The word of the day is “Father.” In the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the priest introduces the Lord’s Prayer with a statement that echoes today’s reading of Romans 8:14-21. He exclaims, “And make us worthy, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation we may call on thee, the heavenly God as Father and to say…” (St-Tikhon’s 1984). In today’s reading, Paul explains, “But you received the Spirit of adoption by which we cry out ‘Abba, Father’” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 75). How is it that we dare to call the Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, as “Father”? Today we will find the reasons for the way we address God. We will find these justifications in Jesus’ teaching and the movement of the Spirit in our hearts that proves we are children of God. These reasons will encourage us to be bold in our prayers to our Heavenly Father.
The noted German Bible scholar Joachim Jeremias observed that there is no indication that the Jews addressed God as “Father” until the 10th Century A.D. There are instances when they referred to God and their “Father.” For instance, Moses sang, “Is He [God] not your Father, who acquired you? Has He not made and created you?” (OSB Deuteronomy 32:6). The Septuagint (LXX) translated, “Did he not Himself thy father [pater] purchase thee? (Rahlfs 1979, Septaginta, Deuteronomy 32:6). And the Lord asks Job, “Who is the rain’s father?” (Job 38:28).
Jesus Prayed to God as His “Abba”
But to talk to God and call Him “Father” was unique and characteristic of Jesus. He used the ancient term “Abba,” from the Chaldean language of the Babylonians. It expresses the close relationship of affection between a father and child (Strong’s #5, 1). The evidence that Jesus used this personal address of endearment is found in His prayer in the Garden before His betrayal and arrest. Without translation into Greek, Mark quotes the Lord: “‘Abba, Father’ all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will but what You will” (OSB Mark 14: 36).
But the Lord’s Prayer shows that Jesus also taught His followers to call upon Almighty God with the same kind of loving familiarity. Paul demonstrates that this way of addressing God continued in the apostolic era. In our reading, the apostle reminds the Romans that “we cry out ‘Abba, Father’” (OSB vs. 15). And he writes in Galatians, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father!’” (OSB Galatians: 4:6l
We Call Upon God as “Abba” by the Spirit
Why do we dare to use such affectionate familial terms to speak to the God of the Universe? It is not only that Jesus authorized His followers to call on our Heavenly Father in this way. But Paul says our address is an expression of Spirit working in us—the Spirit of our adoption as children of God. As children of God, the Spirit moves us to say “Our Father.” Conversely, that practice proves that we are God’s own offspring. Only those who are the children of God have the right to entreat Him as their Father. But the Spirit of God joining together with our spirit in us makes us bold to assume that privilege (OSB vs. 17).
Thus, our name for God confirms that we are his adopted children. Therefore, we are legitimate, legal offspring of the Heavenly Father. Thus, we are heirs of the birthright of all the blessings of God, the Father. It is astounding to think of it, but our relationship to God as His own offspring makes us “joint-heirs” with Christ. Christ is the Only Begotten Son of God. But by our adoption, we also are “sons and daughters of God” by the adoption of grace.
Our exploration of why we can dare call God “Father” in prayer has implications for how we pray. The Lord said, “Ask and it will be given to you.” So then we should ask with the assurance that our Heavenly Father will answer our bequests. The confidence of our prayers should match the boldness of our personal address of God.
No Father Gives a Serpent When His Son Ask for a Fish
To illustrate this certainty of faith in prayer, the Lord said, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (OSB Matthew 7:9-10). He went on to say even evil parents give beneficial things to their children. But if God is our Father, “how much more will He “give good things to those who ask Him” (OSB Matthew 7:11).
Jesus said that we do not need to babble on in the hope that God will hear our prayers. He taught, “Your Father knows the things we need before we ask” (OSB Matthew 6:8). Therefore we should not be hesitant or ashamed to offer our requests to God. But our Heavenly Father delights in our petitions. They strengthen the bond between his fatherhood and our adopted status as God’s children.
Rahlfs, Alred. 1979. Septuaginta. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.