We are in a study of Luke chapter 11, verses 2-4, Jesus teaching his disciples to pray. He said to them in Luke 11:2-4, “When you pray, say, ‘Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”
I need to admit, here, right from the start—because I know you’re thinking it already—there’s not been a lot of progress that has been made through these verses as yet. I want you to know that that’s not just me being me; that’s actually intentional—to slow down just a little bit because we need to slow down and consider something, here, that is most fundamental, foundational to our understanding of this gift of prayer that we have received as disciples of Jesus Christ. So we’ve taken time to introduce the Lord’s Prayer. We’ve gone slowly because we want to clarify what the Bible means, first of all, by the name of God, and then secondly, what Jesus means when he calls us to come to God and call him “Father.” So the weight of the name of God, on the one hand, but the familiarity we have in calling God “Father” on the other. So we have slowed down to do that, taking our time, because, first of all, we felt the need to provide a corrective to people—and perhaps to many of us—what we have heard and practiced in our prayers for perhaps many years. Many today, I’m afraid, have become far too casual, way to superficial, giving very little thought about who they are approaching in prayer. So we’ve taken time, as you know, to reassert the weight of holiness. There is an infinite mass bound up in the name of God, and we wanted to stop and consider that carefully.
But then, lest the pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction, as you know, we can make an error in the other direction. We can make God distant, make him inaccessible to us, which is totally contrary to the point of the text. We would lose Jesus’ entire point, here, to encourage us to come near, to draw near in close communion with God. So we’ve needed two Sundays to appreciate this comfort packed into that single word—the word “Father.”
Look back a page to Luke chapter 10 and verses 21-22. I want to remind you, there, of why Jesus broke out in that portion of Scripture in this paean of praise. He was rejoicing, there, at the return of the seventy-two, who’d gone out to preach the Gospel, to heal, to cast out demons. They came back, reporting that, yes, even the demons were submissive to them, and Jesus interacted with them about that. But then he pointed them to the greater miracle, the greater power, the greater reality of salvation itself—the fact that there were those who were being drawn into heaven as citizens of the Kingdom. And so he stops, and he gives praise to God and the Holy Spirit. Then he praises God and rejoices in the Father. He says,
*“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”*
Five times in just those two verses, Jesus refers to God not as God, not using a term of high regard like “LORD” in his address, but he does call him “Lord of heaven and earth.” So you can see that he is acknowledging the greatness and the grandeur and the majesty of God as he prays. Five times, though, Jesus calls God “Father.” “Father”—that is what has the clear emphasis. And now he invites us to do the same thing. Luke 11:2: “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” And we understand that there is a difference between Jesus’ relationship to God as Father and our relationship to God as Father. He is the Son of the Father by direct generation, in his divine nature. Even as the Messiah, there is something different in his sinless perfection before God the Father, but for us, we are hidden in him. We have a relationship to God as Father because we’re brought into the family by adoption. But Jesus does not regard us as lesser in the family, does he? When he brings us in to call God “Father,” he brings us in close. He holds nothing back from us. He’s not like a jealous brother in a family who says, “Who are you to call my God ‘Father?’” He’s not jealous of his brothers and sisters at all. Rather, he is magnanimous in sharing the love that he has of the Father and the Father has of him—in sharing that with all of us. He says, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father,” and it’s those things that Jesus gives to us, that he reveals to us. And he invites us to draw near to God as Father. All that he knows about God—who the Father is, what he’s like—and there’s an eternal, infinite scope to what he says in those two verses. All that he knows about God? God, the infinite, from everlasting to everlasting—that God? There’s no end to what can be known about God, and he gives that freely to us.
This is what I believe enthralled Mary at the end of chapter 10 as she sat there listening with rapt attention to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said, “She has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Everything that she has learned from Jesus informs her communion with the Father, and so Jesus rejoices to teach us about the Father, and then to introduce us to the Father, and then to disciple us in how to talk to his Father, how to relate to him in prayer, in this intimate communion of prayer.
So this very first word of the prayer, this word of address—evocative case—here it’s the way we invoke the name of God—evocative as we pray—this term “Father” Jesus intends to be the lens through which Jesus wants us to see God. “Father” is the word that introduces all of our petitions, praises, thoughts, anxieties, concerns. We come before the throne of a great King, yes. We come as his loyal subjects. But all of us in the Kingdom are related to him as his beloved children. And by the way, you need to understand—unless anybody misunderstands—that it’s not that “Father” is some kind of password that gains us entrance before God. Calling him “Father” is not for God’s sake; it’s for our sakes. It’s so that we understand who he is and what he’s like. “Father” reminds us of the nature of the relationship that we have with this almighty sovereign, who is no longer our wrathful judge, but who is our kind and compassionate and good and wise and loving Father. That’s for our sake. The word “Father” is to give us confidence to come before him and to encourage us to come before him often—as often as we please, to come before him for everything. He’s now our God, and because he’s our God, that carries weight. That comes with infinite benefit that we’ve only just now begun to realize.
