We are in a study of the Lord’s Prayer—Luke 11:2-4—and as we’re in the habit of doing, we’re going to begin this morning just by reading that portion, starting in Luke 11:1:
*Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “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.’”*
That’s the short version. You know, if you’ve read Matthew 6, right there embedded in the Sermon on the Mount, he has a little bit more of an expansion to that because he obviously taught his disciples to pray on different occasions—different disciples asking at different times—because they watched him pray. They watched him pray as a matter of habit, as a matter of course in his regular life. As “Jesus was praying in a certain place”—it was his normal and regular retreat to be with the Father, to spend time in prayer. So obviously he taught on a number of different occasions. Matthew 6 is one and Luke 11 is another. And this is more accurately called, as we’ve said, not the Lord’s Prayer but the Disciples’ Prayer because it’s the pattern, the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray—all of us to pray. The prayer is a pattern; it’s a basic form. It’s a framework that provides us with a simple structure, some trustworthy boundaries to keep us hemmed in and give shape to our praying. In its simplicity and in its brevity, this form of prayer encourages our praying. We actually thrive and grow within the structure. It gives us confidence to get going in prayer. Anybody—little children—can memorize this form and pray the Disciples’ Prayer. So it gives us confidence to get going, and as we grow and mature in prayer, we’re going to fill in that form that Jesus has provided with what we learn from Scripture. Our prayers to God will mature in theological depth, in biblical understanding, and in Christian maturity.
It’s kind of like a gardener—or if you’ve ever planted a tree in your yard—you might provide a stake for a newly planted sapling, and you provide stability for its growth, to allow that sapling to take deep root and stand against a wind. Jesus has done the same there, here. He’s provided a stake for our praying. He has enabled our habits of prayer to take deep root as well against the winds of distraction that may blow through our lives, so that we can grow up healthy and strong.
And the first and most important stake he provides—in verse 2—is to begin with God, talking to God about God, setting our hearts at the very outset on God’s interests above our own. “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.” And that really makes perfect sense because if he is our Father—and he is, by faith in Christ—praying for his interests is to pray in our best interests as well, right? The second stake, then, that stabilizes our praying is one of humble dependence upon God in order that we find in him everything pertaining to life and godliness, everything that we need. In an attitude of humility and dependency, we petition our Father to attend to our physical needs in verse 3, and then all of our spiritual needs in verse 4. And then, having petitioned our loving, ever-attentive Father—because he never sleeps, he never slumbers, he never changes, he is omniscient, he’s all-knowing, all-seeing, and always caring, always good—we can say, “Amen,” and we can lay our heads down on our pillow at night in quiet contentment, peaceful rest. And why is that? Because we know we have prayed according to his will. We know our prayers have ascended to Almighty God, who has all power. We know we’ve prayed according to his will because Jesus just told us to pray this. If we pray it, we’re praying according to his will. We petitioned the one who is the only absolute sovereign, the one who is the creator of all, the sustainer of all, the judge of all. And by his amazing grace and through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, this God to whom we pray is the one we now call “Father.”
That’s why we used our last sermon to get a better idea about whom we’re praying to. We don’t petition a dead idol made of wood and stone, with no eyes to see and no ears to hear, no power to respond to anything or to do anything. By God’s grace, God has caused us to turn from worthless, dead idols—whether it be the gods of wood and stone, or in our day maybe the god of technology, the god of advancement, the god of progress and all the things we put our hope in—the god of science. I mean, fill in the blank. We have different gods today, but they still have no eyes to see, no ears to hear, no power to act, no power to respond to our requests. They’re just idols. If I pray, “Oh, god of science, help me with my science test,” good luck with that! By his grace, God has caused us to turn from these dead idols to put our faith in him, our creator, that we might live and serve the living and true God.
So when we pray, when we call God “Father,” we know that we pray to the King of the Ages, as Paul says in 1 Timothy, who is “immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” When we pray, the one we call “Father” is the blessed and only sovereign, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no eye has ever seen, nor can see because we know by nature he is spiritual. He is invisible. And so it is to him—to this God—that honor and glory belong forever and ever. The one we call “Father” rules over an eternal kingdom and dominion, and that’s a kingdom and dominion to which we belong by his grace and by his calling. We are there, not merely as slaves in his kingdom—though we’d be thankful to be there as his slaves, wouldn’t we? That would be enough for us. We’re there in his kingdom not only as citizens of the kingdom—though that’s enough to us. We belong there as God’s beloved children. The King is our Father.
