tells us what happens when we take God at His Word and believe on Him: “But to all who did receive him, who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Did you catch that?
Throughout Romans and Ephesians, we read about our rebellious, sinful state before God. We are condemned to eternity in hell because we justly deserve it! However, the moment we believe on His name, God justifies us, making us no longer His enemies. Instead, He calls us His children.
First John 3:1 further expands on our becoming sons of God: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Being made sons is a manifestation of His great love towards us!
In his fantastic book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer gives some meaningful insight into the fact that we are adopted as God’s children and not simply justified:
Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of the law and viewing God as judge. In justification, God declares of penitent believers that they are not, and never will be, liable to the death that their sins deserve, because Jesus Christ, their substitute and sacrifice, tasted death in their place on the cross.
…but justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge. In idea, at any rate, you could have the reality of justification without any close fellowship with God resulting.
But contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship–he establishes us as his children and heirs. Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater (page 207).
That moment when Christ’s righteousness was imputed to our account, God gave us all of the privileges of His Son, Jesus Christ, making us His heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. As Romans 8:15 tells us, we can now cry out “Abba! Father!” for we come to Him, knowing that He is our loving, kind, and gracious heavenly Father who cares for us and sees our every need. Indeed, we are no longer enemies but family: we are His children and He is our Father.
God is superior to a human father
At one point during His teaching ministry, Christ illustrated how good God is towards His children by comparing it to how a human father treats his children: a human father who loves his children will not give something bad to his children. Rather, he will always strive to do what is best for his children.
Likewise God our Father, in a manner that is divinely superior to any earthly father, will only give what is good to His children. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). We also read that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
Yes, because God is our Father, He desires what is best for us. Furthermore, we can be confident that He only ever gives us what is good.
Why? Because He is our Father.
God disciplines His children
When we were children, we experienced the pain and discomfort of discipline from our parents. At times, we may have even despised such treatment.
However, now that we are adults and are parenting our own children, we have learned that discipline is, in fact, a significant demonstration of love. Yes, because we love our children, we must discipline them when they disobey, for it is the God-given means of pointing our children towards behaving in a way that pleases God. To refuse to discipline and instead allow our children to act according to their ignorance is to manifest a failure to love them: childish ignorance and foolishness will only lead to much sorrow and destruction.
In the same way, God shows us that we are indeed His children, beloved and precious in His sight, by disciplining us when we refuse to walk according to His instructions. As Hebrews 12:7 reminds us, God’s discipline is a sign of our son-ship: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as son. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” This is not just something God does. We do the same thing, for when was the last time you disciplined someone else’s child instead of your own?
Indeed, discipline, in any form, is painful . However, when God disciplines His children, it flows from a heart filled not with anger but love and tender compassion for His children. Yes, even when God disciplines us, we have cause to rejoice, for it once again points towards Him being our Father!
So when sin threatens to condemn our hearts and the trials of life invite us to question God’s relationship to us as our Father, let us remind ourselves that we have been bought with Christ’s precious blood, declared righteous, and are now adopted as His children. Now, because we are His children, let us find great joy, comfort, and peace, knowing that such a bond can never be broken: God will always be the faultless, loving Father whom we can approach and call “Abba! Father!”
(All Scripture is quoted in the ESV)