THE FATHER-HEART OF GOD
Jesus’ Foremost Revelation
In this article, we look at Jesus’ primary revelation of the nature of God and explore how it informs our relationship with God and shapes our identity as human beings.
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Why Did Jesus Come?
If you asked ten believers why Jesus came to earth, you’re likely to get five or six different answers. For example, you’ll hear things like…
- Jesus came to die for us.
- He came to forgive our sins.
- He came to save us.
- He came to show us how to live.
- He came to make a way to heaven.
While these are all indescribably glorious blessings that are ours because of what Jesus accomplished, they are not the primary reason Jesus came.
Let’s pick just one telling verse and let Jesus speak for Himself. In John 14:6, Jesus said,
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Notice, Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father”. He did not say “no one gets saved” or “no one gets to heaven”. The goal is not salvation or heaven but a relationship with the Father.
Jesus essentially came to reveal the nature of God. He peeled back the curtains of heaven to reveal the Father. And in revealing the Father, Jesus came to restore all of creation back to God’s heart.
Let that sink in. Deeply. Profoundly.
This isn’t merely a Sunday School lesson for children. Nor is it a dry, dusty doctrinal statement. This is the foundational revelation Jesus downloaded. Yes, Jesus died for us. Yes, He forgave our sins. Yes, Jesus has saved us.
However, He did all this to restore us to the Father: a reunion of love that also restores God’s creation under the stewardship of a redeemed humanity.
This single revelation, of God’s fatherhood, frames our faith, shapes our values, informs our practices and fuels our mission. Without this foundational revelation, we may well be seeking that which we already have. Without this undergirding truth, we may well fudge our purpose and misrepresent our mission.
A Holiday Lesson
The importance of this critical truth was highlighted to me during a holiday many years ago. I was blessed to be given a week at a friend’s cottage at the beach. Trying to unwind during the first few days, I stumbled over a couple of jigsaw puzzles. Both were scenic pictures of 1,000 pieces each.
I tackled the first with great relish expecting to conquer the challenge rather quickly. Instead, I struggled for two days! I just couldn’t figure it out. With far less resolve, I had a go at the second puzzle. Again, I could not make heads or tails of it.
Just as I was about to throw in the towel—Whipped by a couple of puzzles!—I realised my problem. Some prankster had switched the box lids!
I was trying to build a puzzle with the wrong picture in mind. With the right picture in mind, I finished the puzzles relatively easily. The relief to my pride was huge!
As I reflected on my frustrating experience, it occurred to me that it mirrored the plight of many believers.
In the same way that I was trying unsuccessfully to build a puzzle with the wrong picture in mind, many sincere believers are trying to build a life with God with a wrong picture of God in mind.
If we have a distorted, broken or incomplete picture of God, we’ll end up with a distorted, broken or incomplete walk with God.
Simply put, we are only as secure as our concept of who God is. We are only as strong as our picture of God.
What is Your Picture of God?
For simplicity sake, let’s consider five pictures of God and the distortion caused when not anchored in the revelation Jesus gave us.
Many people view God as a Creator. Of course, God is our Creator and as His creation we have incredible privileges and responsibilities.
However, if we view God fundamentally as a Creator, it’s easy to begin to relate to Him as a Distant Relative or worse yet, an Impersonal Force. This is one reason so many believe God is everywhere but live like He is nowhere!
Others view God essentially as a Provider. Again, God is without doubt our Provider and we can be assured of His care and provision.
Yet if we view God fundamentally as a Provider, we begin to relate to Him as a Cosmic Butler or worse, a Slot Machine in the Sky. The result? We believe God exists for our personal benefit and get offended when He doesn’t deliver on demand.
Still others view God essentially as a Lord. Yes, He is Lord … our King, the Supreme Ruler. For sure!
But if we view God fundamentally as a Lord, we end up relating to Him as a Drill Sergeant or worse still, The Divine Killjoy. The result? The intimate relationship God intends for us is void of grace and becomes stifled by a thousand rules, demands and obligations.
Many today view God essentially as a Saviour. And thank God He is our Saviour; we are forgiven, saved and made brand new!
However, if we view God fundamentally as a Saviour, we quickly start relating to God as a Sin Collector or the Guilt Remover. The result? We become increasingly sin conscious rather than God conscious and this is a miserable way to live.
Finally, others view God essentially as a Friend. Certainly, today more and more followers of Christ are revelling in what it means to enjoy fellowship with God and walk with Him as Friend.