And that’s what we want to give our attention to today. We asked last time and answered just a couple of questions. We asked, “What’s in a name?” and “What is in God’s name?” “What does God’s name mean?”—that word “Yahweh.” We’ve come to realize that the one we address as Father is none other than Yahweh, that he is the “I AM” of Scripture. He is the might God who brought Israel out of Egypt, of whom that nation was taught to confess in its creed: “Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” So if we know this God as Father, then we know for certain that he hears our prayers as he heard the cries of Israel suffering and languishing in slavery in Egypt a few millennia ago. He knows our thoughts. He knows our cares. He knows our worries. He knows our heaviness. He knows our burdens. He knows our anxious concerns. We know that. The Scripture attests to that. Everything in this book tells us that it is so. We know that he is all-powerful, that he actually can do something, that he actually can answer our prayers, that if we belong to him as children, then he wants to do something. He’s not prevented by an unwillingness. Because we also know that God is immutably good and infinitely wise, he is like the greatest of all fathers. We know that when he answers and when he acts, or if he withholds acting for some reason, we know that he is doing always what is good. He’s doing what’s best. He’s doing what is wise, and always doing things in his perfect timing.
Having said that, I want to ask you and I want you to think about this for yourself: Do you know that your Father is good? I mean, do you know that? Do you believe him to be wise and perfect, always knowing what is best? I’d like you to turn over to Hebrews 12 just briefly, and just follow along, here. The writer to the Hebrews takes that imagery of God as a father and tries to encourage us to take heart and endure God’s loving discipline because God’s discipline is evidence of his fatherly love. It’s evidence, when he disciples us, that we are his sons and daughters. He writes this in Hebrews chapter 12, verses 5 and following:
*And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.*
I have a question in verse 7. I wonder what you think about that, especially as you think about your own life—your father before you, grandfather. You think about other families that you know. What son is there whom his father does not discipline? That’s answered in our day by a chorus of voices who know nothing of a father’s loving discipline because we’re living in the last days. This has become a foreign concept to many. You and I watch children raised in homes all the time who are neglected, not paid attention to, never disciplined, never corrected. We’re living in a time, as Jesus said, where lawlessness has increased, and “the love of many has grown cold.” That’s a love even for one’s own family—a love for one’s own offspring has grown cold. For decades, now, in our country, parents have committed great sins against their children. Some fathers indulging their children, rarely correcting, always affirming, giving all the time stuff, feeding appetites and desires that ought to be corrected and restrained. There are others on the other side of that who never affirm, but always accuse—stern, disciplinarian—mistreating, even abusing children. There are some fathers who ignore their children; they pursue all their own interests whether it’s work or play or a mix of both. Others abandon their children entirely, leaving mothers to fend for themselves. Sadly, mothers have followed their fathers now, even to the point of doing murderous harm to their own offspring. Our country, sad to say—it breaks my heart—is stained with the blood of its children as parents are killing helpless unborn babies in the womb, all in the name of personal freedom. They have the audacity to call this “women’s rights.” We’re not giving women “rights.” We’re giving women guilt. We’re giving women sadness, covering women in shame.
So many fathers and mothers today have hardened themselves against their natural parental instincts to pursue of a life of autonomous freedom—which is a lie. Giving oneself to one’s own carnal interests is enslavement, not freedom. But I believe that there is still enough of that parental instinct—even in these cold times—for us to understand the writer’s point in the book of Hebrews. Look at verse 9, where he picks it up:
*Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.*
Even earthly fathers—imperfect as they are, imperfect as they may be—discipline us as best as they know, don’t they? They do what they do what toward the good that they understand—even if that good is at a very low level—even if that good is a mistake. They discipline for your good. Whatever your father was like—I don’t pretend to know that. I’ve always known a father who is a strong, wise, godly man, one whom I respect and look up to, and I long with every fiber of my being to honor him. Whatever kind of father you had—whatever weakness, whatever pain he caused in the family, or rift, or whatever—perhaps you can sympathize with him just a little bit, knowing that you, too, have sinned in your parenting—knowing that you, too, have inflicted pain, suffering. You’ve caused neglect. You don’t want to hurt your children. You don’t want to do that, whether it’s your own children, whether it’s step-children who have come into your family through a blended marriage, whether it’s foster children, adoptive children, or any kind of children. You discipline your children—you discipline them imperfectly albeit—but you discipline sometimes even sinfully. But at the heart of that discipline, you are doing what seems best to you at that time.
