Romans 8:15. 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!”
Brennan Manning has said, “we make our images of God and our images of God make us.”
How do you see God?
White bearded mountain top guru?
Passive aggressive mother-in-law?
Do you see him as your abba? Your dad?
The word abba is an Aramaic word. This is an interesting choice by Paul since this letter was written in Greek. Paul sets the word abba next to the Greek word for father: Abba (Aramaic) Father (pater – Greek). The two words combined (“Abba Father”) may have been a formal prayer title for God.
But let’s not get lost in the formalities. The bottom line is that by our union with Christ we are the sons of God now. He is our dad. Our father.
Calling God “father” is not a very Jewish thing. It’s a Jesus thing. There are actually very few examples in the Old Testament of the Jews calling God their father. As we pointed out a couple days ago, the idea of sonship is found in the Old Testament (Israel was God’s “son,” David was God’s “son”) but calling God “dad” was simply considered far too irreverent.
It was Jesus who first started calling God “dad” or “father” all the time. It was constantly on his lips, like in the garden prayer, and even on the cross. Why? Because the primary way that Jesus sees God is as his dad. This is their eternal relationship – the eternal father and the eternal son. And now that is OUR relationship to God. We are his eternal sons and daughters. Jesus changed how we address God because he would change how we relate to God forever.
Abba Father is a cry of freedom. It is not the slave’s cry. We do not cry out “master master!” Ours is not the spirit of slavery. Only the son would take his desperation to the master. The slave would not be heard. In fact, calling the master abba was most likely forbidden.
Abba Father is a cry of maturity. It is the cry of the adult son. We might see a little toddler crying out for his daddy when we read this verse. But that is not the picture Paul has painted for us. We are adopted adult sons of God. The law was the tutor that once baby sat us and kept us out of trouble. But not any more. We go straight to the father now. Now we are motivated by our love for our father. A sign of spiritual maturity is when you run to God as a dad. If you’re like me, you really came to love and trust and respect your dad once you grew up a bit. As a foolish child I avoided dad’s advice. But as an adult I sought it out. And now I miss it terribly.
Abba Father is a cry of intimacy. This is way more than just theology, doctrine, or head knowledge. This is dad. Abba is a word that implies “my father” – possessive. He’s mine. We share DNA (the Spirit). We have a one-to-one relationship with God. There is no greater truth than this. No greater love. As Jesus was in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), so now we too are drawn into the embrace our prodigal extravagant Dad. This is what heaven will be. This is eternal life. This is “to live is Christ.”
I know many of us have had less than perfect dad experiences. So imagining God as an abba father is very difficult at times. But grace empowers what faith demands. This is no mere sentimental thought, it is our reality. God is our father. Just like he is Christ’s father. To call God abba father is to demonstrate great faith. It is to have received great grace.