The reference to God as “Abba Father” is found three times in the New Testament–once spoken by Jesus in Mark 14:36, and twice spoken by Paul in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. GotQuestions.org provides the meaning behind this most important name for God:
In Scripture there are many different names used to describe God. While all the names of God are important in many ways, the name “Abba Father” is one of the most significant names of God in understanding how He relates to people. The word “Abba” is an Aramaic word that means “Father.” It was a common term that expressed affection and confidence and trust. “Abba” signifies the close, intimate relationship of a father and his child, as well as the childlike trust that a young child puts in his “daddy.”
“Abba” is always followed by the word “Father” in Scripture, and the phrase is found in three passages. In Mark 14:36, Jesus addresses His Father as “Abba, Father” in His prayer in Gethsemane. In Romans 8:15, “Abba, Father” is mentioned in relation to the Spirit’s work of adoption that makes us God’s children and heirs with Christ. In Galatians 4:6, again in the context of adoption, the Spirit in our hearts cries out, “Abba, Father.” Together, the terms “Abba” and “Father” doubly emphasize the fatherhood of God. In two different languages, we are assured of God’s care for His children.
Many claim that all people are “children of God,” but the Bible reveals quite a different truth. We are all His creations and under His authority and lordship, and all will be judged by Him, but the right to be a child of God and call Him “Abba Father” is something that only born-again Christians have (John 1:12–13). When we are born again (John 3:1–8), we are adopted into the family of God, redeemed from the curse of sin, and made heirs of God (Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7). Part of that new relationship is that God now deals with us differently, as family.
It is life-changing to understand what it means to be able to call the one true God our “Father” and what it means to be joint-heirs with Christ. Because of our relationship with our “Abba, Father,” He no longer deals with us as enemies; instead, we can approach Him with “boldness” (Hebrews 10:19) and in “full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). The Holy Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16–17).
Becoming a child of God is the highest and most humbling of honors. Because of it we have a new relationship with God and a new standing before Him. Instead of running from God and trying to hide our sin like Adam and Eve did, we run to Him, calling, “Abba, Father!” and finding forgiveness in Christ. Being an adopted child of God is the source of our hope, the security of our future, and the motivation to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Being children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords calls us to a higher standard, a different way of life, and, in the future, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1:4).
When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He began with the words “Our Father.” There is much truth in those two words alone. The holy and righteous God, who created and sustains all things, who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present, not only allows us but encourages us to call Him “Father.” What a privilege is ours. What amazing grace that God would love us so, that Jesus would sacrifice Himself for us, and that the Holy Spirit would indwell us and prompt our intimate cry of “Abba, Father!” (Quote source here.)
Let’s take a closer look at those three scripture references mentioned at the start of this post. Jesus stated in Mark 14:36 (NIV):
“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Jesus recognizes two crucial realities: First, God can do anything he wants to do; he is God, the sovereign ruler of all things. Second, Jesus knows that his life must be governed by God’s will and not his own. The whole of human salvation history hinges on Jesus’ following through on one heart-felt phrase from his lips: “I want your will to be done, not mine.” In a parallel way, our future is also determined by our following our Savior’s example and saying, “Father, I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Quote source here.)
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 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.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
In Romans 8, [Paul] continually speaks of the contrast between the Spirit and flesh. The chapter begins with how we have all sinned and are unable to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Therefore, God has to provide a way (and He did so) through Jesus Christ. Christ is the propitiation for our faith–He has fulfilled the law and its requirements on our behalf and we can now be counted righteous by the righteousness of another.
The law of the Spirit leads to life and peace, and as Christians, we have the Spirit dwelling in us to give us new desires. This leads to today’s study, where we explore and understand our identity in Christ.
Paul has been teaching about the Spirit of God dwelling in us, and verse 14 is a continuation of Paul’s argument from earlier. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are therefore “sons of God”. John 1:12-13 tells us that this new identity is part of the will of God. This is consistent with what we have seen so far–God acts.
Paul goes on to contrast 2 kinds of spirits (Rom 8:15)—slavery and adoption. The spirit of slavery leads to fear, while the spirit of adoption leads us to cry, “Abba! Father!” Notice the contrast between the identity of a slave and a son. There are rights and privileges that come with transforming from being a slave to a son. Your former debts have been paid, and you now have security and authority in the household. More than that, you now have a relationship with the Father, and can cry out intimately “Abba! Father!” Do you realize how wonderful this is? When we come before God in prayer, uttering the words “our Heavenly Father”, this is not a formula or just a model prayer for us to recite without thinking. To call God our Father is something radical, so radical and mind blowing that Jesus was charged because He claimed to be the Son of God (c.f. Matt 26:53).
Verse 16 tells us that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. What does this mean? Or to rephrase, how can we be assured and confirm that we are sons of God? Safely to say, this passage shows us there is an experiential element to our faith. This can take the form of new and changed hearts with new desires. God not only gives us new identities, but also sends His spirit with us to confirm it.
The issue of sonship is repeated in these verses. Modern people like us think of sons from a genetic point of view. But to the 1st Century readers, they would understand sonship and its implications differently. Sonship comes with inheritance and continuity, for the son will continue the trade of the father. Isn’t that different from our modern sensibilities, where we are told to be what we want to be and dream our dreams? We try our whole lives to become who we think we should be, to try to make an impact on the world and try to leave a lasting impression. We prize individualism, thinking it is our freedom, but Romans 8 shows us a different kind of freedom, and shows us what it really means to be who we are made to be. Paul calls us to become sons of God, our new identity in Christ, to be recognized by the King.