But God—he disciplines us for our good, so that we can share in his holiness. And what is “holiness” in God but happiness? God is the blessed and only potentate. He is the blessedness in himself. He has all blessedness, and he wants to bring us into it. And that blessedness is his holiness, and the holiness is blessedness. He disciplines us so we can share in that. Do you believe that? Do you believe that? Because that is what Jesus means to evoke in us—a child-like trust in the Father’s goodness for the purpose of prayer—so that we pray, so that we seek him in intimate communication, communion, love, and affection.
And this is where this concept of Fatherhood that Jesus brings out in one word—“Father”—becomes so vital because it takes us into today’s subject. Because since prayers are means of communing intimately with God, expressing all of our concerns, our thoughts, our anxieties—since prayer is how we find grace and mercy from God at all times, including times of deepest need—since prayer is how we confess our sins, seek cleansing from our guilt, cleansing from an accusing conscience, covering for our shame caused by our sin, pleading the forgiveness by his blood—since prayer is how we seek God’s help, we seek his wisdom for guidance, we seek his power for holiness and his grace from growth to maturity—since prayer is all that and so much more, it is essential to our spiritual growth. And that is why Jesus deals with the most vital factor in our praying in the very first word that comes out of our mouth in prayer, and it’s the word of address. And that word of address is meant to instill in us an orientation to God. He tells us, “When you pray, say, ‘Father,’” and that is about the vital starting point of all prayer, and the issues is this: trust. You do not pray and seek or petition one whom you do not trust. This has to be one of the most important uses of this doctrine, about the fatherhood of God to teach us to trust in him. The more we trust God, the more we believe his promises, the more we take him at his word, the more we’re going to be inclined to pray, and the more he opens up the floodgates of heaven to dump blessing upon blessing upon blessing upon us. So Jesus tells us, his disciples, “When you pray, you address him as ‘Father.’”
So today, we’re going to deal with a third question and unpack the concept contained in that single word, the word “Father.” What is it to address God as “Father”? I’ve got a number of points, but I’m going to get to two today. We need to come at this from two angles for today. First, we need to understand the meaning and significance of God’s fatherhood, and then second, the right to address God as “Father.” How does anybody come to possess such a right?
So first—the meaning, the significance. What does it mean? And what does it not mean for God to be “Father”? Let’s deal with the second question first and just eliminate a false idea. We’ll call this subpoint A: What “Fatherhood” does not mean. I was in a retail store a couple of months back, and I met an amiable man—not a believer, but a good-natured, happy and agreeable person. You know the kind I’m talking about—just conversant with you, can strike up a conversation about anything, and you enjoy talking to him. He was a very talkative man, and in trying to make a connection with me—he knows I’m a preacher—he made a reference to the concept of the “universal fatherhood of God.” Have you ever heard that? It’s a common notion—the belief that God is the Father of all by virtue of the fact that we’re all his children—he created us. And if anybody believes in that kind of thing anymore—by virtue of creation, we’re all sons and daughters of God. And it’s a concept that’s meant to unite everybody—to bring everybody together under the “fatherhood” of God. Both liberals and pagans believe in this concept of the fatherhood of God because it supports a belief that there is a spark of goodness in all of us, a spark of the divine in everyone. So believing in the universal fatherhood of God supports the idea of the universal brotherhood of mankind, or in some cases, the sisterhood of mankind, right? Sisterhood—womankind—you understand. But it’s an attempt to find common ground with all humanity, to promote what’s really a superficial form of unity—not a deep one, but a superficial form of unity and promote a universal philanthropy—a sense of “good feeling” around the whole earth. Well, we’ll light our lighters or candles or whatever and sing “We Are the World,” you know? “We’re all under God. We’re all children of God.”
