“Abba, Father”

open hands

OD SENT FORTH His Son into the world to provide salvation, but He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your heart to assist you in your salvation!

Suppose all you have ever known is worldly, sinful living or empty religion. Now that you are born again, you may wonder, I’m a son and not a slave anymore, so how am I supposed to act now that I am saved? How do I approach God? The answer is found in the person and work of the Holy Spirit in you.

At salvation, God sends His Spirit—the Spirit of Jesus—into your heart, and He comes crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6). Abba is an intimate Aramaic diminutive for “father.” Jesus used “Abba” to address God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). Its equivalent in modern American English would be “da-da” or “pa-pa.”

When my boys were little, my wife, Leah, and I would compete with each other. She wanted their first words to be “ma-ma,” and I wanted their first words to be “da- da.” Abba is a tender term of endearment between a baby and his or her father. So, from the moment you are saved, the Spirit is saying to God the Father, “Dada”—or, as I like to say, “Papa God.”

Why would the Holy Spirit do this? All you have ever known is sin and sinful living. You are clueless on how to relate to your new heavenly Father. Consequently, it is vital that the Holy Spirit teach you immediately how to be a child of God by modeling intimacy. Before salvation, you were distant from God. The Bible uses terms like “estranged” (Gal. 5:4)* and “enmity with God” (James 4:4). Once you are saved, you have immediate access to God and are placed in a state of intimacy with Him. It is the kind of intimacy that a baby has with his or her parent. The Spirit teaches you to draw close to the Father and call Him “Papa God.”

Singer and songwriter Nancy Harmon was the first person I heard refer to the Lord as “Papa God.” I was a teenager, and I had never heard anyone refer to God like that before. For a moment, I thought she had blasphemed! All my life, I had been taught that you referred to God as “our Father.” I had heard people begin their prayers like this: “Our most gracious heavenly Father.” Usually, it was a man with a deep voice, and the rest of his prayer was in Elizabethan English (King James style). Nancy had discovered the wonderful balance between the fear of the Lord and intimacy with the Lord. She knew Him reverently as Father but approached Him intimately as Papa God.

That revelation changed the way I approached God, and sometimes I call Him “Papa God” while in prayer. I have learned that, like a child, I can figuratively crawl up onto His lap and share my heart with Him, and He holds me in His arms and tenderly meets my every need.

From Slavery to a Child of God

As a slave, you lived in fear of God the Father because of the sin inside you. The Spirit of Jesus works in you to change your mind-set from that of a slave to that of a child of God. His role is to help you make the transition from slave to son in words, thoughts, and actions. He starts with your tongue and with your heart by teaching you that you can call to God and know He is hearing you. God the Father knows the sound of His Spirit’s voice, but He knows the sound of your voice, too!

When I was 9 years old, I was sitting on a large dirt pile about 75 yards away from our house. I was hitting a scrap board with a hammer, and I accidentally sheared off a piece of wood and drove it into the side of my hand. I let out a blood-curdling scream! Even though I was at a distance from the house and Mom was inside with the doors closed, she heard my cry and came running to me immediately. My earthly mom knew the sound of her son’s voice, and your heavenly Father knows the sound of your voice. The new believer must learn that God hears you when you are in pain, brokenhearted, worried, in distress, or in prayer. “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry” (Ps. 34:15).

In Romans 8:15, Paul refers to a “spirit of bondage . . . to fear.” When you are an unredeemed slave, you are spiritually bound by a spirit of fear. Unregenerate people may say they do not believe in God or in divine retribution. Yet deep down, they fear the possibility that they may be mistaken and have to give an account to God one day for their life on earth. Some fear that life is a meaningless existence, where you are born, you live, you die, and you are done. Many fear (correctly) that their religious attempts are inadequate to make them right with God.

When you are born again, the Holy Spirit frees you from the bondage of fear. When He comes in, the fear leaves! First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” You no longer fear the judgment of God, dying and going to hell, or living a meaningless life. Second Timo- thy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Sin gives you a spirit of fear, but God gives you the Spirit of Jesus to replace fear with assurance. He persuades you that Jesus took the punishment for your sins and loves you unconditionally. He provides you with confidence that you can live right and you are on your way to heaven. The Holy Spirit’s presence and ministry in you verifies that your life has purpose and meaning.

My parents had only my sister and me, but my great-grandparents had 14 children. In big families, one of the children may feel less loved or left out and become insecure. A discerning parent will talk with that child, getting them to open up about their worry or fear, and lovingly reassure the son or daughter that they are loved unconditionally. They will wrap arms of love around them and let them feel the warmth of their embrace. They will say, “I love you as much as I love all your brothers and sisters. You are special, and I’m so glad God gave you to me!”

Spiritually, we are in a big family. Sometimes, you might feel unloved or left out. It is not that God does not love you or that He has left you; it is because you feel this way. It is a false feeling. This can happen when you sin and repent. God has forgiven you, but you have not really forgiven yourself. You browbeat yourself, and that evolves into a feeling of insecurity. The devil will tell you that you are a second-rate child, and that God loves others in the family of God more than He loves you.

If you have ever had a season when you felt like you were in a spiritual wilderness, you have probably battled these feelings. You cannot feel the presence of God. While everyone else is shouting, singing, and rejoicing at church, you are standing there feeling numb. When Jesus was in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), Satan showed up to tempt Him. His tactic was to get Jesus to question His identity and His relationship with the Father: “If You are the Son of God. . . .” He still does the same thing to those in a spiritually dry season. He will say, “If you were still God’s child, you would feel something. God must have rejected you.” Thankfully, it is in those times that the Holy Spirit speaks softly to reassure you that you are still a loved child of God.

The Language of the Father

It is natural and normal for children to learn the language of their father. Children with a Spanish-speaking father will learn to speak Spanish. Children with a German-speaking father will learn to speak German. Children with a Southern United States father will learn to say, “Y’all” and “I reckon.”

When I taught my boys to speak, I taught them to speak English. I started with “da-da” and “ma-ma.” Eventually, I taught them to say other words in English, and their proficiency in their native language developed as they matured. They learned the meaning of multisyllable words and how to use those words in speaking and writing. In high school, one son learned French and the other learned Spanish. However, it all started when I gave them their first words to say.

As for the children of God, it is normal and natural to learn and to speak the language of their heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit begins by teaching you to say, “Abba, Father.” As you read the Bible, He teaches you how to pray the simple promises of God. As you grow in the Lord, you become proficient in speaking the words of God in prayer, in your circumstances, and to others as a testimony. You comprehend deep truths and are able to articulate sound doctrine.

There is a time when God wants to fill you with His Spirit, which includes speaking in a language that is distinct from your natural tongue. It is a heavenly language, one that Paul references in 1 Corinthians 13:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. . . .” God wants to speak through you and work in your life in a powerful way, and it all begins with those first words: “Abba, Father.”

* All scriptures are from the New King James Version.

Chris Sustar is lead pastor of High Praises Church of God in Anderson, South Carolina. This article is from his book, When the Natural Meets the Supernatural (Pathway Press).

From July, 2015