But if we view Him fundamentally as a Friend, we often slide into relating to God as our Buddy or our Pal. It’s easy to then adopt a casual or familiar attitude and lose a sense of reverence and devotion.
While God is certainly a Creator, a Provider, a Lord, a Saviour and a Friend, a picture of God that plugs into any one of these, at the expense or exclusion of the others, can become a distortion of God’s nature.
Jesus stepped into human history to reveal God’s nature with crystal clarity.
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him … Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
(John 14:7, 9 NIV)
Yes, God is a Creator but only because He is first and foremost a Father. As our Father, He created us in His image and likeness that we may be His children. His Father’s touch is seen in our individual beauty and uniqueness. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29, 30).
God is not a distant relative or an impersonal force. He didn’t merely create us and leave us to our own devices. As a Father, the Creator continues to actively participate in His creation.
Yes, God is a Provider but only because He is first and foremost a Father. As our Father, He provides for us His children. And like any good father, He will—at times—withhold the provision from the child if the provision will spoil the child. Think about that for a moment.
If a child is selfish, bratty or entitled, how does a good parent respond? With appropriate discipline or by throwing more toys their way? In the same way, the Father provides discipline when we need it (Hebrews 12:9-11).
Yes, God is our Lord but only because He is first and foremost a Father. As our Father, He governs us and leads us. He knows how best this life is to be lived having created it in the first place.
Father God governs with mercy and justice. His rules don’t restrict the enjoyment of life, they enhance it. In the same way that the rules of a sport protect the participants, bringing order and maximum enjoyment of the game, so God’s counsel does the same.
Yes, God is our Saviour but only because He is first and foremost a Father. As our Father, He immediately sought to rescue us when we fell. Through a love we can only begin to imagine, Father God restored us to Himself in Christ.
Here’s an important truth: God doesn’t want our sin. He has already taken it once… and He died for it. Father God doesn’t want our sin. He wants us! His forgiveness not only cleanses us from all sin, His grace enables us to walk with Him in purity and truth.
Yes, God is our Friend but only because He is first and foremost a Father. As our Father, He desires our fellowship and friendship with us. However, this awesome reality does not negate that He is first our Father. He is not our “buddy” or our “china”.
My own natural father is among my best friends, but he remains my father. My respect for my Dad governs how I relate to him and it keeps me from becoming presumptuous and overfamiliar. Likewise, our reverence for our heavenly Father governs how we respond to His invitation of friendship.
God Hangs His Identity on Fatherhood
Think about it…
God could have picked any foundational name on which to hang His identity. Of course, He reveals Himself as Creator, Provider, Saviour, Lord and Friend. In fact, He reveals Himself by many beautiful names throughout the Scriptures. He does so to help us understand His character and the various attributes of His wonderfully comprehensive and delightful Personality.
However, as a foundational name, the primary revelation, He could easily and rightfully chosen the title, “Great and Awesome, Most Sovereign Holy God”.
Think how different everything would be. God would essentially be unapproachable.
Our identity? Slaves. Or robots.
Our responsibility? Blind allegiance to His commands with harsh consequences for any and every indiscretion.
But this is not what God did.
Instead, He reveals Himself essentially as a Father.
Our identity? Sons and daughters.
Our responsibility? Love.
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
(1 John 3:1)
Jesus’ Primary Revelation
How much emphasis did Jesus give this revelation?
- When Jesus spoke to God, He called God, “Father”. Every time.
- When Jesus taught us about God, He referred to God as “your Father”. Consistently. Every time.
- When Jesus showed us how to pray, He taught us to speak to God as “our Father”.
- Jesus even called the Holy Spirit, the “Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4,5). Paul beautifully amplified on this point explaining that the “Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”. He then taught that the indwelling Spirit enables us to enjoy intimacy with “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:14-17). Abba, of course, is the Aramaic word for Daddy.
Faith is essentially about a relationship with the Father made possible by Jesus’ completed work and enabled by the indwelling Spirit.
As Paul states so succinctly in Ephesians 2:18,
For through [Jesus], we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.”
We are only as secure as our concept of who God is. We are only as strong as our picture of God.
We can only build a life with God when we have the correct picture of His fatherhood in mind.
As Tony Fitzgerald often says, “We will never know who we are until we know whose we are.”
Because God is essentially a Father, my identity is essentially anchored in sonship. I am a son. Nothing more; nothing less. It’s the greatest thrill. The highest honour.
That’s our identity. We are sons and daughters. Our security rests in God’s fatherhood. Everything else flows from this place of intimacy and security.