That hope, as we all know every time another war breaks out, is undermined by the stubborn reality of the universality of sin. Sin destroys. Sin divides. Sin sets us at war with one another. There is a division going on in the world. We’re not united. The biblical doctrine of original sin, a sin-cursed world, innate depravity of all mankind and every individual on the planet. Along with the constant, repeated demonstration of sin’s effects, the repeated effects of sin’s entrenched place in the heart of mankind, liberals ignore all those evidences. They reject all those things when you point them out as an assault against people’s self-esteem. Talk of ugly things like sin just exacerbates guilty feeling, unnecessary shame, negativity—and they want to avoid that like the plague. Still, “We profess the universal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind.” There are many who continue to hold fast to the false comfort that God is everyone’s father and believe that that, in some way, provides a refuge—a safe harbor, as it were—under God’s fatherly love. And it’s a love that’s a benign love that overlooks sin; it sets justice aside to act in a benign way toward—“not sinful creatures; we don’t want to call them that”—but “erring creatures. We make mistakes; we don’t commit sins.” As one of my favorite painters says, “happy little accidents.” In this universal fatherhood of God, promoting a divine love in God, God loves everyone unconditionally. He’s unconditional in his love. He gives grace. He accepts everyone, and he doesn’t judge anybody. A very popular notion today.
When you look to Scripture to find out in what sense God is father to all mankind, you quickly see that fatherhood does not provide the kind of comfort and refuge that some try to find in that. Passages like Acts 17:28, Paul cited the Cretan poet Epimenides: “In him we live and move and have our being”—and a Cilician poet Aratus: “We are indeed his offspring.” And that gives a sense among the pagans, among the philosophers, that there is a universal fatherhood of God, and Paul even seems to acknowledge the fatherhood of God in a general sense. If we look back to Malachi 2:10, the Jews also believed that: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us?” But then God turns around and does what with that statement? He uses it as a source of indictment: “If I am a father, where is my honor?” That’s a passage of indictment, not comfort.
And so you can see in Scripture that there may be a warrant for this universal fatherhood of God concept by virtue of the fact that he brought us all into existence. But that is not a refuge or a comfort for unbelievers, liberals, pagans—far from it. The fact of God’s universal fatherhood over all human beings by virtue of bringing mankind into being through creation and then sustaining all creation through his kind providence—what we call “common grace”—common grace in creation, common grace in sustaining us—that doesn’t become a reason for benign love and for us to take comfort. It becomes a reason for condemning everyone who is unrepentant and unbelieving. That’s Paul’s entire argument in chapter 1, that although everyone knows God in some sense, having this innate sense of the divine, “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him”—Romans 1:21. But what happened? “They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. They claimed to be wise, but”—like Epimenides’ claim to be wise, Aratus of yesterday, and the liberal theologians of today—“they became fools.” How so? “Because they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal man, birds, animals, creeping things”—Romans 1:23—“and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever.” So they take this universal fatherhood of God—benign love—but they don’t give honor to God or give thanks. They take refuge in that and then start worshiping the creation instead of the creator. If that’s evidence of the fatherhood of God, you’ve got to ask a question: What son or daughter of God does that? What true child of God rejects his Father, doesn’t honor him, doesn’t give thanks, but instead commits cosmic treason and lives in abject rebellion in such wretched and degrading forms of idolatry?
Thomas Watson points out that we may consider God to be father by creation. Then he says this: “There’s little comfort in this, for God is father in the same way to the devils by creation.” No hope for the demons, for Watson, continuing, says, “He that made them will not save them.” Same goes for anyone—anyone—who hopes in the universal fatherhood of God alone, who finds comfort alone in the mere fact that God made him—brought him into existence. For he ignores what happened after God created everything and called it good, when our first father Adam plunged our race into sin. He ignores his own sin against the God who created him. He ignores the certainty of coming judgment. This universal father of God is no refuge at all from the wrath to come.
And thankfully—thankfully—that’s not what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, “When you pray, say, ‘Father.’” He’s speaking to his disciples, who have a right to call God “Father.” He’s not speaking to the pagans. He’s not speaking to the liberal Sadducees. He’s not even speaking to the Pharisees and saying, “When you pray, call God ‘Father’” because in no sense was God their “father.” And so when you hear people who pray and recite the Lord’s Prayer and call God “father,” they are practicing regularly taking God’s name in vain. But that’s not what Jesus meant, here. We are eternally grateful for the implications of divine fatherhood that go far beyond mere creation. I like what Charles Spurgeon said about the fatherhood of God by virtue of creation. He said this: “I believe God has made many things that are not his children. Hath he not made the heavens and the earth, the sea and the fulness thereof, and are they his children? You say these things are not rational and intelligent beings. Ah, but he made the angels, who stand in an eminently high and holy position. Are they his children? “Unto which of the angels said he at any time, ‘Thou are my son’?” No, beloved, it needs beyond creation to constitute the relationship, and those who can say, “Our Father, which art in heaven” are something more than God’s creatures.
Spurgeon quoted, there, from Hebrews 1:5—a profound, marvelous truth. But to see what he’s talking about, that there is something more than just being God’s creatures, that is the meaning of God’s fatherhood. We need to go back to the beginning and see how God created us, and see clearly that God did not intend to establish a fatherly relationship with mankind just by virtue of creation. But he established that fatherly relationship on a completely different basis. Go back to that first chapter in Genesis. Genesis chapter 1—should be easy to find, right at the beginning of your Bible. We’ll look a little more closely at our origin. After God created the heavens and the earth—Genesis 1:1—there’s a pattern that emerges, there, when God begins forming and filling the created world. The pattern begins in verse 3. It says there, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” If you skip to verse 6, “And God said, ‘Let there be…’” And then end of verse 7: “and it was so.” And then in verse 9, “And God said…and it was so.” And you see that flow throughout the chapter until we get down to verse 24. God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds.” So all the livestock, creeping things, beasts. “And it was so.” Do you see the difference? The pattern has been “And God said…and it was so.” “And God said…and it was so.” And then when it comes to the living creatures, God commanded the inanimate earth, and the earth, then, obeyed his command, so to speak, and brought forth all these animate beings—carbon-based life forms like us. So what’s he doing? He’s putting a distance between God the Creator and the living beings. He has widened the Creator-creature distinction.
When it comes to creating mankind, God does two things. He maintains that Creator-creature distinction, but he does something else that signals an interest not just in maintaining the distinction, but also in uniting God to man. Look at Genesis 2, verse 7. This is when the special creation of man is expanded. We get kind of a focused view, here in Genesis chapter 2, of what happened on Day 6. the first part of the verse—Genesis 2:7—says this: “The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground.” That is the same verb that is used in verse 19: “formed”—“yatsar”—in reference to “beasts of the field and birds of the heaven. Clearly again with mankind, too, like the living beings, God is making a distinction. Like the rest of the living creatures on the earth, we, too, have been formed out of dust. We’ve been drawn up out of the dirt. That’s actually what “Adam” means—dirt. How would you like your name to be “Dirt”? Because that’s what it is. We’ve been formed out of dust. Adam was formed out of the dust. He’s drawn up and formed out of pre-existing material, and there is a distance between God’s creation of mankind. He could have just materialized Adam. Adam pops into existence. He wasn’t there; now he’s there—whoa! No. He forms him. He’s maintained this clear-cut distinction between ourselves as living beings and our creator. That point is sharpened if you look at Genesis 3:19 and the curse upon man. God told Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground. For out of the ground were taken, for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It’s not an insult. It’s just pointing back to where his origin is.
So we’re not God’s children simply because God called us into existence, simply by virtue of the fact that he created us. We are more closely related, actually, to the dirt in terms of our origins. The dust of the earth is our father. God didn’t tie—and he’s trying to indicate this by how he called us into being—his fatherly relationship to humanity by virtue of creation alone—especially so in view of the nose-dive that Adam would take to plunge humanity into sin.