[Next], Paul speaks of a privilege, a condition and a consequence of being sons of God (Romans 8:17):
Privilege: Heirs of God and heirs with Christ
What are we heirs of? As sons of God, we now have the assurance that we are God’s and that we now have the intimacy with him and no longer have condemnation because of Christ (basically everything that we’ve been talking about so far). The verses in Rom 4:13-14 speak of a full and complete inheritance. God is not stingy and gives us only a portion, but He gives us beyond what we can expect. More importantly, these verses tell us that we inherit it through the “righteousness of faith”, not by our striving and merit. Not only that, we are also guaranteed the resurrection body and resurrection.
Condition: Suffer with Christ
Yet, sonship does not guarantee a trouble free life. Look at the life of Christ. He suffered as the Son of God. The Bible keeps repeating this in many of Paul’s letters (c.f. Phil 3:8-11, 1 Peter 1). We all have real struggles, problems and sufferings today. But as we read these verses, let us take our eyes away from our circumstances and realize that equally real are the promises of God here, and the work of Jesus Christ! So, why do we take our eyes of Jesus and the promises that await us in Him, and focus on the problems that we have?
Consequence: Glorified with Christ after we have suffered with Him.
What does this mean for us today? What do you find your identity in today? How does understanding of your inheritance as a son of God change the way you live today? Perhaps it is time to pause and consider your answer to these questions. (Quote source here.)
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
One of the tragedies of legalism is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity when, in reality, it leads the believer back into a “second childhood” of Christian experience. The Galatian Christians, like most believers, wanted to grow and go forward for Christ; but they were going about it in the wrong way. Their experience is not too different from that of Christians today who get involved in various legalistic movements, hoping to become better Christians. Their motives may be right, but their methods are wrong.
Paul enumerates some of the characteristics of childhood to illustrate the spiritual immaturity of living under the law. Though a child may be the heir of a great estate, he still lives and functions as a slave until a time set by his father.
In verse 3, Paul uses first person to include himself and give the sense that they are in this together. Prior to the grace of Christ, the Christian is enslaved to the elementary things (or basic principles) of the world, the ABCs of the law.
Verse 4 provides the divine answer to humanity’s slavery under the law. When the law had accomplished its purpose and man was ready for release from the bondage of the law, God sent his Son. He came right on schedule, arriving on the earth when the time had fully come. Some suggest world conditions were ripe for the spread of the gospel. The Romans had ushered in an era of relative peace through law and order. Their network of roads made travel more convenient. Widespread use of the Greek language simplified communication. At the same time, the proliferation of empty religions among many people created a spiritual hunger for something genuine. The Son had the qualifications to bring salvation to human beings. (Quote source here.)
Specific to verses 6-7, Taylor states:
Verse 6: God the Father not only “sent His Son”; He also sent “the Spirit of His Son.” Thus the full Trinity is involved in the work of salvation. The Holy Spirit is a gift of God to every believer because of sonship. No sons or daughters lack the Spirit. Further, He is present within each believer’s heart to give evidence of that one’s position in God’s family. Christians can know intimacy with the Father because of the indwelling Spirit. The Spirit moves the believer to pray to God, addressing Him as “Abba, Father” (cf. Rom. 8:15). The word “Abba” is the Aramaic word for “Father.” Abba means a term of endearment, later used as title and personal name; rarely used in ref. to God. that it is the diminutive form used by small children in addressing their fathers. Many say it is appropriate to see its similarity to the English word “Daddy” or some will say it means “Papa.” Used by Christ (cf. Mark 14:36), this familiar form indicates intimacy and trust as opposed to the formalism of legalism. It shows the closeness children of grace have with their Father. No slave of the law had such an intimate relationship. That intimate relationship comes through the Spirit not through the law.
Verse 7: To conclude, Paul declared that the Galatians were no longer slaves, but were sons and heirs. Thus, under grace we have progressed from being slaves to being sons and heirs. Grace is adulthood. Law is childhood. With the privileges of adulthood, the Christian has no reason to regress back to the law. The plural forms in verse 6 were replaced by the singular forms in verse 7 thus making the application to the reader direct and personal. In God’s family, sonship carries with it heirship (cf. Rom. 8:17).
To be an “heir of God” is true of all “sons” unconditionally. This should be distinguished, however, from being an heir of the kingdom. The Bible speaks of two inheritances (Rom. 8:17). All children of God by faith have an inheritance in heaven which can never fade (1 Peter 1:3-5), but the inheritance in the earthly reign of Christ is earned as a result of our sufferings for Him (2 Tim. 2:12). (Quote source here.)
In summary, Taylor states:
Paul, writing to Roman audiences, uses the metaphor of adoption, which a Roman audience would have understood. In Galatians 4:3–7, Christians are born enslaved, but Jesus buys them out of slavery and they are adopted by the Father and given the Spirit, so now they are heirs. When we come to faith in Christ, our debts are cancelled, we are given a new name, and we are given all the rights that heirs of God possess. One difference from Roman adoption is that Christians are not adopted because God thinks they will make worthy heirs. God adopts people who are completely unworthy, because He adopts on the basis of His grace. (Quote source here.)
“God adopts people who are completely unworthy, because He adopts on the basis of His grace”…. I’ll end this post with the chorus from the song, “Abba” (YouTube video below):
Abba . . .
I belong . . .
To You . . . .
YouTube Video: “Abba” sung by Dante Bowe live at Bethel Church: