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.
Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 do not let us neglect the Holy Spirit’s role in our adoption. We are brought into God’s family through the Spirit’s uniting us to the Son so that we can call on the Father. We are in God’s family, then, through union with Christ by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament goes on to say that it is through this relationship that we are “children of God” (1 John 3:1), and as members of that household we have been given love. We belong. By grace, we belong to the most loving household of our Father.
The Puritan Stephen Marshall beautifully tied together these Trinitarian dynamics with the adoptive ones. Joel Beeke summarizes Marshall’s thought:
Adoption is the gracious act of God the Father whereby he chooses us, calls us to Himself, and gives us the privileges and blessings of being His children. God the Son earned those blessings for us through His propitiatory death and sacrifice, by which we become children of God (1 John 4:10), and applies them to us as Elder Brother. And the Holy Spirit changes us from children of wrath, which we are by nature, into children of God by means of regeneration; unites us to Christ; works in us a “suitable disposition” towards God and Christ; and seals our sonship as the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the sons of God. In that witnessing, the Spirit shows us God’s work of grace in our hearts and lives, and also carries our hearts to God, and testifies to the soul that God is our Father.1
If the purpose of the Father’s predestinating love is brought to full flower in our adoption, our deepest understanding of our relationship with God is through knowing Him as Father. It is a realization of this that J.I. Packer says is at the heart of the message of the New Testament message and its spirituality:
You sum up the whole of the New Testament teaching in a single phrase, if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.2
By nature, Jesus Christ is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. By grace, united to the Son, we are beloved sons and daughters in whom the Father is well pleased. What a stunning truth. May it prompt and control our worship and prayers and our whole outlook on life.
- Joel R. Beeke, “Transforming Power and Comfort: The Puritans on Adoption,” in The Faith Once Delivered: Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne R. Spear, ed. Anthony Selvaggio (Philipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2007) 63–105. Beeke quotes The Works of Mr Stephen Marshall, The First Part, [section 2:] The High Priviledge of Beleevers. They are the Sons of God (London: Peter and Edward Cole, 1661), 43–48. ↩︎
- J.I. Packer, in Evangelical Magazine 7, pp. 19ff., cited in J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 1973), 201. ↩︎
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 14, 2018.