But listen—that’s not the whole truth, here, about how God made this distinction. That’s not the whole truth. There’s more to the story even at the point of creation. So let’s move from what fatherhood does not mean and consider subpoint B—what fatherhood does mean. I’m going to give you several sub-subpoints as we go along. So subpoint B—what fatherhood does mean—and we have other points besides. Genesis 1:26—go back and look at it, there. “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” And then verse 27: “So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them.” And how did he do that? Again, go back to Genesis 2:7 and let’s focus in on that day—that special part of Day 6—finish the thought so that we can see the whole truth, here. “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And man became a living creature.” What are we seeing here? Just this: Since the very beginning, God has intended to stamp his image on to the human race, to inject his life into mankind. But he hasn’t done so in such a way as to confuse the Creator-creature distinction. He hasn’t done so in such a way that there’s a blending of God and man and a confusion of the essences or substances. He’s kept them distinct. He doesn’t want to distract us from his greater purposes to show us mercy, to grant us grace, to unite us to himself in love.
So here’s a first sub-subpoint for your notes: What does the fatherhood of God mean, then, positively? First, it means the restoring of the image of God in man. It means a restoring of the image of God in man, but it’s going to be a fulness of the divine image—a fulness, not a partial image, not an incomplete image, and certainly not a distorted image, like what happened to Adam, corrupted by sin, corrupted by the Fall. God intends to restore his image in mankind and then to perfect it such that others see in us the likeness of our Father in heaven. Hold that thought. Turn to the book of Ephesians. The image of God in man is not going to consist in what is material, in what is visible, since God is invisible spirit. Rather, the image of God in man will consist in what is immaterial, what is seen through spiritual eyes and known by its virtue, by intangible things like virtue, manifestation of communicable attributes such as are in God and will be in us. Well—like all those that manifest perfectly in Jesus Christ. The first man Adam, by falling into sin, permanently ruined the image of God in all those who follow—for all members of his race. All Adam’s offspring are under a curse. They were in the loins of Adam when he broke faith with God, his Creator, sustainer, and friend. And so all Adam’s progeny—you, me, every member of his race, those who come from Adam and Eve—they’re all alike: born into sin. They’re all born with an innate proclivity to sin. As Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Jeremiah says that “the heart is deceitful above all things”—Jeremiah 17:9—“desperately sick. Who can understand it?” We go to Ephesians chapter 2 verses 1-3. Paul says there that we’re all like stillborn children. We’re born dead. “We were dead in our trespasses and sins in which we walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” We are by nature, he says there, “children of wrath.” We have more in common—get this—as children of wrath, we have more in common with the devil than we have with God. That’s what Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews: “If God were your father you would love me,” but they didn’t, so Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” “You have the mark if his image on you.” Listen—under the influence of sin, that’s us. We’re like unreasoning animals carried about by all our impulses, passions of the flesh, desires of the mind, as it says there. The Psalmist said the same thing—Psalm 73:22—under the influence of sinful thinking, he says, “I was brutish and ignorant. I was like a beast toward you”—he beasts of the earth, with their origins in the dust. But without the image of God, that’s what they do. They rummage around to satisfy their desires. And without the image of God in us, that’s what we do, too.
This is not—this is not—what God has planned for his children. You’re in Ephesians—look at chapter 4, verse 20:
*But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to [Get this] put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.*
What is the “new self”? What is the image of God in man? “Created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” That’s the image of God. The parallel in Colossians 3:10 says it this way: In Christ “we have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” The likeness of God, the image of our Creator—this is what God has intended for us from the very beginning. He is restoring that image in us by uniting us in the perfection of that image of God resident incarnate in Jesus Christ. So that’s the first thing that the fatherhood of God means: the full restoration of the image of God in man, the perfection of that image found in Jesus Christ.
Number two—What does the fatherhood of God mean? Second, the fatherhood of God means an eternal, electing love. You’re in Ephesians. Turn back a couple of pages to chapter 1, verse 3. This is fatherhood, here, at a whole different level. We’re looking back into this vast timelessness into the eternal counsel of the triune God, and you know what we see there in eternity past? We see planning. Sometimes my kids will say, “Dad, I wish you’d plan more stuff.” I’m like, “Well, I’d plan more stuff if I thought about it. But I don’t, so here we are, doing things spontaneously again when it’s inconvenient for everybody.” [Laughter] I am very much not like God. Look at God. Verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him [When?] before the foundation of the world [Back before time and space began, God chose us in him. For what?] that we should be holy and blameless before him. [That’s what he chose us for—back then.] He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ. [So he’s started with the electing love and looking at the adopting love on the other side.]…to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
Here we see the electing, sovereign love of God, who chose us—who elected us in Christ, the Beloved of God. God chose us, looking beyond the fall of our first parents. Looking beyond our own personal sin, he predestined us to live no longer as ignorant animals, rummaging around the earth, looking to satisfy fleeting desires. He looked at us and predestined us to be adopted sons and daughters of God. Isn’t this beautiful? We’re chosen members of God’s own family, planned from before time began, union in Christ, God’s one and only Son. So God is our father, first, by virtue of the restored imago dei, the image of God perfected in Christ. And he is our father—second—by virtue of divine election. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to perfect his image in us.