So last week we reflected on the Fatherhood of God—what it does not mean and what it does mean. We looked back into the eternal counsel of the Triune God to see God’s plan to unite us to him by this closest bond of love that we know of—the bond of family. Some call this the “covenant of redemption.” This bond of love, of family—this inheritance that we receive of all that God is—we have because we are related to him like a father to a child. And then we surveyed what it took to adopt it into his family, to see afresh the significance of Christ’s ministry to us, to appreciate what our Elder Brother has done for us.
“We need to understand that the Bible teaches us that God is sovereign in salvation.”Travis Allen
This week we’re going to finish up this look at God as Father because we want to appreciate more fully the meaning of God’s Fatherhood to us as we relate to him in our prayers. So a first question to ask for today is—number 1—How is it that we have a right to address God? How do we have that right? How does anyone come to possess such a right as this—such a privilege? And then—number 2—How can we know that we’re truly his children? How can we know this? How can we have assurance? Where does that assurance come—that we are his children and he is our Father? And then, finally—What privileges are ours now that we know God is our Father? What does that mean? What’s the “so what” of his being our Father to us and our being his children? So “right of access,” “assurance of access,” “privilege of access” will be our outline.
First, the right of access to the Father. As we have acknowledged that there are many people who pray this prayer—the Lord’s Prayer. There are many people who address God as “Father,” and they have no right to do so because they are not true disciples of Christ, and if they’re not true disciples of Christ, then they are not related to God in any way. They’re not true children; they’re not authorized to call God “Father.” So what makes us so special? How do we have the right to address God as “Father” when they do not? The simple answer is this: We have the right—as the Bible teaches us—by regeneration and by faith. And at first glance, that answer seems simple enough—we could say “regeneration and faith” and move on. But I want us to understand beyond the simple. I want us to go a little bit deeper than a surface-level answer. We have the right to call God “Father” by virtue of regeneration and by virtue of faith—but we need to understand that these are two sides of a profound mystery—what some refer to as a paradox in the glory of our salvation. Regeneration and faith.
So two subpoints, here—subpoint A: Our right to call God “Father” is ours by virtue of regeneration, which is God’s initiative. Regeneration is God’s initiative; it’s God’s work, through and through. So when I ask the question, “By what right do we call God ‘Father,’” if your mind went to John 1:12, you’re exactly right. So let’s turn over to John 1 just to see this for ourselves, just a few pages over to the right of Luke. When Jesus came in the incarnation, people did not recognize him for who he is—the Messiah of God. And John is talking about that and unpacking in this prologue of his Gospel. John 1:1-18 is the prologue. So he’s talking about that, he’s explaining that—that people did not recognize—even though Jesus created the world—“All things were created through him and for him.” People didn’t recognize him as their Creator. They didn’t see him as such. Even his own people, the Jews, didn’t recognize him either—for seeing Jesus as he really is—that he is God in the flesh, the Christ of God, the Messiah, the Savior of all who believe. That requires a special grace of God. Look at John 1:12: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” So what does it take to call God “Father”? It takes being born again—specifically, being born of God.
Turn the page over to the right to John 3 and Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, probably in his 60s or 70s, sitting on the Sanhedrin—a Pharisee, a man highly regarded and respected, a teacher of Israel. And Jesus told Nicodemus in answer to his inquiry in John 3:3, “Truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” It can be translated as “born again” or “born from above,” which is probably more accurate, here. Again in verse 5: “Truly, truly I say to you that unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” That reference to “water and the Spirit”—a lot of people have spilled a lot of ink trying to explain some weird things about what “water” means, there. We should not think that in a conversation he’s having with a Jewish leader, there should be any mystery about this. You’re going to find it in the Old Testament—and indeed you do—Ezekiel 36:25-27—you can jot that down and look it up later. You’ll find out what “water” means there. But to call God “Father,” you must be “born again.” You must be “born from above.” You must be born of God.
So the right to call God “Father” depends on God. It depends on his sovereign initiative. It depends on the mercy of his sovereign grace that grants us new life. So to call God “Father,” we must become children of God, which happens when God chooses to regenerate us, to cause us to be born again. Okay, then, we might back up and ask the question, “Well, how do I make that happen? How do I get that done? How do I initiate the process of the new birth? Is it by the operation of our faith? Do we exercise faith—and then God responds to the move we make toward him by granting us new birth, new life?” No. Let me just emphatically say, “No.” That is not how it works because that would mean that God responds to us. That would mean dead sinners—dead in our transgressions and sins, and “dead” is a metaphor that is meant to point us to a corpse. A corpse doesn’t have any life. You can yell at it, you can holler at it, you can scream at it if you want to—it ain’t going to move! The metaphor of death and the need for new life is exactly what we’re supposed to understand is needed spiritually speaking. God doesn’t respond to us. We do not have a life so that we can make a move toward him. It would mean that we take the initiative toward our own salvation as spiritually dead corpses. It would me that it’s our initiative, not his. We need to understand that the Bible teaches us that God is sovereign in salvation. The new birth is something that happens to us at his initiative by the Holy Spirit—and not ours.
