(The following is the full-text sermon preached by Michel Larsen on December 23, 2018.)
Today I want to talk to you about your Father. When you were born, you met your biological father for the first time. If you were later adopted, like me, then you met your second earthly father. And if you became a Christian, then you met your third Father – your heavenly Father. Even though our heavenly Father is perfect, we do not experience God perfectly. No matter how much we may love our own dad here on earth, we know that every father has flaws. It is also true that what we have experienced as children will affect how we know and enjoying God as our Father.
For some of us, it is easy. If we had a great and loving dad, we will gladly accept God as our parent. If our dad was abusive, though, may struggle with even thinking of God in terms of a father. Jesus had his earthly father – Joseph, but he also perfectly experienced his perfect heavenlyFather (Mt. 5:48), and He alone can help us to experience a close relationship with God as our Father. The Lord Jesus told His disciples in John 14:6-7,9, "No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. . . . He who has seen Me has seen the Father" As the perfect Son of God, Jesus revealed His Father perfectly. And He showed us how we could enjoy a closeness with the Father that we could never have dreamed possible. No other relationship can be as fulfilling.
Do you enjoy a close relationship with the Father in heaven? Do you know how much He loves you and wants to care for you? The Bible states that all people can become children of the King of the universe. I found six characteristics of what it means to have God as your Father.
1. Family Status
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal. 4:6-7). Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1).
What has God done to bring us into His family? Jesus said that a person is outside the family of God unless he is spiritually reborn. This rebirth is accomplished by God's Spirit when a person expresses personal faith in Jesus as one's only hope of forgiveness of sin and life in heaven. John 1:12 says "as many as received [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name."
Adoption is the other key illustration used in the New Testament. In Romans 8:14-16, the apostle Paul wrote, "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."
2. Access through prayer
Through [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). We can come to God in prayer because we are family through faith in Christ. We don’t need an appointment or clean up first or use special language. Why? Because we're family.
In his book What Jesus Said About Successful Living, Haddon W. Robinson writes, "In the Old Testament, the Israelites did not individually address God as Father. Yet in the New Testament, God is called Father at least 275 times, and that is how we are instructed to speak to Him. All that a good father wants to be to his children, Jesus told us, God will be to Christians who approach Him in prayer. We can pray as children.”
3. Training in goodness
We don't enjoy the pain that is necessary for learning and maturing. Training takes many forms. It may be physical: trying to get our body in shape by eating less and exercising more. It may be emotional and spiritual: learning how to depend on the Lord during a tragedy. Or it may take the form of suffering the consequences of sinful choices, and experiencing the Lord's rebuke. As children, we didn't enjoy the "lessons" our parents tried to teach us. We didn’t like cleaning our rooms, helping with household chores, and doing our homework. And when we broke the rules, we didn't enjoy getting punished. At the time we received the discipline, we didn't have much appreciation for what we learned.
In Hebrews 12 tells us that we need to follow the examples of faithfulness of the past and to endure all difficulties as we follow Christ's example. Like marathon runners, we need to get in shape spiritually and not to allow anything to slow us down as we "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (v.1). Then the writer pointed to Jesus Christ as the ultimate example to follow (vv.2-3). Hebrews 5:8 says this about Christ: "Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." Jesus Himself learned the high cost of obedience to the Father.
Finally Hebrews 12:9-11 says, “We have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.” Proverbs 3:12 says that as a good human father corrects his children, God corrects those whom He loves.
4. Help in times of need
As a dad, I am eager to come to my children's aid. It may be a bandage, a hug, or help with a homework assignment. Jesus said in Matthew 7 that if we know how to give what is good to our children, how much more will our Heavenly Father give good things to us. The Bible assures us that we can cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). He knows our needs and He knows how to meet those needs with wisdom and compassion.
As we read the Bible, we find many examples of God's help in times of need. The nation of Israel, for example, experienced the love of the Father throughout their history. In thinking back to the time the Lord brought them out of Egypt, Moses said, "The LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place" (Deuteronomy 1:31 NIV). The evidence of His care may come through other people. Or it may come as peace in your heart, or as strength to endure great difficulty.
5. Eternal hope
What hope keeps people going from day to day?
The hope of a paycheck? A vacation? A relationship? A new baby? A new house? Men and women desire to know why they exist, where they are going, and what makes it all worthwhile. Tragically, so many people are clinging to false hope.
What is our basis for hope?
We have been given the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, who confirms that we are God's children (Rom. 8:16) and guarantees that our adoption is forever (Eph. 1:13-14).
We have assurance that nothing can separate us from God's love (Rom. 8:35-39).
We have confidence that all the events of life--good and bad--have a purpose (Rom. 8:28) and that God is in control (vv.29-39).
Father who hears and answers prayer (see previous section on prayer).
What is our hope for eternity?
We have a heavenly home waiting for us, specially prepared by Christ (Jn. 14:1-6).
We will be like Christ (1 Jn. 3:2)--having a new body that is free from the ravages of sin (2 Cor. 5:1-5).
No matter how hopeless life may seem at the moment, we have reason for hope on earth because we have a Father in heaven.
6. Responsibilities to fulfill
To be God's child has many benefits. But God's children also have responsibilities to fulfill.
What does God want from us?
God our Father desires our love most of all. What did Jesus say when a legal expert asked Him, "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" (Mt. 22:36 NIV). Jesus replied, "'Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment" (vv.37-38).
The Father deserves honor. At the end of the Old Testament, the Lord asked the leaders of His chosen people some soul-searching questions:"A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence?" (Mal. 1:6).
The Father wants us to imitate Him.
The apostle Paul wrote, "Be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us" (Eph. 5:1-2). The family resemblance is seen in our clean break from a godless way of life. We are to be clearly different from people who are not members of God's family. In 1 John 3:10 we read, "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God".
Although we are "born again" by faith (Jn. 3:3,16), we demonstrate the reality of that faith by acts of obedience to God. James said, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (2:17). Jesus taught, "Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother" (Mt. 12:50). He also said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (7:21).
As members of a spiritual family, our responsibilities include:
We should love one another.
We should honor one another through service
We should be kind and forgiving.
We should pray for one another.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better (Eph. 1:17 NIV).
Have you become a child of God by declaring your personal faith in Jesus as Savior? Your answer determines whether all the joys of knowing God as Father now and throughout eternity will be yours.
Accept His gift of forgiveness (Rom. 6:23) and the invitation to be part of His family forever.
And then welcome to the family!