And this brings us to point three. The fatherhood of God means, third, a redeeming and forgiving love. He doesn’t leave us in our mess. I’m so thankful! This involves several very significant theological concepts. I’ll just mention them to you, here: the incarnation of Christ, the propitiation that is won through his death on the Cross, and the justification of God that comes through Jesus Christ by faith in Christ. Incarnation, propitiation, and justification. I’ll unpack those here. What God in motion at creation was his eternal plan to fill the earth with his glory, to perfect in his elect children the image of God, who bear the image of Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God. That is the plan. So when God breathed the breath of life into that first man, that man became a living being—that was not the end, but only the beginning. When God said—Genesis 1:26—“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” he wasn’t looking at Adam. God was looking ahead to the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “For he”—not Adam—“is the image of the invisible God, and he”—not Adam—“is the firstborn”—the pre-eminent one—“over all creation.” The incarnation goes way beyond God breathing life into inanimate dust. The incarnation is God sending the Author of Life to take on living flesh. It’s exactly what John 1:14 tells us: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory”—what is that glory?—“the glory of the Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Full of what? Virtue.
The incarnation—that in and of itself was not the end. It’s the beginning of the end, though. The incarnation—Christ’s first coming—was in humility, not glory. He came in humility so that he might bear the sins of God’s elect, bear the sins of his own people, bear the sins of his flesh and blood. That’s what we heard preached last week from Philippians chapter 2—“Though he was in the form of God, he didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped”—held onto—“but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” Christ came to bear the sins of his people, to die on the Cross, to be a propitiation for their sins “Propitiation” is a big word; the Greek word is “hilasmos”—and it refers to a sin offering. Propitiation is an offering that appeases the wrath of an offended deity, and God is—make no mistake about it—offended by our sins. His perfect justice demands satisfaction, just as a perfect judge is going to demand that every crime has a proper punishment. That’s why Jesus came in the incarnation—to do what only the perfect man can do. Hebrews 2:17: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of his people.” He laid down his life on that altar.
So since all of the elect children have sinned—all of us have fallen short of the glory of God—“God put forth his own Son”—Romans 3:25—“to be a propitiation by his blood.” “In this is love”—1 John 4:10—“not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and that he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That’s love. According to 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” What’s that saying? God accounted the sins of his elect people to Christ, and he punished Christ—not them, but Christ—for their sins. And then God took the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, the righteousness of God himself, and he put it on his elect, and he rewards them for what Christ earned and merited and did. We’re favored in him. And the reward? The reward is justification. The reward is to be declared righteous by God—not just forgiven. What Christ’s propitiation accomplished in his death on the Cross—not just forgiven, but righteous—positively. He takes his atoning death, his perfect life, fulfills all righteousness for us. It’s what we read earlier: Christ has secured our full justification—Romans 8: “Those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Children of God. “All those whom he predestined he also called, those whom he called he justified, and those whom he justified he glorified.” He speaks of a future event for us in past-tense language—as a done deal. He’s talking about us, beloved—foreknown, predestined, called, justified, glorified. God justified all through faith in Jesus Christ. The holy, just judge—he’s dropped the gavel on the bench and declared us “righteous.” Ephesians 1:7: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.” Why? Because he loves to bless his children in Christ.
So God’s love is a redeeming love; it’s a forgiving love. It’s not a love that ignores sin. It’s a love that deals justly with every single sin, which is why our conscience can be clear. It’s a love that deals justly with our sin, but still shows us mercy in Christ. Listen—that’s what our Father has done. He demonstrates his goodness, his kindness, his compassion, his mercy in the incarnation of Christ, through the propitiation of his Cross, and by the declaration of justification by faith in Jesus Christ.