And that’s why birth is used as a metaphor to illustrate the reality of spiritual regeneration. Let me ask you a question: How much initiative did you take in your own conception? What choice did you make in coming into being? In being conceived? None, right? Zero. That happened to you apart from your will, apart from any initiative of yours, apart form any good intention, any understanding. You didn’t even have a brain for understanding anything, right? There was nothing before you were conceived. And let’s ask the next question—the follow up after conception. What about your participation in the birth process? What did you do? Did you decide one day—roughly around the nine-month mark—recognizing the discomfort of your poor mother, in whose whom you had grown to an unmanageable and uncomfortable size—did you decide to relieve her of her suffering, to be born, to crawl your way down the birth canal, relieve her and enter into the outside world? Uhh…no. Not that either. Did your first birth at your own initiative? Of course not.
That is the way of the second birth, too. It wasn’t up to you. It was up to God to conceive you as a new creation in Christ, to cause you to be born again. And that is why Jesus told the perplexed Nicodemus, who said, “Okay, how do I get this done? How do I make this happen?”—the new birth happens by the sovereign operation of the Holy Spirit. He explained—John 3:7-8—“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” You know in Greek the word “spirit” and the word “wind” are the same? It’s the word “pneuma.” He says, “The wind blows, and the spirit blows.” He’s meaning to mix the metaphor with the reality, here. The Spirit does whatever he wants. The Spirit does what he wills. He regenerates whom he wills. That’s because the Spirit and the Father and the Son share the same will. He regenerates whom he wills; he conceives new life. He delivers spiritual newborns, bringing them into this world—some of us even kicking and screaming, right? Like the effects of the wind, you see the evidence in the new life that comes from the new creation—the new nature. And that is how it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit—to those God has chosen to receive this special right to be come his beloved children in Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”Corinthians 5:17
So regeneration is by God’s initiative, making us God’s children by the new birth. It’s what God has done that grants us the right to call him “Father.” So that’s one side of the paradox. Here’s the other side of it—subpoint B: Our right to call God “Father” is ours by virtue of regeneration, as we’ve just talked about, but it’s also ours by virtue of faith. And that’s our responsibility. So you can see divine initiative, on the one hand; now we’re talking about our responsibility. Back to John 1:12—and let’s ask the million-dollar question, here. Which comes first? Does regeneration precede faith—as I have just explained and affirmed? Or does faith precede regeneration—which is the popular, wide-spread, Arminian view of this verse—that you believe, and your initiative God responds to with the new birth? The ESV translation reads, “But to all did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who are born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.” So do those who receive and believe merit the right to become God’s children? Is their believing the condition they fulfill? Is their reward, then—the right to become children of God, their receiving and believing—what results in the new birth, getting a new nature from God? To all those questions the answer is a resounding “No.”
But we just want to break this down in this verse. First, when John writes in verse 12, “But to all who did receive him,” he’s contrasting those people with the people in verse 11—most of Jesus’ own people, the Jews, who did not receive him. Here in the prologue of his Gospel, John has portrayed the historical fact that he witnessed for himself—the historical fact of the Jews receiving or rejecting Jesus as a whole. And he’s summarizing their rejection of Jesus or the reception of Jesus, on the other hand. He’s summarizing these two responses of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He watched this happen. He saw it; he participated in the Gospel proclamation that was either rejected or received. He entered into villages, where Jesus was either rejected—“Don’t bring him in here”—or received—“Yes, bring him in. We’ve heard of his works, his miracles. We’ve heard he’s the Messiah.” And they came, and Jesus came behind them. We studied all that not too long ago in Luke chapter 10, when Jesus sent out the 72. And he said—Luke 10, starting in verse 8—“Whenever you enter a town, and the receive you, eat what is set before. Heal the sick in it, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” That’s a receiving response. But verse 10—“Whenever you enter a town, and they do not receive you”—it’s a rejecting response—“go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off as a testimony against you.’”