The Importance of Identity
Experts tell us that we derive our identity—our sense of personal-worth—primarily from our parents, mainly from our father. They teach us that the feeling of being valuable is the product of parental love, and this conviction must be gained in childhood before the age of ten. If we do not develop this vital sense of worth by then, there is little chance of ever grasping it.
The psychologists are right … to a point. Or better yet, they are onto something but don’t have all the information. First, the Scriptures underscore the vital role of parenting in the development of a secure and significant child, capable of facing adulthood. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
However, the Bible goes on to provide a powerful answer for those who have not enjoyed an ideal upbringing. There is hope for this orphaned society. What can believers do to rise above the inadequacies or negligence of their natural parents? What resources are available to those who have suffered the horrors of abusive parents? Without Christ, there is often a bleak future but for the children of God there is an awesome solution! Of course, we need to restore our relationship with our parents if it is damaged, but that alone will not restore the damage to our soul. We cannot undo a bad childhood, but we can supersede it!
Paul faced a generation even more vexed than ours in this regard, a confused society whose concept of family and parenting was absolutely shattered by pagan stupidity. God used this apostle as a master builder to reveal the true children of God. Paul taught the principle of adoption.
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage … but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry our, ‘Abba, Father’.”
Too often we preach rebirth, but we forget about the importance of adoption. Jesus did not just come to save us; He came to bring us back to Father. There is no salvation until we are secure in Father’s arms! Too often Christians come across as offering “eternal fire insurance” when many feel they’re going through hell on earth. Now.
Consider this next statement.
The greatest need of the human heart is not the assurance of eternal security. It is the desperate need for security in the Father’s heart now! The fact that this security is eternal is, of course, a wonderful but secondary blessing.
So, Paul taught a formal transference of parenthood to God Himself. And this is not just applicable to those who have had a difficult upbringing. Rather, those who have enjoyed a good upbringing are also invited to discover the dynamic reality of God’s Fatherhood.
The damage or deficiencies of childhood can be healed through a new father—our Heavenly Father—who parents us with perfect love, when we allow Him to become a functioning father to us (Hebrews 12:5-11).
A functioning father. This is absolutely key.
Throw away your cliches of Father God. This is not merely a kid’s Bible story. Consciously and deliberately yield to His functional parenting in your life. Ask the Father to parent you in how you think; how you manage your attitudes and emotions; how you make decisions; how you relate to others and your world about you; how you respond to difficulty and adversity.
In so doing, we enjoy the emotional wellbeing and security that comes from knowing God as Father, but we also experience His character-shaping work in our lives, too.
A childlike faith is required (Matthew 18:2).
I need to define myself as a child … and do so regularly through prayerful evaluation and reflection. This isn’t easy to do. Everything in me wants to rather define myself as an accomplished, successful person. Ego and pride seek something more.
However, in terms of my relationship with God, I am to define myself as a child. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And here’s the kicker again: I can only define myself as a child when I embrace a revelation of His Fatherhood.
Father God can only functionally parent me to the degree that I am actively fostering a childlike attitude.
The Building Blocks of the Soul
God created Adam and Eve as, to borrow a psychological term, fully actualised individuals. They existed in harmony with their heavenly Father, with one another, and with the created world they were to steward. With a healthy sense of personal-worth (identity), they enjoyed a sense of security in this union and a sense of significance in the dominion mandate God entrusted to them.
Adam and Eve’s rebellion ended this bliss. In their fall, what were once inherent blessings—security and significance—turned into deep, defining, driving needs. Disconnected from God, human beings became driven creatures. Out of sync with the Father, we are driven to meet our need for security and significance by pursuing a host of “other things.” Irrespective of century, culture or circumstance, to the degree men and women remain disconnected from Father God, to this degree they seek (both consciously and unconsciously) to fulfil these needs in various ways.
And the result is universal and inevitable.
We have a God-shaped hole that only restoration with the Father can fill, and no matter how much we shove into the vacuum, it only ends up deepening the void.
Only reunion with Father God restores the soul. Only in His Fatherhood do we find security and significance. Only in Him does our soul rest. Only in Him do we find a sense of purpose and meaning. Only in the Father’s heart is our identity (personal-worth) rebuilt.
Our Identity in Light of God’s Fatherhood
Let’s take a moment to unpack this issue of identity because it is just so crucial. Several words can be used to describe the walk of faith. Again, for simplicity, let’s stick to just a few: son, steward, servant and soldier.
