Author’s Note: This is the second of three posts where I seek to draw out teaching on the fatherhood of God. In the previous post I looked at the Trinity and the revelation of the Father’s name. In this post I look at the fatherhood of God in our salvation. And finally, the third post will look at how God is our Father in the course of the Christian life.
One of the most stunning scenes in all of Scripture is at Jesus’ baptism. When Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit descends upon Him, and the Father’s voice envelops Him: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
While these Fatherly tones are heard during the Son’s incarnate state, they are nothing but an expression and extension of the warmth and love shared between the Father and Son for all eternity. It is as if at our Lord’s baptism, the Father pulls back the earthly veil in order to give us a glimpse of the heavenly love He shares with His Son.
This picture is a Trinitarian one for sure, but it is more: the blessed love that is the heartbeat of the triune God, the love that the Father eternally shares with the Son and the Spirit, is the same love that overflows into our salvation. That is to say, what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, knows by nature—the inestimable love of the Father—is what we receive and experience by grace.
When Reformed Christians think of the highest point of salvation, our minds often run to the great doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone—and understandably so. This was a crucial teaching that had been confused in the late medieval church with great theological and pastoral consequence. The Reformers sought to bring biblical clarity to the question of how we have standing before God. They taught that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us on the cross at the same time that our sins are imputed to Him. Thus, the Father turns from viewing us according to our unrighteousness and accepts us as righteous in His sight based on the merits of His beloved Son imputed to us. While this is gloriously true for Christians and necessary for our salvation, it is not the end of our salvation. Ephesians 1:3–5 is quite explicit about this.
Paul roots our salvation in eternity, in the predestinating love of the Father. As verses 4–5 say, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). This great theological reality—our adoption into the Father’s family through our union with Jesus Christ, the Son of God—takes on spiritual feet when, just two chapters later, Paul prays to this Father. How is it that Paul can call upon not just God but, specifically, the Father? Because he has been welcomed by that Father to take on his lips the same name the Son takes on His lips. He has been adopted into the Father’s family by being made a “son” in the Son. Paul—and all the elect people of God—enjoy in adoption a relationship that is the high purpose of God’s salvation plan, a purpose expressed by Jesus Christ Himself as He stood at the precipice of His culminating work on the cross.
In John 13–17, we find Jesus in the upper room revealing His important last words to His disciples. Throughout His discourse, He describes the intimacy of His relationship with the Father, an intimacy so great that He says He is in the Father as the Father is in Him. They are distinct persons, one praying to the other, but They are so united that They mutually indwell one another. The beauty of this, as Jesus reflects on this and prays in this vein, is that He seeks for that Father-Son relationship to be extended to His disciples. The purpose of Jesus’ prayer is that we might share in “the life” of God, a life expressed in a wonderfully selfless relationship. God does not just bask in His own glory; He brings us into it without compromising His own unique glory as the Creator. So, because of God’s gracious adoption, we share in an eternal, glorious relationship. Becoming a Christian, then, means coming into the Father-Son relationship, a relationship enacted and empowered by the Holy Spirit.