That’s one way to see this—that John is summarizing a historical fact, here, in John 1:12. He’s contrasting the Jews who did not receive Jesus into their homes in John 1:11 with those who did receive him into their homes in verse 12. And they prove who they are—receptive—by believing in his name. And that’s the second thing to see. The ESV translates it “who believed in his name,” as if it’s a past tense finite verb—“believed”—but it’s neither past tense nor is it finite. It’s written as “tois pisteuousin,” and literally, that’s a participle. That is “those who are continually believing in his name.” So what John is clarifying, here, is that a one-time receiving of Jesus, a one-time decision to show hospitality to Jesus—that is to receive him into your house—that’s one indication of a receptive heart, yes. But the real, true evidence of genuine salvation is the continuation of a receptive heart—the one continues believing, the one who keeps on believing. As we like to say, “Time and truth go hand in hand.”
And that’s a third point to make, namely, that those with receptive hearts, those who continue believing, they receive and they keep on believing because God has granted them the right. What right? The right to become his children. And when did that happen? When did he grant them that right? As we already said last week, and we’ll say it again—Ephesians 1:4: “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” He granted us that “exousia”—you can translate that “authority,” “right.” He gave that before time began. That right, granted to become children of God, that divine election is something that is realized in time and space, at the point when God chooses to cause his children to be born again. We heard six testimonies of baptism [this morning]. It happened for them at different points, at different stages. Different people at different times in life. It’s the same with all of us here. One dear lady called herself a “late bloomer,” and I would just correct that mildly, gently by saying, “No, you were born again exactly when God chose you to be born again.” And there’s nothing wrong with his timing. He has wisdom in how he has conducted your entire salvation. And you think, “But why did I have to struggle so much? Why did I have to sin so much? Why did I have to wander so much?” You know what he intends to do with all that? Make you an effective disciple of his so that you can teach others, so you can take people who’ve gone what you’ve gone through and help them to understand the truth from a perspective that’s unique. Not everybody can do that because they haven’t been through what you’ve been through.
So God did that. He chose us before time began, but then in time and space, God caused us to realize that new birth. He caused us to be born again. He sends the Spirit—verse 13. It becomes apparent to all when they receive Christ, and when they keep on believing, keep on trusting, keep on obeying. Yes, and at the same time, we have a responsibility to believe. That’s not denied, here. That’s actually emphasized, here. “To those who keep on believing”—yes, there’s a responsibility to keep on believing, to put our faith in Christ. Again, look back at Jesus’ conversation again in John chapter 3 with Nicodemus. He says in verse 9, “‘How can these things be?’” This is an older man—sixty, seventy years old, maybe. He’s speaking to a younger man—Jesus, about 30 when he entered into his ministry. “‘How can these things be?’ And Jesus answered him”—not backing off a bit—“‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?’” Like, “‘Buddy, where’d you get your seminary degree? Like, why don’t you know this? Have you not read your Old Testament? Are you THE teacher of Israel?’” You know what he’s saying there? “If you’re the teacher, what hope is there for any of your students?” That’s an indictment, isn’t it? Verse 11: “‘Truly, truly I say to you, we speak of what we know. We bear witness to what we have seen.’” “Here’s the problem, Nicodemus. It’s not a problem with information. It’s not a problem with Scripture text. It’s not a problem with theology. That’s all apparent. Here’s the problem: You do not receive our testimony. You don’t receive. You don’t believe. You reject. You doubt.” Verse 12: “If I have told you earthly things and you don’t believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Like, “You don’t even have the A-B-Cs down of understanding through faith.” “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.” So what’s he saying there? He’s saying, “That’s me, Nicodemus. Have you been to heaven? I didn’t think so. Have you come down from heaven? Didn’t think so. Has anybody done that? No.” Jesus says, “I have. Listen to me.” “And as Moses”—verse 15—“lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” “Nicodemus, look at God’s salvation, and believe. Look and believe. Trust in God that when he says, ‘Lift up the serpent, look and be saved,’ that works. You don’t have to figure it all out. Trust him! When he says, ‘Believe in the Son,’ believe. Take your responsibility seriously. God has even taken initiative by even commanding you to have faith.”
So Jesus tells Nicodemus about his own responsibility to believe. He knows that believing comes from willing—our decision-making—and that is the fruit of our desires, the product of our affections. Listen—what we want, what we desire comes from our nature. Why do dogs want what dogs want—meat—and cats want what cats want—milk? Why the difference? Because of their nature. A dog has a dog-like nature; a cat has a cat-like nature. We want what we want, desire what we desire because we have a nature that desires that. So an old nature desires; a new nature desires new things. Where does the new nature come from? From God, the one who gives us a new nature in the miracle of regeneration. He causes us to be born again, and not with some old nature. Why would he do that—to cause us to be born again into the same old nature? That’s not a gift; that’s a curse. No, he’s given us a new nature. As every kid memorizes, 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” New nature—new desires; new desires—new will; new will—new affections, new decisions. And the first decision of our newly regenerated life is to believe in Jesus Christ—to put our faith in him, to see him as beautiful, glorious, our true salvation in whom there is no lack.