And just to qualify, by “son”, I’m referring to both men and women. The Scriptures use the concept of “sonship” to allude to both male and female, and it fits stylistically with the other S-words: steward, servant and soldier. Ladies, if I can identify with the Bride of Christ, I’m sure you can stomach the use of the word, “son”. Right?
Okay, unless we understand the Father-heart of God and thus derive our essential identity as son first (or daughter), we’ll fall into a few ditches, incorrectly understanding who we are and what He has called us to do.
Let me explain.
Yes, we are called to be stewards of all that God has entrusted to us (1 Peter 4:10). But unless we derive our identity as a son (or daughter) first, we’ll botch our role as stewards … instead, we’ll hold onto things too tightly, failing to entrust to God what is His. Rather than stewards, we become hoarders and end up deriving our identity in what we have. In a phrase, our things.
Yes, we are called to be servants of the Lord, revealing Him to others through acts of service and good deeds (Matthew 20:26). But unless we derive our identity as a son (or daughter) first, we’ll botch our role as servants … instead, we’ll serve others for our own benefit with mixed motives, seeking attention or approval for what we do. Rather than servants, we become slaves and incorrectly derive our identity from what we do. In a phrase, our achievements.
Yes, we are called to be soldiers of Christ, advancing the Kingdom of our God (2 Timothy 2:3). But unless we derive our identity as a son (or daughter) first, we’ll botch our role as soldiers … instead, we will consistently fight the wrong battles, looking to defend our turf and protect our self-interests. In this case, rather than soldiers, we become renegades and error in deriving our identity in what we fight for or against. In a phrase, our cause.
SONS AND DAUGHTERS FIRST
When we define ourselves as sons or daughters first, we find our sense of personal-worth in Him and Him alone. Then…
- we can be faithful stewards. Our attitude is “I’m a son. I’m a daughter. I look after all I have as a gift from Father, which I’ll ultimately return to Him for account.” And not “I have worked for all that I have and will do whatever I must to keep it. Everything ultimately depends on me. If I don’t look after number one, no one else will”.
- we can be faithful servants. Our attitude is “I’m a son. I’m a daughter. I serve for my Father’s pleasure and delight.” And not “I use others to fill my own need for affirmation, approval or recognition”.
- we can be faithful soldiers. Our attitude is “I’m a son. I’m a daughter. I only fight the battles my Father deems important. I live for His cause.” And not “I fight the battles that trigger me, battles that validate my sense of worth or that move my sense of injustice”.
When we grasp God’s Father-heart and accept the privilege (and responsibility) of our identity as sons and daughters, we are empowered to live life as He intended … because every child is empowered by the Presence of their Father.
We are only as strong as our concept of who God is.
We can only build a life with God when we have the correct picture of God’s fatherhood in mind.
When we know whose we are, we are secure and in who we are.
The Parable of the Father’s Love
Luke, Chapter 15 is famous for what is called, The Parable of the Prodigal Son. I’d like to suggest that it is not primarily about the prodigal. It is the first of three parables and the third builds pointedly on the first two to reveal The Father’s Heart.
Luke opens the setting for these three parables by revealing Jesus’ audience (vv. 1-3). The religious establishment of the day were aggravated beyond comprehension at Jesus’ open-hearted and generous acceptance of the dregs of society: the lost, the last and the least. “This man receives sinners, and even eats with them!” complained the indignant religious leaders.
Jesus then tells them, not one, but three parables. Jesus seldom did this. It was not His habit to underline a point He was making. Yet the fact that Jesus tells three parables to hammer one point, and concludes with one of the longest parables He ever told, seems to add significance to it.
First, Jesus tells the parable of the faithful shepherd who will hunt high and low to find his lost sheep (vv. 4-7). Then he tells the parable of the faithful woman who goes on a search and discovery mission to find her missing coin (vv. 8-10). The words that He uses to express the elation of heaven—“rejoicing” (v. 5), “rejoice” (v. 6) and “more joy” (v. 7)—are in stark contrast to His audience’s cold and gloomy attitude toward those they considered sinners.
As if Jesus had not made His point, He then goes for the jugular. In a kind of jab-jab-and knock-out, Jesus then tells the parable of the faithful Father, revealing the love of the Father not just for lost sheep, not just for a lost coin, but for His beloved children.
This is primarily not a parable about the prodigal son even though he is the primary beneficiary in the story. The parable essentially reveals the Fatherhood of God and the message is, in fact, directed to the religious leaders represented by the older brother in the story. The younger, prodigal son only features to expose the older, religious brother’s hard-heart and to reveal the extravagance of the Father’s lavish, unconditional love.
