The first time I laid eyes on my daughter, Cadence, I cried. I’m not really an emotional guy, but I was overwhelmed at becoming a dad. It was the same with my son, Lenox. My parents said he looked exactly like me, and I remember being bowled over by this profoundly obvious realization that these kids were mine. I didn’t just think it; I felt it – from my heart right up to my tear ducts!
What Does It Mean to Be a Child of God?
Romans 8:14 makes the bold claim that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” The passage is reminiscent of John 3, when Nicodemus steals to Jesus under cover of night to essentially ask, “Who are you?” Jesus responds to Nicodemus by saying, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:5-6).
Jesus is talking about the difference between physical and spiritual birth. Cadence and Lenox were born “of water,” when flesh gave birth to flesh. To become children of God, they must one day be born not only “of the flesh,” but “of the Spirit.”
What does that mean? Nicodemus asked the same question. In Romans 8:15, Paul credits the Spirit with bringing about our adoption into the family of God. He writes, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
Through no merit of our own, we’re invited into an intimate relationship with God based on the sacrifice of Jesus – a relationship where we experience Him not solely as Judge, Creator, or King, but as Dad.
Through no merit of our own, we’re invited into an intimate relationship with God based on the sacrifice of Jesus.
What Does “Abba” Mean?
Did you know the word “Abba” is only used three times in the Bible? Of these instances, only once is it uttered by Jesus, and it’s in His darkest hour: “‘Abba, Father,’ Jesus said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:36).
These are Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane – sweat and blood running down His face, the cross imminent, His closest friends snoring. Interesting, isn’t it? Right before facing the fullness of God’s wrath, Jesus calls Him, “Abba.” It’s an Aramaic word for father that implies two things: intimacy and obedience.
Sometimes we focus solely on the intimacy of the word “Abba,” treating it like a cozy synonym for “Daddy.” But in Jewish culture, it also connotes deep deference. Both attitudes are reflected in Jesus’ prayer. He comes to His Father God with a spirit of honesty and also obedience.
Romans 8:14-15 demonstrates a similar tension between intimacy and obedience by calling Christians “children of God,” “adopted,” no longer “slaves,” but sons and daughters. We have been given access into an intimate relationship with God, but how? Access is granted by way of obedience – by dying to self, surrendering our lives to Christ, and being led by the Spirit: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14).
Three Benefits of Being God’s Child
Shortly after college, I experienced a season of loss and pruning. I had great expectations for friendships, a career path – lots of things, really – and they just didn’t pan out. I remember feeling lonely and abandoned, like God was distant.
Ironically, looking back, I can’t recall a season when I’ve ever been closer to God. Yes, I was questioning and doubting things about God and life in general, but I have never prayed and had open conversations with the Father more than I had in that season.
One of the greatest benefits of being God’s child is that we have access to Him. We can boldly approach Him any time, any place, with any emotion. Cadence and Lenox don’t have to clean themselves up in order to come to me. That’s the beauty of the parent-child relationship. They come just as they are – cranky, excited, heartbroken, mad – and I love them irrevocably.
Not only do we have access to God, we have His blessing. Romans 8:17 says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” God wants the absolute best for His children, and He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). That doesn’t mean every material blessing, but it means that in the truest sense of the word, Christians are blessed – poised to inherit eternal life as heirs of God.
Finally, we have hope. Romans 8:17 goes on to say that we are heirs of God “if indeed we share in His sufferings, in order that we may also share in His glory.” Christians aren’t exempt from suffering. In fact, we’re guaranteed to share in Christ’s suffering. But we hold onto a greater hope – that God is with us and for us through it all.