Beloved, if you are in Christ, that is what has happened to you. And because of God’s grace, we now have the right to be called “children of God.” We now have the right to call God “Father” because it’s a reality by virtue of our regeneration and by virtue of our receiving Christ and continuing to believe in him.
Now we need to clarify this issue of our assurance because every Christian has good days and bad days. Every Christian has days when we are rejoicing, walking in the truth; and every Christian has days, sadly, when we wander and veer off. Sometimes we feel strong, confident, assured; and other times we feel like “Am I even a Christian?” And frankly, by the outward behavior, you sometimes manifest evidence that everybody else says, “Are you a Christian?”
So second point in our outline: The assurance of access to the Father. Let’s talk about that: the assurance of access to the Father. How do we know that this right of access has been granted to us personally? How do we know that God is our Father, that we are his children, that we can come boldly to the throne of Grace as his children, to petition his help in our times of need? Let me give you several things, just quickly. First and most fundamentally, we know that we’ve been granted the right to call God “Father” because we have repented and believed the Gospel. The word “repentance”—“metanoia”—part of that word refers to the “nous,” to the mind. Biblically, the mind is not just the intellect, not just the understanding, but it’s the faculty of moral perception, moral reasoning. It’s the total orientation of our inner being. That’s the “nous.” So, therefore, biblical repentance, being a “metanoia,” being a change of mind—that signifies by necessity a change in behavior as well. When our total inner orientation changes, which is what has happened in the new birth, it involves the intellect, the moral reasoning, the will, the thinking, the desiring, the decision-making, and the behavior then, too. It works its way from the inside all the way to the outside. We believe what the Bible says about who God is and who we are in relation to God because of this. We believe what the Bible says about Christ, about his human nature, about his divine nature, those two natures joined together in one Person. We believe that because God has done this. We repented and believed the Gospel. We believe that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised from the dead the third day according to the Scriptures. We believe that he appeared to many; we have their testimony written in Scripture. And we believe it. We believe in who he is, what he has said, what he has done, and what all that means. We have a growing understanding of that. That is what our sanctification results in—our discipleship results in. So if you have repented and believed, and if you have kept on believing, listen—to not take that lightly. Don’t take that for granted. Don’t see that as some small thing that anybody can do. As Jesus told Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is heaven.” That’s the dividing line. That’s the difference between us and the world. That’s why they don’t believe, and we do—because God has shown us grace. Don’t be arrogant; be humble. The Gospel is an objective reality, and that, beloved, is the only sufficient basis for your assurance. Don’t try to find assurance in any other thing, but in the written Word of God that tells you of his Gospel, tells you what Christ did, his atoning work on the Cross, his burial, his resurrection, his ascension into heaven, his intercession for you. Find assurance there—in black and white—not in your changing feelings.
But there are some other reasons that strengthen and support our subjective sense of assurance, as well. Second, we know that we’ve been granted the right to call God “Father” because we possess a new nature. Anyone who is in Christ knows that they have a new nature, that they’re not the same that they used to be. The reality of a new nature is this child-like disposition of love and trust for God. That’s what we saw in 2 Corinthians 5:17—“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” New creature. And you know that—all of you can testify to this—you know that almost immediately as a regenerated newborn. You sense that new nature right away because you’ve become aware of this warfare that exists between the flesh and spirit, between the old man and the new man. You sense this tug-of-war that’s going on between what you used to want and what you now want, what you used to despise and now what you love. There’s this sin principle in your members warring against the principle or righteousness in your mind. Paul tells us about that in several places. He even testifies about his own experience of that in Romans chapter 7.
But this one is particularly precious: Go over to Romans chapter 8. Let’s take a look at verse 4, there, where Paul has been talking about this antithesis that we’ve just mentioned—this hostility between the old way of the flesh and the new way of the Spirit. By God’s grace we possess a new nature “in order that the righteous requirement of the law [is] fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit…. For”—verse 6—“to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” And we all know that. So take a look at verse 7—Romans chapter 8— “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” You know what that’s talking about? Inability. In sin, as fallen creatures, we have no ability whatsoever. We’re like that corpse—dead in our trespasses and sins. So the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. There’s enmity between the mindset of the flesh and God. It doesn’t submit to God’s law. Why? Because it cannot do so. But—verse 9—praise be to God!—“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
“There’s enmity between the mindset of the flesh and God. It doesn’t submit to God’s law.”Travis Allen
Listen—we desire to submit to God’s law, and we want to please God because we have a new nature. It’s a nature that is shared by all of God’s children. We’re all alike in this. God’s Spirit dwells in us, new life has taken root, which grows up in likeness to God. I’m sure you’ve heard people say—in fact, it was said by one of our testimonies in the baptism—maybe you’ve thought this for yourself, too—“Now that I’ve become a Christian, things haven’t gotten easier in my life at all. In fact, everything is immensely harder.” Why is that? “Where’s my ‘best life now’?” Listen—if everything is harder since you’ve come to Christ, you need to take that as encouragement, beloved. It’s an encouragement. Because likely that is evidence that your new nature is warring against the old nature—the old sin nature—and the fact of your awareness of the battle itself is a source of encouragement to you. That’s a source of assurance. Even the tears that we shed over our sin—aren’t our tears more bitter when we sin against the light that we have than before, when we were pagans, unbelievers? Our tears were just over consequences back then, just over embarrassment. Now, we have a totally new nature. We cry and we weep because we hurt a Father. And that, too, should encourage us that we belong to our Father.