According to the Jewish law on inheritance, the older son would receive two-thirds of the inheritance, and the younger son would receive one-third. A Jewish father brought his children into their inheritance while he was still alive, and in this story, the father clearly released both sons into their inheritance at this time (v. 12).
The next few verses highlight the popular, well-known account of how the younger, prodigal son wasted his heritance in wild living, only coming to his senses after being forced to scrap for a meal with a pig … not exactly a kosher moment (vv. 13-19).
But let’s pick up the less popular account of what the older son did not do with his inheritance.
Notice the way Jesus describes the oldest son’s actions and reactions. First we learn that “the older son was in the field” working (v. 25). The man is hard working and dutiful.
However, when confused by the sounds of celebration, who does he inquire of? “He called one of the servants and asked what these things meant” (v. 26). What? He asks the servants rather than his father?
On hearing that his younger, troubled and disgraced brother had finally returned home safely, what is his reaction? Joy? No. Relief? No.
“But he was angry and would not go in” (v. 28).
His immediate reaction was anger … and then to pout and sulk!
Was he angry that his brother had broken his father’s heart? Sadly, no. Was he righteously angry that his brother had brought shame upon their family? Again, no. He whined and complained bitterly, saying, “you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends” (v. 29).
The older son lived in the same home as his father, he enjoyed the blessings of his father … but he never knew the heart of his father.
How many times would he have seen his grieving father pacing up and down the porch, scanning the horizon with longing for even a glimpse of the prodigal son? How many times would he have seen his broken-hearted father bent over in sorrow, weeping for his lost son? Did he share his father’s grief? No. Did he carry his father’s burden? Sadly, no.
The older brother, symbolic of the religious leaders, focused on his own efforts and rewards— his self-interests, his stake, on what he had and what he did not have—rather than on relationship with his father: “Lo, these many years I have been serving you” (v. 29). Never once did he share his father’s heart. He missed the point: relationship with his father.
We too can be good, dutiful, faithful believers and miss the point entirely. A revelation of the Father-heart of God is crucial to intimacy with God and a fruitful walk in Christ.
Herein lies another core issue: the older brother found his identity in what he did; rather than in who he was. The sad truth is that he was more a servant than a son, even though he had already been given his inheritance. Unless we live in a clear revelation of God as our Father, and thus derive our identity from that revelation, we too may miss the point. Just as God hangs His identify on fatherhood, our destiny hinges on a clear sense of identity borne in the revelation of the Father-heart of God.
Until we understand whose we are; who we belong to; who our source is; who we derive our identity from … we will never know who we are. We may spend our life trying to find something we already have in Him!
Lessons from Parenting
Without doubt, being a father to my own two children has been the single most enriching revelation of God the Father other than the Scriptures itself. To sense the selfless, unconditional love of a parent flowing through my entire being reveals something of Father God’s love to me, to some degree at least. Perhaps this is why Paul encouraged Timothy and Titus to ideally choose elders from those who have children of their own (1 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:5, 6).
I have always encouraged my children to express themselves through, among other things, painting and drawing. Over the years, we’ve gone through reams of paper determined to give them a continual new and blank page to express their imaginations. Initially, their “work of art” was a sum total of blotches and scratches, but with much encouragement—genuine delight at baby strokes—and a continued supply of try-again blank paper; slowly, slowly, they began to learn how to express their creativity in more distinguishable pictures. Does not Father God do the same with us?
Some assume God is expecting perfection from day one and every day following. Any attempt that colours outside the lines will get a crack behind the ears and a heavy scolding … no place for expression, kind of like: “If at first you don’t succeed … shame on you!”
The result: so many live trapped by a fear of failure.
However, no decent father would treat his children this way. And the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that our earthly fathers parented us “as seemed best to them,” but our heavenly Father parents us “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). God the Father is the perfect parent.
As each day dawns, Father presents us with a new “blank page” to express ourselves in line with His delight. Jeremiah described it this way: “the Lord’s mercies … are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22, 23). No matter what mess we’ve made before, each new day opens alive with the possibilities of forgiveness, restoration and a new start. No wonder Paul cheered: “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). As we awaken to each new day and align ourselves with Him, He gives us another clean slate. In this way, the Father’s kiss enlarges us … and we share of His Divine nature.
