Abba! Father!

One of my special moments in life came in Israel when I watched a young boy run after a man, calling out “Abba, Abba!”  For the first time I had a tangible sense of what God offers us in Christ: an invitation to call him “Daddy!”  The confidence and energy of that Israeli youngster spoke of a bond that I now have with God.  It was a call rich with intimacy and easy access—the boy knew he was loved by his father and wanted to be with him.

In Galatians 4:6 Paul wrote, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”  The full embrace of God—Father, Son, and Spirit—form this bond.  The Spirit, who represents the Son in this case, is sent by the Father to join our hearts in a communion that moves us to resonate with the Son’s heart in calling the Father “Abba!”  Our real union with Christ makes us sons with the Son, who have a full and lively access to the Father.

Paul reiterates the same point in writing to the Romans: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” [Romans 8:15-16].

This Spirit-to-spirit witness is not to be understated.  I say this because of some occasions when I’ve talked to Christians who say, in effect, “I’ve always been a Christian because I was raised in a Christian home.”  In one such case a very thoughtful believer asked me, “Did you have a distinct conversion when you came to faith?”  When I said, “yes!” I was surprised by his dismissiveness.  “Well,” he responded, “my own faith is lifelong.”  As I probed a bit I found that he was actually put off by the idea that a sense of having been converted or born again was crucial to Christian faith.  His sense was that each of us should hold to our unique experience with equal confidence.  Some have conversions and some don’t; and those of us who have had conversions must not impose that expectation on others.

I respected the man—someone who was very bright and well educated—but I was unsettled by what he said.  Here’s why.  In what he shared of his faith there was no reference to God as one who is personal to him—of God as his Abba, Daddy.  Instead the man spoke of his confidence in his training and his devotion to the truths of the faith as the measure of a sound Christianity.  My thought, by contrast, was that a new life in Christ has a real impact on someone.  Jesus, in John 3, spoke of the coming of the Spirit as a comparable to a breeze sweeping through a forest: he’s clearly evident by his presence.  And, in the two “Abba” texts I’ve cited here, the Spirit is evident as he creates in us a sense of God’s immediacy and his intimacy.

So let me ask this question: what are the true marks of a Christian?  Is a sense of personal intimacy with God among them?  Or is it just an option for some of us but not for all?

5 Responses to Abba! Father!

  1. dave November 30, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    Yes, yes, yes!

  2. DUANE WATTS December 1, 2010 at 12:39 am #

    I don’t know. Once upon a time I would have agreed. Now I belong to a Lutheran Church (not Lutheran myself) where many were baptized “into the faith”. I do not know whether everyone recognizes is aware of their moment of conversion. I believe there must be such a moment. I do not believe that water baptism is salvific. Again, I believe that there are a great multitude of Christian paupers walking the earth, unaware of the infinite wealth available as close as their breath.

  3. Ron Frost December 1, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    That’s interesting, Duane . . . if ever someone had a sense of God’s dramatic intervention in his life, Luther was one! But to your point: I know that if I ask the question of this post on the basis of personal experience (i.e. of meeting some wonderful and compelling Christians who cannot identify a specific point of conversion) I find one answer; but as I read the Bible and follow its logic (i.e. that God’s new life, in displacing our former state of being “dead in our trespasses and sins”, makes us a new creation) a different answer emerges, one that suggests a notable moment of spiritual awakening.

  4. Becky Douglass December 2, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    I know I have always been extremely grateful for the very distinct transition I made from death to life at the moment of my conversion – and I was only 3 years old at the time. I still remember the feeling I had of moving from darkness and confusion into light and peace. There was also a dramatic change in my behaviour according to my parents. It has been something for me to look back on and treasure.

    As I work with very young children now, it something I seek to pass on to them. I believe that once a child has been reborn, their understanding of being a Christian grows and deeps as they grow, but that does not invalidate their earlier conversion – they are just understanding more of what happened. For others, I think there may be a more gradual dawning of understanding and a developing relationship with God, but I think we should work with them so that at some point they say, “I may have been a Christian before, but today I am making a deliberate decision to turn from my sin and accept God’s salvation. I am now a child of God.” This is a gift we can give children to help them weather the doubts and pressures which will come.

  5. Esther Dexter December 2, 2010 at 12:59 am #

    Thanks for another thought provoking post! In the initial post we were taken to John 3 and it reminded me that the process of physical birth comes at a specific moment of time after the period of preparation and waiting. It is a meaningful experience. In a manner of speaking we don’t really belong to our natural family or can know a true relationship with them until we are born. I believe this to be so in the realm of the spiritual birth too. We may not always remember the exact date when the Spirit of God awakened us, but it is possible to clearly remember the occasion. When there is a definite experience to remember, it is a strength in times of doubt, to be able to look back and know that God received me into a relationship with Himself to be a part of His family. It seems to me the whole of Scripture is God longing for an intimate relationship with people and so I believe it should be a mark of a believer and an indication of our position with God to long for that intimacy. What closer relationship is there than ‘sonship’? Levels of intimacy with God will depend on how much we want that relationship with Him. That is so in the natural realm too.