Thomas Watson wrote this about this child-like disposition that “melts in tears for sin as the child weeps for offending his father.” Have you felt that when you sin against God? Watson says, “He who has a child-like heart mourns for sin in a spiritual manner, as it is sin he grieves for, as it is an act of pollution.” Taking the holy God—the God who is love, the God who is light—and adding any mixture of our sin to him grieves us. A true child of God weeps over his sin because it’s defiling. He hates sin because of what sin is, because it’s an act of enmity against one he loves. It’s an act of hatred, really, against the God that he loves. That is the very opposite of the love that he wants to show in his response to his Father’s love for him. It’s truly the heart of the child of God. Watson says, “A child-like heart weeps for sin as it is an act of ingratitude. It is an abuse of God’s love. It is taking the jewels of his mercies and making use of them to sin.” It’s like a child who’s given a $10 bill: “Here, son, go buy yourself something nice at the store.” And he uses it to go buy something sinful, wicked. The realization of that offense, of what God the Father has granted to us in his kindness, his grace, his mercies, and taking his gifts, presuming on his grace—the true child of God hates that, hates seeing that in himself or herself. So we know we know we have the right to call God “Father” because we’ve repented and believed the Gospel, and that is not natural to the fallen mind. We know that we have this assurance because we sense this new nature in us—one that weeps over sins, rejoices over righteousness.
There’s a new-found joy, so—third: We know we’ve been granted the right to call God “Father” because we have the Spirit of adoption. You’re still in Romans 8, hopefully, so skip down to verse 14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” Listen—this new nature of ours, as a child of our Father, our heavenly Father, it’s deeply affectionate toward God our Father. And that’s evidence of the new birth—we warm to God. We draw near. We love his Word. We long to be his obedient, pleasing children. Again, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” All of that old enmity, all that disinterest, all that cold indifference toward God and his Word has passed away, and “behold, all things have become new.” We draw near because we love to draw near—new loves, new affections, new longings, new desires.
Fourthly, we know we’ve been granted the right to call God “Father” because we bear the Father’s image. And that image is clearest, as you know, without any flaw whatsoever in the person of Jesus Christ because “he is the image of the invisible God.” He’s the “firstborn”—the pre-eminent one—“over all creation.” Christ “is the radiance of the glory of God”—Hebrews 1:3—“and the exact imprint of his nature.” The image of God in Christ was not in the resplendent, overpowering glory of the Shekinah cloud, but rather in things that we and his disciples perceived through believing observation, through spiritual illumination—things like divine virtue, things like godly character, things like impeccable truth-telling, truthful teaching, things that they could witness and observe like holiness and goodness and compassion and love. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”
It’s our birthright to be like him—Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” So by the grace of regeneration, we have “put on the new self”—Colossians 3:10—“which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator.” And so “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” [1 Corinthians 15:49]. You can see, can’t you, as we see kids grow up in our midst, the resemblance of a son or daughter to their father or their mother, whether for good or bad, right? Sometimes—“Well, that’s a little Travis”—that’s not a compliment. Certain expressions, mannerisms—even someone’s gait, stance, how they walk, how they move about—inclinations, dispositions—you can see the imprint of the father in the son or in the daughter, the imprint of the mother in the son or the daughter. Likewise, we see the imprint of the Father’s image in all who are his children in Christ. You want to see where we come from? Look at those things and then draw a connection to Scripture and see how God reveals himself.