The Father’s Pleasure
Jesus ended this parable in Luke, Chapter 15 with an uppercut aimed at the religious jaw of those He squared off against. He concluded in such a way that He expected the older son, and by extension, the religious leaders to be convinced of the Father’s love.
Jesus finished His parable with these words from the loving father:
It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”
Although we do not know if the older son ever caught his father’s heart, we do know that most of the religious leaders did not. But let us make sure that we do.
Throughout the three parables in Luke 15, Jesus gives us an amazing inside peek behind the curtain of heaven. He used the word “rejoice”, “rejoicing” or “joy” five times from verses 5-10 to describe the prime activity of heaven. He even refers to degrees of joy that the host of heaven experience in the Father’s Presence (v. 7). He then powerfully and extravagantly paints the picture of Father’s joy in describing the reunion between the prodigal and his father, detailing the celebratory party held to express the father’s love (vv. 11-32).
Think about it. The prime activity of heaven centres on the Father’s delight in His children.
All this goes to underline a powerful point. You are dearly loved. Extravagantly so. Lavishly and unconditionally.
Father God delights in you. He takes pleasure in you.
The Father is for you. The question is … are you for you?
While teaching on the purposes of God and mankind during a foundations class, I was once asked why God created us. The question was asked in a way that said, rather refreshingly, “I get all these theological answers but… why? Why would a self-sufficient God, totally enjoying the community of the Trinity, entirely satisfied and fulfilled in Himself, create us?”
Suddenly the light went on for me. I answered, “Father God was having a party and wanted us to share in the fun”. And for all the theological answers I have, which are Biblically true and correct, this one remains my favourite.
Listen. The Father is inviting you to the party:
Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.”
God’s Fatherhood in the Old Testament
Although the Old Testament uses multiple names to reveal the multifaceted nature of God, the primary revelation of God in the Old Testament is the word Yahweh (transliterated as Jehovah).
Yahweh is the covenant name of God and it is used over 6,820 times. To get a feel for how prevalent and primary this word is, consider that the second most frequent word is the more general word for “God” (Hebrew: Elohim), which is used around 2,340 times. In third place, the word for “Lord” (Hebrew: Adonai) is used around 450 times.
A number of Bible translations, including the NKJV, NASB, NIV and NLT, use the word “LORD” in uppercase to distinguish when Yahweh appears in the Scriptures. In doing so, the translators acted consistently with Jewish practice that held, for reverenance sake, Yahweh should not be spoken out loud but instead read as Adonai (Lord). While their devotion was indeed admirable, it was misplaced. God surely revealed His personal name to be known personally.
While using “LORD” to translate Yahweh might be helpful, it can lead one to conclude that God’s primary revelation in the Old Testament was “Lord” not Yahweh.
Yes, God is certainly our Lord (Adonai), the “Supreme Ruler, Absolute Controller”. However, Yahweh was God’s primary revelation of Himself in the Old Testament, a revelation God’s people obscured through entrenched religion (and admirable but misplaced practices).
Jesus’ coming cut through this religious veil to once again clarify the nature of God.
Not only is Yahweh the personal name of God, it is also the covenantal name of God. In my opinion, “Covenant Father” is a reasonable definition of it based on two things:
- God’s self-unveiling: the open and personal disclosure of His heart to His people, as we’ll discuss below.
- Fatherhood and family were the primary values that God’s people, the Hebrews, embraced. These core values shaped their culture, education, community, leadership and government. This is only possible based on the revelation of God’s Fatherhood. (See Hebrew Thinking Vs. Greek Thinking).
An incredible example of God’s unabashed self-unveiling in the Old Testament is found in two passages in Isaiah. Through this prophet, God speaks to His backslidden people. They had forsaken and rejected Him, but how does God choose to respond?
Come now, and let us reason together … though your sins are like scarlet…”
Here is the Almighty Creator, the Supreme Being, talking to backslidden subjects who have brazenly rebelled against Him … and He invites them; He appeals to them: “Come now … let us reason together”.
The Supreme Being could have destroyed them for treason. Instead, Father God invites them to fellowship with Him, to talk to Him, to reason together, to re-enter communication with Him. The picture is of a father who still believes the best of his children, trying to assure and affirm His relationship with them.
Later when God is then accused of neglecting these rebels—Did you get that? They betrayed Him but lash out with false accusations to justify their sin—God says,
Can a woman forget her nursing child? Surely they may forget. Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”
When the Supreme Being could have smote them in wrath, Father God opens His heart and makes Himself vulnerable. He appeals to them using a metaphor of a nursing mother. Could a mother forget her newborn infant nursing from her breast? The overwhelming response is, of course, Never! Yet God says it’s more likely that a nursing mother would forget her baby than He is of forgetting them. The picture is of a broken-hearted parent weeping, as tears stream down his face, falling into the open hands in which he pictures his child secure and safe.
