The Privilege of Addressing God as “Father”
Go with a group of Christians and listen to them pray in a home prayer meeting or Bible study, and invariably as Christians pray out loud one after another will address God how? They’ll start their prayer by saying, “Father,” or “our heavenly Father.” It’s the most common expression that we as Christians use to address God. And why not, when our Lord taught us to pray, He said, “When you pray” say what? “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name.” What could be more basic to Christianity than to address God as Father? Joachim Jeremias, the German New Testament scholar has done research on the prayers of the ancient Israelite people, and it is his conclusion that there is not a single example anywhere in extant Jewish literature, including the Old Testament, the Talmud, the Targums, and so on until the tenth century AD where a Jewish person addresses God directly as ‘Father.’ That is, it simply wasn’t done. People would speak of the fatherhood of God among the Jewish people, but no one would address Him directly as, ‘Father.’ Jeremias says you don’t find it until the tenth century AD in Italy. Yet in the New Testament we have the record of a Jew, a Jewish Rabbi, who has many many prayers recorded for posterity, and that in every prayer that he prayed, save one, He directly addressed God as ‘Father.’ And that is Jesus of Nazareth.
And what Jeremias demonstrates is that Jesus’ use of the term Father for God was a radical innovation; completely unheard of in Jewish liturgy. And what he did in his radical departure from convention He invited his followers to be involved with. Because what Jesus teaches about the human race is that by nature we are not the children of God. This was the dispute our Lord had with the Pharisees who thought that just because they were born Jewish that they were children of Abraham, that they were therefore the children of God. Jesus said ‘you are of your father the devil. God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.’ Because what Jesus does is define sonship in terms of obedience to God. And because we are not by nature obedient to God, we are by nature children of wrath, the New Testament teaches us, and not universally children of the Father.
The only way we ever have the right to call God “Father,” to cry “Abba” in his presence is because we have been adopted. And the biblical message of sonship and daughterhood in the body of Christ is rooted and grounded in this concept of adoption—that only Christ is the natural son of God. And only if you are in Christ do you become a member of the household of God. It is the church in the New Testament that is called the family of God. It is the church in the New Testament that is called the household of God. And that unique concept of redemption through adoption is completely obscured when we talk about the universal fatherhood of God. Do you see that?