Abba’s Beloved Child
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“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”—Romans 8:15–171
How would you respond if I asked you this question: “Do you honestly believe God likes you, not just loves you because God theologically has to love you?” If you could answer with gut-level honesty, “Oh, yes, my Abba is very fond of me,” you would experience a serene compassion for yourself that approximates the meaning of tenderness.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion [tenderness] on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”2 Scripture suggests that the essence of the divine nature is compassion and that the heart of God is defined by tenderness. “By the tender mercy [compassion] of our God who from on high will bring the rising sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”3 Richard Foster wrote, “His heart is the most sensitive and tender of all. No act goes unnoticed, no matter how insignificant or small. A cup of cold water is enough to put tears in the eyes of God. Like the proud mother who is thrilled to receive a bouquet of wilted dandelions from her child, so God celebrates our feeble expressions of gratitude.”
Jesus, for “in his body lives the fullness of divinity,”4 singularly understands the tenderness and compassion of the Father’s heart. Eternally begotten from the Father, He is Abba’s child. Why did Jesus love sinners, ragamuffins, and the rabble who knew nothing of the Law? Because His Abba loved them. He did nothing on His own, but only what His Abba told Him. Through meal-sharing, preaching, teaching, and healing, Jesus acted out His understanding of the Father’s indiscriminate love—a love that causes His sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.5 …
Because the shining sun and the falling rain are given both to those who love God and to those who reject God, the compassion of the Son embraces those who are still living in sin. The Pharisee lurking within all of us shuns sinners. Jesus turns toward them with gracious kindness. He sustains His attention throughout their lives for the sake of their conversion, which is always possible to the very last moment.—Brennan Manning
Sons and daughters
“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”—Galatians 4:6–7
In the Gospel of Mark we hear Jesus say, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Remove this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.”6 Abba was what a son or daughter in first-century Palestine would call their father throughout their lives; it was a familiar word, like Dad or Papa, in the Aramaic language that was spoken in Jesus’ day. Jesus used this word in prayer and taught His disciples to do the same, because it expressed the close, endearing, familial relationship believers should have with God. Throughout the Gospels when Jesus addresses God as Father in prayer, He most likely used the term Abba, as He would have been speaking Aramaic.
In every instance but one throughout all four Gospels, when Jesus prays, He uses the word Father.7 He constantly prayed to His Father, and He taught His disciples to do the same. (Since the New Testament was written in Greek, the Greek word Pater was used instead of Abba; however, Abba was preserved in three instances, which gives the understanding that Abba was the term Jesus and His disciples used in prayer, which was translated as Pater or Father in the New Testament.8) Jesus’ use of Abba (Father) set the tone for the personal relationship we are privileged to have with God because of the gift of salvation. We are the sons and daughters of God; not in the same way as Jesus is, but as children adopted into God’s family. When we pray, we are coming before Abba, our Father.
This manner of addressing God was also used in the Greek-speaking churches of Paul’s day. It is a word that was particularly associated with Jesus in the early church; to say Abba was to share in a common sonship and a common inheritance with Jesus. We, as children adopted into the family of God, also have a relationship with the Father. We are able to have an intimate connection with Him, as we would with our earthly father.—Peter Amsterdam
Our Father in heaven
“Look at how great a love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children. And we are!”—1 John 3:19
With what name did you seek attention and call out for help to your earthly father? Was it Daddy, Dad, Pop, or Papa? From continent to continent, the expression differs greatly. In the culture of Christ 2,000 years ago, the word was “Abba”—a childlike cry of confidence still heard in the Middle East today.
It is the very cry that came from the lips of Christ during His agony in the garden: “Abba, Father, take this cup from Me.”10 Amazingly, this word that a child uses with his or her loving father is the title with which Jesus tells us to begin our own conversations with God, “Our Father in heaven.”11
“Abba” at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer sets the tone for how we should relate to God. The model of trembling Israelites approaching the foot of Mt. Sinai, fearing even to look up or speak God’s name, is not for us. “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”12
God’s divine Son won for us this right to approach God with the confidence of a child at his father’s knee by offering His life for us. “As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”13—Father Tom Forrest14
Published on Anchor July 2017. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
Music by John Listen.
2 Isaiah 49:15 NASB.
3 Luke 1:78–79.
4 Colossians 2:9.
5 Matthew 5:45.
6 Mark 14:36.
7 The one time Jesus didn’t use the name of the Father in prayer, as He normally did, was on the cross, when at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In this case He was quoting Psalm 22:1.
8 Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6.
10 Mark 14:36.
11 Matthew 6:9–13.
12 Romans 8:15.
13 Galatians 4:6 NAB.