We could recount passage after passage revealing the Father’s heart towards His people.
But consider just two more.
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God again appeals to His “backsliding children” (Jeremiah 3:14) and envisages a day when He will be reunited with them:
And I said: ‘You shall call Me, “My Father,” And not turn away from Me’.”
Through the prophet Hosea, God reveals His Father’s heart, again appealing to backslidden Israel. He says,
“When Israel was a child, I loved him. And out of Egypt I called My son. But the more I called them, the further they went from Me … I taught [them] to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them… [But] My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt [Me]. How can I give you up…? How can I hand you over…? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger.”
God reminds Israel that He was intimately involved in parenting them, even though they did not recognise or honour Him for doing so:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him … I taught [them] to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them…”
When Israel consistently rebelled against God, exhausting His grace and provoking His justice, God still appealed to them, this time revealing His broken-heartedness and the intense emotions of pain and grief:
“My people are bent on backsliding from Me … How can I give you up…? How can I hand you over…? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred…”
The Almighty, Sovereign Creator of the Universe reveals Himself to us essentially as Father.
No other religion does this. The gods of other religions are not personal; they are either raging tyrants demanding religious effort to appease them … or they are distant creators always too busy or simply disinterested. Or worse still, they are some concoction of man’s imagination that has no power to intervene or deliver.
The Godhead: The Trinity
How does a revelation of God’s Fatherhood balance with an understanding of the Trinity?
We worship and serve the Three-in-One God, the Trinity, or as Paul reveals Him: “the Godhead” (Colossians 2:9). While the concept of the Trinity is often a struggle for our finite minds, grasping the Father-heart of God not only reminds us of the distinctive beauty of each member of the Godhead but it also brings revelatory clarity to understanding God the Son and God the Spirit.
First of all, let’s remind ourselves that God is not “three-separate-gods” nor is He “one-god-who-disguises-himself-in-three-masks.” He is the awesome “Three-In-One” God.
“The Lord God is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4); yet He is three Persons in One: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; the same in essence, distinct in personality, but equal in power and glory (see Matthew 3:16, 17; Ephesians 2:18).
The Son Reveals the Father
As mentioned, when Jesus Himself spoke to God, He used the word father. In what is often called Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, Jesus “lifted up His eyes to heaven and said: ‘Father…’” (John 17:1ff). And throughout the prayer, we marvel at His intimacy with His Father as He repeatedly uses father-speak.
When He taught us to commune with God, He encouraged us to focus on the Father. “In this manner, therefore, pray: ‘Our Father in heaven…’” (Matthew 6:9). Whenever He spoke of God in His teachings, He revealed God as a father. For example, in what is called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus frequently uses the phrase: “your father in heaven” (Matthew 5-7). For instance, He says: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (5:16).
The disciples evidently got the message. Well, sort of. All the father-talk eventually compelled an exasperated Philip to say, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us” (John 14:8). Jesus replied: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). In fact, His response was a little like: “Are serious? Do you still not quite get it? I am here to reveal the Father. Everything I say and do is to reveal Father God.”
As already referenced, Jesus expressly declared that He came to reveal the Father: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Again, He did not say, “No one comes to heaven…” Or “No one gets saved…” Nor did He say, “No one gets a better life…”. God the Son reveals God the Father: “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Yes, Jesus has saved us. Thank God! Yet John explains it best when he writes: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Being restored to Father God is the goal of salvation.
Yes, heaven is a blessing of the redeemed. But heaven is only heaven because of who is going to be there! Without Father God, heaven would simply not be heaven. Jesus defined “eternal life” as knowing the Father intimately, personally, deeply (John 17:1-3). Jesus did not come to merely promise us a place in the afterlife; he came to invite us into a relationship with Father.
And yes, following God’s will does yield a better life. However, our life is only enriched because of Who we now know. The better life is only possible when it is lived from the Father’s perspective and in His counsel. Jesus did not merely promise us a better life; He came to welcome us into the loving arms of Father God.
Over and over again Jesus stated emphatically that He came in response to His Father’s desire, that He only did what brought His Father pleasure and that He came to reveal what His Father was like.
We cannot fully grasp God the Son until we grasp God the Father who sent Him to restore us into relationship with Himself as His children.
