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For Whom is God “Father”?

God is the Creator of everything. So, logically this makes him the father of all people, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. Recently in my Christian Classics reading group, we’ve been taking a look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, found inside his book Discipleship (Fortress Press, 2015). In Matthew 6, Jesus gives his companions a great gift in the form of a prayer; a prayer which contains many great and wonderful lessons that earnest disciples can find regarding how they are to pray, to whom they pray, and what this prayer reveals about who they truly are.

Jesus begins his prayer in Matthew 6:9 with the words “Our Father”. Bonhoeffer observes that by the Holy Spirit, the disciples have been called out of the world and brought into the family of God—the family of which Jesus is a part—and, as brothers and sisters in Christ they can now share with him in calling God their father.

But it has not always been this way, and it is not automatically this way for everyone simply by virtue of being created by the same God. In his 2018 book, The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution Al Mohler writes

…the term “fatherhood of God” has often been used to imply that God is a father to all people, without distinction and without regard for a person’s faith in Christ. Of course, there is a sense in which God is fatherly toward all his creation. But Scripture affirms that we only come to know God as our Father personally when through faith in Christ we are adopted into God’s family.

God is indeed fatherly towards all his creation. However passages in Scripture such as Ephesians 1:4–5, Galatians 4:4–5,  Romans 8:14–15, and others attest to the reality that sonship (and thus our ability to call God Father) is only attained through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, and the acknowledgement of Jesus as Saviour and Lord by those who would come. Scripture is quite clear with the answer to this question, and we would be wise to take heed, lest we make the mistake of the Jews in John 8, who thought they were safely part of the family of God by virtue of their natural heritage. To them Jesus says

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. …Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. (John 8:44, 47)

Those who can call God “Father” are not the ones who are his children by virtue of being his creation only, but rather those who entered his family by virtue of adoption through Christ. This wonderful truth of the gospel should give us cause (as Jesus did) to comfort the frightened, but also frighten the comfortable. Once we were his enemies, but for those who have come to acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour and Lord, through Christ we can call God our Father, and he loves us no less than he loves his own Son.

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