Sons and Daughters of Abba

The Holy Spirit – Adoption Agency

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15 ESV)

I’m going to assume all of us are familiar with human adoption. I’m also going to assume there are some of us who are unfamiliar with God’s adoption. So, let’s go from what we know to what we may not know.

Human adoption is truly one of the most wonderful expressions of human love. We have many, many adoptive families in our church. We probably have many who were adopted into a family. My family is blessed with two adopted children, my niece and nephew.

Human adoption is an act of love and law whereby a child is received into a family with all the rights and privileges thereof. They are cared for. Provided for. They have a roof over their head. A parent or two. More importantly they are provided with love and belonging. Orphans have lost a place to belong. They have no family within which to identify. Adoption provides for all of this. It is a huge blessing to the child AND a huge blessing to the parents. We should pray for families going through the adoption process as it is a grueling and sometimes agonizing wait. But oh, the joy when that child comes into their home! Strike up the band! Break forth in song! Happy day!

Ancient adoption was similar except ancient adoption was less about providing children for parents as it was about providing parents with an heir. A childless family in Roman culture would adopt a son to ensure that their family name and resources would carry on to the next generation. Paul is writing to Rome in the first century and adoption was very present and practiced in that culture.

Realize that adoption is not an illustration of spiritual truth. God’s adoption is the truth. By God’s grace and love he places us—sinners—into his family. We are made sons and daughters of the Most High God. Here is our Bethel doctrinal statement on this:

“From the moment of conversion, all believers are forever adopted into God’s family. They permanently become His children and are declared heirs with Christ. Their position is not maintained by human works, for it is by God’s power and grace that one’s salvation is kept sure. Therefore, all genuine Christians can have great confidence that their hope is certain, their faith will persevere, and their future is secure.” (Bethel Church Doctrinal Statement)

Romans 8:15 says it memorably, that we were not given “the spirit of slavery…but…the Spirit of adoption.” See the letters. The “s” of “spirit of slavery” is a little “s.” The “S” of “Spirit of adoption” is a capital. Why? Because “Spirit of adoption” is a title for the Holy Spirit. He is the adopting Spirit. The Adopter (John Calvin). By the Holy Spirit we are given family status. He is the adopting agency who places children in the family of God.

“…by whom we cry “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15) This little phrase may become your favorite in all of Romans. Abba. This is the Aramaic version of “Father” in the Greek. Aramaic was the language of the day along with Greek. But this is not the formal word for Father. It is the more personal and family word. In our culture, it would be “Daddy.” It is found three times in the New Testament; here and:

  • “And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (Mark 14:36)
  • “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6)

The Galatians passage is very similar to 8:15. This is striking when we realize the Old Testament and Jewish context. The name of God was revered SO much that they would refrain from using his self-disclosed name Yahweh and went with Jehovah so as not to misuse the name of God in any way.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Addressing God as Father was unusual, but for Jesus to go to the next level of intimacy with Abba was shocking.

Growing up, my dad never allowed us to call him father. We had to refer to him as Dad or some version thereof. His dad died when he was four. He grew up without ever being able to say, Dad. While he couldn’t say it, I think he liked to hear it. I love it when my girls say it, “Dada! Dada!”

While I think we must never lose reverence for the name of God, that Abba is used here certainly urges us to see this relationship with God through Christ on a far deeper level of personal intimacy than many of us likely do.

I’ll never forget hearing my oldest daughter say her first word. I think she said it before Jennifer thinks she said it. But then, I was listening for it. In the midst of jibber jabber, I heard for the first time, “Dada.” There she said it. Her first word and it was me! Me! “Mama” came later and now I think Mama wishes she heard Mama a little less.

Is it wrong to think that while we feel incredibly privileged to call God Daddy that God, like every parent who has ever lived, loves to hear it? Dada!

One indication that we are children of God is that we cry out Abba, Father! Where do we instinctively turn when we are afraid? We’ve never had to teach our girls to come to us when they are hurt or afraid. It is their instinct to do so. They also do not run to a stranger, they run to us. Where do you instinctively turn in times of trouble? Whom do you trust? The Spirit creates in us an awareness of a loving, heavenly Father AND compels us to cry out to him. How might including Abba in your whole approach to your relationship with God change it?

Please note that it doesn’t say we whisper Abba, but we cry Abba. When do we cry out? Happy times. Daddy! Sad times. Daddy! Fearful times. Daddy! Why do we turn to Daddy in the highs and lows? Because Daddy represents presence and strength; at least he should. Not fear but love and reassurance.

It made me think of this famous picture of President John F. Kennedy with his son playing at his feet:

The most powerful man in the world in the most powerful place in the world and yet his son is welcome to play at his feet.

The God of the universe has so ordered our redemption that the end result for us is we are welcomed into his glorious presence through prayer and he is never too busy with other important matters to hear us cry to him, Abba!

Today some of you need to be crying out, Abba! You’ve tried many other things, you’ve looked around, but you haven’t looked up. What about that besetting sin? You’ve tried in your strength. Is it time to turn to Abba? What about that trial overwhelming you? What about that fear or pain you bottle up inside? How about—by the Spirit—crying, Abba! Out loud. Right now.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2019 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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