The Spirit Reveals the Father
Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the “Promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4, 5). Did you ever make that connection before? I mean, was Jesus Himself not the Promised Messiah?
Yes … in part. God promised the Messiah throughout the Old Testament but made it clear that His full intention was to indwell His children with His very being. Thus the promised Messiah was in part “God in the flesh” because only as a Man could He accomplish what He did. But the promised Messiah was fully received when “God by the Spirit” indwells us in the miracle of salvation. God as a Man could not indwell us; He could and did die on our behalf paving the way for God the Spirit to indwell our blood-washed lives.
You may recall that Jesus first spoke of the Holy Spirit back in John 14:16-20 when He assured the disciples that He will “pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, the Spirit of truth.” Listen to His words: “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you … At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:18).
Orphans. The picture is poignant. By the indwelling Spirit, an orphaned creation is reunited with their Father.
Paul then wonderfully describes this miracle, amplifying on this picture.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
Interestingly, the word Paul uses for “sons” refers to a “mature son” rather a “young child.” He is speaking about mature believers contributing to God’s purpose for creation in this eighth chapter of Romans. The implication of course is that maturity is only possible as we yield to the indwelling Spirit. But just as enlightening, maturity results in a deepening understanding of God’s nature, specifically manifested in a heart-revelation of His Fatherhood as we embrace “Abba, Father.” Spiritual maturity yields a deeper intimacy with the Father.
The word Abba is Aramaic for “Daddy”. It stems from the simple word Ab which, according to the Hebrews, is the first sound an infant child makes in reference to their father or mother. Hence, it is the purest and greatest expression of dependence on parental love. The Holy Spirit awakens the deepest recesses of our soul to the love and affection of Father God. As we mature in our faith, He reveals greater depths of intimacy with God as Father.
Paul actually refers to the “Spirit of adoption”. However, the adoption he refers to is not the concept of adoption we know today. In Hebrew culture, a father would adopt his own son at the age of thirteen, an act that would affirm his pride in his son, an expression of the father’s blessing: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” In this concept of adoption, the father invites his son into adulthood; a more mature relationship in fellowship and a recognition of his inheritance in the family business. Hence, Paul’s use of the phrase, “if children, then heirs.”
God the Spirit continues to reveal God the Father.
Again, we cannot fully grasp God the Spirit until we grasp God the Father who sent His Spirit to indwell us, to make His home in us, and to fully restore us as His children into His inheritance.
Paul taught the function of each member of the Godhead in sublime simplicity in one verse to the Ephesian church:
For through [Jesus], we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18)
Hence, we come “to” the Father, “through” the Son, “by” the Spirit. The focus of our devotion is the Father and we have access to Him through what Jesus has done and by the Spirit who indwells us.
In one of the most amazing passages on Scripture, Paul outlines God’s eternal plan and how the Godhead works together to restore all of creation back God’s Fatherhood.
First, Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Notice how he directs his praise and gratitude to the Father. Then He outlines what these blessings are and how they fit into the His overall purpose: Father God has chosen us, predestined us and redeemed us (vv. 4-7) in order to “gather together in one all things in Christ both which are in heaven and which are on earth” (v. 10).
In other words, Father God is restoring all creation to Himself in Christ. Paul then goes onto to mention that the “Holy Spirit of promise” is the seal and guarantee of God’s plan (vv. 13, 14). No wonder Paul bursts into prayer in the next few verses praising the “Father of glory” (vv. 15ff).
So, who should we pray to?
Essentially, we are to pray to the Father, led by the Spirit, in the Name (and nature) of Jesus. All the prayers in the New Testament are directed to the Father; some of them also include Jesus (see Acts 4:24-30; Romans 1:8-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:3-11; Colossians 1:9-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12; Philemon 4-6; Hebrews 13:20, 21).
This does not mean we cannot address Jesus and the Holy Spirit directly or exclusively. We can and should … enjoying a liberty in our worshipful prayer and enjoying the Personhood of the Son and the Spirit, not just the Father. As God, the Son and the Spirit deserve and receive our worship and prayer. However, generally speaking, we are to direct our prayers to the Father, while we ensure that we maintain an awareness and relationship with each member of the Godhead.
Too often, we can just jumble words together, like “O Father Jesus…” This tends to happen when we pray without thought or when we pray religiously. Yes, prayer should be from the heart but this does not mean that it should be mindless. As we commune with God from our heart to His, focusing our mind on each member of the Godhead enables intimate worship, supplication and intercession in response to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.