So we know we have the right to call God “Father” because—number one—we’ve repented and believed the Gospel. It’s not small thing. Number two—because we have a new nature, with new dispositions. Number three—because we have the Spirit of adoption. Number four—because we bear the Father’s image, and then the more we grow and grow and grow, the more we resemble him because we are being conformed to Christ. Fifth, we know we’ve been granted the right to call God “Father” because we love our Father, and we love all of his children. Now we’ve talked a lot about love for God, love for neighbor—the first and second great commandments. But this is not just love for God and love for neighbor. This is love for our Father, who is God, and love for our brothers and sisters, who are our very near neighbors. There is a heightened joy in this kind of love because it is an elevated level of love of family affection. Once Jesus was speaking to the people. His mom and his brothers were outside of the crowd, and they wanted to see him. They’re asking to speak to him. Remember what he said to all those who were in the room? He said, “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’” He’s not diminishing the importance of family bonds, but he does acknowledge that those are bonds merely of flesh and blood. There is something deeper than the organic, biological connection that we share with our physical family members—even our own parents whom we love dearly and want to honor and love. We share an even deeper bond of union, of love, of fellowship with God our Father, with Christ our Savior, our federal Head and our Elder Brother—and therefore, we share the very deepest bond of unity with one another. It’s a union of spiritual life that is shared with our fellow brothers in Christ because it draws the line vertically from God in Christ to all of us. We love, then, to spend our time in prayer, communing with the Father, and we love to fellowship with Christ, God’s beloved Son, in the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. We love to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ as well. So what does this mean for us, then, as we come to God in prayer? That we have the right to be called “children of God,” that we sense the assurance that comes from the Gospel itself, and then by all these other subjective senses that we grow in? Listen—if we have been born from above and possess a new nature, then we are in the family. We belong to him.
Let’s talk about—three—the privilege of access to the Father. John encourages us, calling us to reflect on the kind of love the Father has given to us, namely, that we should be called the children of God, that God should be called our Father, that we should be able to approach him. John, the beloved disciple, seemed to rejoice in those themes so much, didn’t he? We now belong to a heavenly family. We’re members of this heavenly fraternity from which we can never lose our membership. We can never be removed. We can never be disinherited, disfellowshipped, from which we’ll never be parted or separated. Why? Because we belong. We’re joined in the deepest bond possible, which is a spiritual union held together by the power of an omnipotent God. We’ll never be separated from the love of our Father. Our Father loves us, he teaches us, he has compassion for us, he bids us to come and partake of the privileges of this new family of his.
So let’s close by talking about several categories of privileges of having God as our Father. And again, keep in mind this is all connected to the Lord’s Prayer, so this is all an encouragement for us to come and pray and partake of this communion in prayer. So first of all, we have the privilege of his lovingkindness. We have the privilege of God’s lovingkindness for us. When we’re his children, his affections are set toward us—immutably so, unchangingly—in a far greater way than the best of any human father on earth. “The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases”—Lamentations 3:22—“his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” His affections for his beloved children remain fixed, immutable, never to change because God doesn’t change. So even though our worship is mixed with sin, even though our praises are hindered by the vile sin of self-glory, even though our humblest petitions are tainted with pride, our prayers in faith are mingled with doubt—God takes and amplifies even the smallest traces of his graces in us, so that in Christ all of our weak and feeble and meagerness in our hearts of child-like love—he takes and protects and he accepts. He doesn’t compromise himself. He takes what is of him in us and he amplifies it. Again, as Thomas Watson said, “If God be our Father, we may go with cheerfulness to the throne of grace. Were a man to petition his enemy, there were little hope. But when a child petitions his father, he may hope with confidence to succeed. The word ‘Father’ works upon God. It toucheth his very bowels. What can a father deny in his child? ‘The son who asks for bread—will he give him a stone?’ This may embolden us to go to God for the pardon of sin and further degrees of sanctity.” I hope it does for you. We have a privilege of his lovingkindness, and the more our hearts are assured of his lovingkindness, the quicker we draw near, don’t we?
And when we do, we find a second privilege waiting for us. We have the privilege of his infinite provision. As we’ve said before in this study, our prayer is like a key. It opens to us a treasure room of heaven, this infinite bounty of an eternal God, who is forever blessed. We tend to worry, don’t we?—and become anxious about all the matters that occupy this temporal, physical life on earth. And you can see that the temptation in one way makes sense since we live in the time-and-space world. Since our minds are hampered by the ongoing effects of sin and the flesh, our faith is not as strong as we would like it to be. It’s not as strong as God intends it to be. But Jesus tells us repeatedly not to worry about such things. Why? Because we have a heavenly Father who loves us. He knows what we need before we even ask of him. He provides for us according to his good pleasure. He’s pleased to give to us. Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Am I his child? Then he will feed me. My bread shall be given me. My water shall be sure. He that feeds the ravens will never let his children starve. Does my Father deck the lily, and shall I go naked? Does he feed the fowls of heaven that sow not, neither do they reap, and shall I feel necessity? God forbid! My Father knoweth what things I have need of before I ask him, and he will give me all that I want.”
