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Knowing God as Father


All who are in Christ are God’s children. Yet many people find it difficult to think of God as their Father. This can be especially true for those whose earthly fathers have left them with unhappy recollections of sinful behavior and its consequences.

But God’s fatherhood has not been touched by sin. When we struggle to understand God as Father, it is likely because we are projecting onto God a notion of fatherhood that is not true of God. As Derek Prime writes, “All we know of genuine human fatherhood at its best is but a pale reflection of what the Father is, first, to his Son, and then to all who become his spiritual children.”1

The name of “Father” is not one we have chosen for God. It is what He has chosen to call Himself. Our great need, then, is to understand what God’s fatherhood actually is—and we may begin to do so by looking at His relationship with the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. As we consider the richness of Jesus’ relationship with the Father, we can understand what it means for us to be adopted into God’s family.


To begin with, Christ’s relationship with His Father was marked by an unmistakable intimacy. For Jesus, God was not distant. He could converse with His Father openly and freely. We see this intimacy most clearly in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus, recoiling from the prospect of death, cried out to God with a term of the nearest familial endearment: “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36).

Extraordinarily, the same interaction of the eternal Son with the Father is the intimacy that we now in some measure enjoy. Paul writes, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6). Like Jesus, we can cry out to our Father in times of desperation and need, certain that He will hear us.

When we struggle to understand God as Father, it is likely because we are projecting onto God a notion of fatherhood that is not true of God.

Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). As children can make themselves comfortable in the home of a warm and affectionate dad, putting up their feet and sharing their lives without fear, so in Christ we may know what it’s like to be at home with God. Indeed, this kind of intimacy is only a glimpse of what we may enjoy with God by sharing in the life of His Son.


Jesus also knew His Father to be generous. He described the Father’s liberality to the crowd: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). Jesus displayed God’s generosity in His ministry by healing the sick, driving out evil spirits, and even multiplying fish and loaves so that the hungry crowds could eat.

If we have a picture in our minds of God as a Father who reluctantly rations out His blessings—a little here and a little there—then we haven't understood the Bible’s image of Him fully. Our heavenly Father is magnanimous. He is generous in the extreme, and He loves to lavish His grace and affection on us. And even while we must deny a health-and-wealth “gospel” that supposes God’s gifts always come in the form of worldly prosperity, we need to take Jesus at His word when He teaches us that God is far more willing to bless His children than we are willing to ask.


When Jesus was in the desert and hungry from fasting for forty days and nights, He did not yield to Satan’s temptation to turn stones into bread. He understood that His security was ultimately with God the Father and the Spirit. God the Son knew that the Father offers provision that sustains far greater than physical bread ever could. (See Matt. 4:1–4.)

On another occasion, recorded in Matthew 16:5–12, we read that Jesus warned His disciples about false teaching, speaking of “the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” The disciples supposed He was teaching them about their physical circumstances, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus was incredulous at this response: “Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” Unlike the disciples, Jesus trusted resolutely that God would meet His greatest needs.

Jesus had already taught His disciples that they could rely on the Father, saying, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For … your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matt. 6:31–32). God is not some aloof animating force of the universe. He is our generous Father who knows, cares, and provides. It is in these truths that our security lies.

God not only forgives our sins but also adopts us as His own children. He invites us into His home to become members of His family.

Indeed, even amid the realities of suffering and death, we know this security. No hardship can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:35–39). The Christian knows that she is secure in the Father’s providential care and that God will raise her up at the last day. We are guaranteed “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).


At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when John the Baptist baptized Him, God confirmed Jesus’ identity as His Son by speaking from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). God said the same to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). Jesus’ self-perception was founded on His being the Son of the Father—a sense of identity that He expressed on many occasions (e.g., John 5:30, 6:38, 8:28).

Jesus is unique in His status as the incarnate Son, the second person of the Trinity. Yet through His work of atonement, He has invited us to share in the privileges of identifying as God’s children. We may be tempted to prove our ourselves worthy to be God’s children by our works, but actually, in the grace of God, those who know Jesus simply are heirs of the Father and “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). We are children of the King and part of His family. We are one with Him. And it is the reality of this identity, through grace, that prevents us from slipping back to our old identity by nature. We can say to ourselves, “I am a child of the King, and I will live as a child of the King should.”

How to Know God as Father

The benefit of knowing God as Father are indeed rich—but not everyone experiences them. God is, in one sense, the Father of everyone as the creator of all things. But there is a difference between being God’s “offspring” (Acts 17:28–29) because He is the Creator and being a son or daughter in a healthy relationship with his or her Father. And apart from the redeeming work of Christ, Paul writes that we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3), “having no hope and without God in the world” (v. 12). In other words, by nature, we belong to a different family all together.

There’s good news, though, for those who want to join God’s family: we can become children of God through the Lord Jesus Christ as God gathers people by a supernatural rebirth. As the apostle John writes, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12–13). The grace of God enables us to turn away from sin, to turn to faith in Jesus, and so to gain spiritual life. God not only forgives our sins but also adopts us as His own children. He invites us into His home to become members of His family. Through Jesus, we may know God as our Father even as Jesus does.

Is God your Father? Have you turned to Christ with a conscious repentance of sin, confessing your need for His redemptive work in your life? If so, then God has welcomed you into His family. The Father’s love for us is imponderable (Eph. 1:4–6). Yet as we begin to contemplate this great love, expressed to God’s beloved Son and to us, it will guide us to a greater awareness of all that it means to know Him as Father.

This article is adapted from the sermon “The Fatherhood of God” by Alistair Begg. Subscribe to get weekly blog updates.

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  1. Derek Prime, The Lord’s Prayer for Today (Bromley, UK: Day One, 1996), 23.↩︎

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