So what does the fatherhood of God mean? It means a restoring love. God restores, perfects the image of God in man. It means an eternal, electing love planned before time began. It means—and requires—a redeeming and forgiving love, the perfect plan of redemption by incarnation, propitiation, and divine justification. Number 4: To call God “Father” means—fourth—we understand that we’ve been adopted into his family. And this is where it all comes together for us, and why we pray and say, “Father,” when we pray. God breathed life into man, the crown of his creation, and that man became a living being. And God sent his Son to take on flesh to become man, not breathing life, but sending life. “For in him was life and that life was the light of man.” Paul summarized this perfectly in 1 Corinthians 15:45. He said, “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” Listen, beloved—Jesus came to give life to you, to restore and perfect in you the image of God, to give you—the elect sons and daughters of God—life, and now he stands before the Father—Hebrews 2:13—rejoicing: “Behold, I and the children God has given to me.” We are brothers and sisters in Christ. By faith in him we’re called “sons of God” because of God’s gracious act of adoption to sonship. We’re not “sons” in the same way Christ is a Son to the Father; we’re sons by adoption. Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Because you’re sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” It’s Romans 8 all over again. So you’re no longer a slave; you’re a son. And if you’re a son, you’re an inheritor of God, through God.
This is why Jesus tells us—Luke 11:2—“When you pray, say ‘Father.’” When you begin your prayers, you address God through the lens of this highly privileged relationship: Father and child. Jesus wants you to enter the throne room in your prayers, passing under the family crest, as it were, reminding you of your relationship with the eternal God that engenders in you a sense of trust, that you know that the one you speak to cares, that he’s listening, that he loves you. He’s loved you before there was time. He loved you before there was any act—one act of yours, whether good or evil or anything. Being reminded of your relationship with God causes your heart to warm to your Father, a Father who loves you very much. So beloved, when you pray, say “Father” because there is no greater incentive to trust that calling him “Father,” no greater encouragement to pray than this reality of God as our Father. The Father planned to adopt us as his children from eternity past. When he created the world, the Father set up our adoption from the very beginning. Even in the way he created everything, he’s setting up our adoption. He’s looking to the end, he’s looking to Christ, he’s looking at the fulfillment of everything in Christ. “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” So the Father sent his one and only Son into the world not merely as a living being, but as a life-giving Spirit, to redeem us from our sins, to propitiate God’s wrath, so that God can justify all of us who put our faith in him—in Christ. So we pray to the Father, who sent his Son to retrieve us for himself, to pluck us out of this filthy world, clean us off, purify us in Christ, make us holy, redeem us, sanctify us, purify us—so that when we come to the end, Christ presents us like a new bride, covered in white. He says, “Here am I and the children you’ve given me.” “He who did not spare his own son”—that is our Father—“this one who gave him up for us all, how will that Father with him graciously give us all things. Amen?
That’s part 1. Yes, there’s more to come—part 2 next time. Let’s pray as we enter our time of communion around the Lord’s table.
Our Father, we’ve just taken a brief time to deepen our understanding of the significance of our being your children, your being our Father. There’s so much to say and so little time—such deep, eternal realities, and we have such a brief time to discuss them. And even our understanding is shallow at times, and sometimes we’re distracted. And I just pray, Father, that you would take what we’ve surveyed and through time, through our sanctification, that you would continue to imbed and deepen and auger in these truths into our hearts, so that we come to you with full trust, like a child who loves his Father, jumping up into his lap, hugging, always expecting when he makes a request that the Father is inclined to give, inclined to love, inclined to care. We so desperately need to hear this message today, Father, because fatherhood has fallen on hard times in our day, and there are so many even in our midst—so many—who don’t know what fatherhood means. It’s such a vague concept—so foreign. So whether we come from good homes or bad or something in between, we pray that you would teach us all by taking us back to the Word, right back the faithful Scripture, the eternal truth, and let us learn what fatherhood looks like by looking at you. Let us not be cluttered by sentimental images or false views of what fatherhood is. Let us look directly to you. Let us look to how you dealt with Christ. Let us look to how you deal with us, your children. Please turn our hearts in trust to you, that we would pray—pray deeply, pray often, pray passionately, and pray in gratitude and appreciation that you, through Christ, are our Father. It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.