We’re going to see when we get to the third petition—“Give us each day our daily bread”—God’s faithful provision for our temporal, physical needs really teaches us a deeper spiritual lesson: that he will provide for our every spiritual need as well. By the fact that he gives us air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, clothes to wear—that’s just a token, a symbol of his faithfulness. We’re not supposed to look merely at this “stuff.” We’re supposed to look beyond, to say that every deeper need as well—he provides. Do you need patience and endurance in times of testing? He’ll provide it. Do you need joy in times of sorrow. He’ll provide it. Do you need love of righteousness in times of temptation? Do you need conviction of holiness when your flesh is pining after sin? He’ll provide it. Do you need the comfort of the Gospel when you’ve fallen into a sin? Do you need the cleansing of your conscience when you’ve failed? Do you need the pleasure of holiness and the beatific vision of Jesus Christ to give you the hope of his holiness? Again—he provides all and abundantly so. The God who cares for the sparrows, who are not his children, will reply quickly to every cry of those who call him Father. “Fear not, beloved, for you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Then—thirdly—there are those out there who would prey upon God’s children, who would treat them as sheep for the slaughter, and they should be warned because—number three—we have also the privilege from God of his strong protection. Our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” [1 Peter 5:8]. His schemes against us are to shoot darts of fire at us because he wants to wound us, and he wants to scorch us. He wants to light us on fire. How wicked is that? When any sin overcomes the resistance of a saint, when a saint succumbs to some temptation, when he stumbles and falls—the enemy pounces upon that fallen soldier, and he casts up that shame before God as an unrelenting accuser of the brethren. But God our Father “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” [Psalm 46.1], and therefore we will not fear. God sent Jesus to be our champion, to deal the final, decisive blow against Satan, against all of his wiles, against all of his demonic horde. Jesus has broken forever the chief weapon that Satan has wielded against us: the penalty of sin, which is eternal death. He snapped that weapon in half. Jesus has broken the shackles that held us, the power of sin which is temptation, and the falling into sin. We’re broken from that power. We don’t need to sin anymore. Isn’t that a good word? Jesus will one day deliver us from the very presence of sin. We’re going to see our dread enemy fall into the lake of fire along with all that defiles, all that tempts, all that offends God. Listen—in these dark and faithless days, with so much that tempts and distracts and defiles the saints, with so much that treats God’s dear children as prey, as mere sheep for the slaughter. Isaiah 59:15 says that in that day, “Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.” You ever feel that? That by departing from evil, you’ve become prey for the predators? By holding fast to truth and righteousness, you’ve become weakened in a wicked culture? That’s what Isaiah’s talking about. If you feel that, rest assured, beloved, because your Father is not going to stand for it. He hasn’t stood for it. Isaiah continues—Isaiah 59:
*The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord [declares Yahweh].*
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” [Romans 8:31b]. Amen? You want to stand up against him?
As children accepted in the beloved, we have the privilege of his lovingkindness, his infinite provision, his strong protection, and finally—fourth, last point—we have the privilege of his loving discipline. Mark down Hebrews 12 for later, the privilege of loving discipline—Hebrews 12. God is always at work, teaching us, training us, correcting us, disciplining us for our good. He fixes our minds on the truth. He anchors our hearts in deep, settled conviction in the truth. And then he teaches us to apply what he has taught. He teaches us to work that out in the many and varied contexts of life’s situations and circumstances that come up. Everything we got through is training. Everything that we got through is teaching, correcting, helping us to understand, helping us to grow. God is at work not only to teach us, working his truth into our hearts from the outside in, from his revealed Word into us. But he also works within us. He makes us willing receivers of what he teaches. Again, I like the way Thomas Watson puts it. He says, “God teaches not only our ear but our heart. He not only informs our mind but inclines our will.” Oh, how much we need our will inclined, don’t we? Paul said—Philippians 2:13, “God works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Like a loving father, teaching his child to ride a bicycle without the training wheels for the first time, God pushes us out there to practice what we’ve learned. Like a loving father, he’s there to pick us up when we fall over and skin our knees, cleans off our tear-smudged cheeks, puts us back in the saddle, and gives us another push. “God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness” [Hebrews 12:10] Therefore, beloved, take heart. Know that you’re God’s children and “lift up your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” [Hebrews 12:12-13].
When you draw near to God in prayer, be mindful of whom it is you are speaking to, and know that you are to come near and call him “Father.” That is the lens through which you see him. That is the conduit through which all your petitions flow—through the heart of a loving Father. Let’s pray.
Father, it is a joy to call you “Father.” Having gone through this study in a number of weeks to clarify your greatness and your majesty on the one hand, but also your imminent nearness to us, kindness to us in Christ. He is your beloved Son, and you’re treating us like you treat him. You’re giving us the affection that is really due to him. We just rejoice to be called your children. Please encourage us as we continue to study this prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Please help us to always be mindful of who we are in Christ—that this makes the difference in everything. We love you. We thank you in Christ’s name. Amen.