Understanding God the Father

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:14-15 NIV

God is the Father of all in the sense that he created all and his love and providential care are extended to all (Mt 5:45). But not all are his children. Jesus said to the unbelieving Jews of his day, “You belong to your father, the devil” (Jn 8:44). People become children of God through faith in God’s unique Son (Jn 1:12), and being led by God’s Spirit is the hallmark of this relationship.

The Greek word for adoption into sonship occurs four other times in the [New Testament] (Romans 8:23; 9:4; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). Adoption was common among Greeks and Romans, who granted the adopted son all the privileges of a natural son, including the inheritance rights. Christian are adopted sons by grace; Christ, however, is God’s Son by nature.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 NIV 

God is the creator of the heavenly bodies, which give light to the earth, but, unlike them, he does not change.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12-13 NIV

Membership in God’s family is by grace alone – the gift of God (Eph 2:8-9). It is never a human achievement, as v. 13 emphasizes; yet the imparting of the gift is dependent on human reception of it, as the words “did receive” and “believed” make clear.

The “children of God” (v. 12) have been given a new openness to and relationship with God that was not theirs as a result of their natural birth (John 3:3, 5; 2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15; Titus 3:5).






1 Comment

  • Steve Hakes says:

    Good use of [unique son] rather than [only son].

    Too much weight, I think, on Greek/Roman adoptions, and thus perhaps the masculine gender. D A Carson noted that Israelite women could inherit, besides how [huioi] and teknai could interchange, thus removing gender tags – on its own huioi is gender neutral (either [sons] or [children]. In any event a Greek/Roman practice shouldn’t carry much theological weight, even if a useful illustration at the time in a situational letter to a Greek/Roman audience. See other versions, eg CEB/CEV/ERV/ISV/NABRE/NLT/NRSV. As Douglas Moo put it in his BECNT, “in claiming that Christians enjoy υἱοθεσία, then, Paul [was] claiming not only that we believers become his adopted children with all the rights and privileges pertaining to that status, but also that we have become his own people, inheriting the status and blessings promised to his people Israel.”

    [Grace alone] is poorly put – the solas should IMO be retired from service, having played their part. Many things are needed for salvation, including (but not ‘alone’ as indeed you note) grace, the cross, faith, the Holy Spirit. I hate how saying [Christ alone] explicitly rules out the father himself when it was ‘only’ meant to rule out the ‘holy father’ (ie the pope). The solas were only rough contrasts between the divine and the human. Scripture is necessary: Scriptura necessaria est; grace is necessary: gratia necessaria est; faith is necessary: fides necessaria est; the cross is necessary: crux necessaria est; giving glory to the trinity is necessary: trinitatem glorificare necessarium est.

    Tweaking could improve, but a main task nowadays is to restore God the father to theology, and I’m delighted that you have visited this theme. One of my best books has the saddest title, viz Thomas Smail’s The Forgotten Father.

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