|Volume 22 Number 6 June 2020||
I don’t remember from where that line came—“Be afraid. Be very afraid,” but I do remember this. It was said to someone who was blissfully unaware of the terrible danger that lurked ahead.
Solomon, in Proverbs 1:7, penned that we should “fear God.” This is a powerful word, and in the Greek Septuagint is the word phobos (which then becomes “phobia” in English). While some think the word means “respect,” it actually is a lot more than this. There are other words in Hebrew that convey the idea of respect.
Actually, the word means “fright, to be terrified, to be afraid.” In Exodus 20 when the Israelites were surrounding Mt. Sinai, God showed His awesome presence through thunder, lightning, earthquakes and a powerful voice. It scared the Israelites greatly, which is exactly what God wanted to happen. He said He did this on purpose—to teach them to fear so that they might obey.
Jesus equally taught that we should not fear man but most certainly should fear God (Matthew 10:28). He said that we should fear God because of the power He possesses over our lives and our souls. Literally, no one else has that power.
So, what does God hope to accomplish by getting us to fear Him? Why did Solomon say this is the “beginning” of knowledge? If we don’t fear the teacher, we’ll not fear His teachings. There is a great day of Judgment coming. It is a “terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). If we disregarded His teachings, because we did not fear the teacher, we will find ourselves facing an angry God (Romans 2:6).
The “beginning,” then, is to fear God. Recognize He is great and that you are not. Recognize that He has all knowledge and you don’t. Sit at his feet and learn from Him. That is clearly the best starting point for everyone.
The “Abba, Father” Relationship
Conscientious Christian parents in blended families know first-hand the challenge of establishing close parent-child relationships with children they have not nurtured from the womb up. Differences in maturity, cultural backgrounds and past experiences of those involved all play into the depth of relationship that is possible, no matter how much deeper the parent or children wish the relationship were. Thankfully, the spiritual children of God are guaranteed the closest, most intimate relationship with their Father, no matter the earlier life they lived outside of Christ. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15). The fact that faithful Christians “cry out, Abba, Father” gives great insight to the relationship they have with God. Let us examine the relationship conveyed by the ability to say “Abba, Father.”
Based Upon Receiving
the Holy Spirit
Receiving the Holy Spirit through obedience to God’s Word makes this “Abba, Father” relationship possible (Romans 8:1-14). Paul wrote about this Holy Spirit. First, consider who the Spirit is not. Paul said that we “have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.” In both parts of the verse, “have received” points to an action completed in the past, which must refer to their baptism (cf., Acts 19:2-3, “received…believed…baptized”). The Spirit that Christians receive is not “a spirit of slavery leading to fear again” (NAS). The bondage of sin is what leads to fear (Hebrews 2:14-15), but since the Holy Spirit, through “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” sets us free from sin (Romans 8:1-4; cf., Romans 6:6; 16-17; 7:25), being converted is not a reversion to the state from which we have been freed. Christians are under bondage (Romans 6:18), but it is to “righteousness,” not to the fear associated with being lost in sin.
Second, consider who the Spirit is. Paul said, “but you received the Spirit of adoption.” The word “but” is translated from a word that gives a strong contrast—in contrast to “the spirit of bondage,” we have received the “Spirit of adoption.” Spiritual adoption in the New Testament is always viewed in connection with the work of Christ (Galatians 4:5-6; Ephesians 1:5).
Here, it will be of value to consider adoption in the first century Roman Empire since this is how Paul would have known the term “adoption.” According to William Barclay, there were two steps in the Roman adoption process (106). The first step was carried out by a “symbolic sale” in which copper and balances were used. The father would “sell” his son and “buy” him back twice. The third time the son was sold, the father did not buy him back, thus breaking the power of the father. This showed that the father’s giving up the child was deliberate and premeditated. The second step involved the adopting father’s going to a Roman magistrate and presenting the legal case for the transference of the child into the adopting father’s own power. The following consequences resulted from this adoption: (1) The one adopted lost “all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family.” (2) The one adopted “became heir to his new father’s estate”—and even if other sons were born after his adoption, it did not affect his rights. (3) The “old life of the adopted person” was legally wiped out (debts cancelled, etc.).—he was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.” He was absolutely the son of his new father.
Although the Christian’s adoption will not be ultimately complete until the Second Coming of Christ (Romans 8:19-23), note the following changes that are involved now: (1) a change in family from a son of Satan to a son of God, (2) a change of inheritance from eternal damnation to eternal life and (3) a change of status from the fear of a ruthless master to the care and protection of a loving Father (Psalm 103:13). Even within the context of Romans 8, this “Spirit of adoption” is evidenced by the moral walk of the Christian (Romans 8:13), the reception of the Spirit that results in His “witness” with our own spirits (Romans 8:16) and the joint-suffering and subsequent glorification of the Christian with Christ (Romans 8:17).
of Family Intimacy
“Abba” is the transliteration of an Aramaic word that means “father.” Every time this word occurs in the New Testament, it is accompanied with the Greek word for “Father” (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). Why is this the case? Likely, the term “Abba” by itself would seem disrespectful. “Abba” was used as an intimate address like “Daddy” or “Papa” (Edwards 208). The word is “from the babbling of a little child…and is the familiar term used in the home” (Morris 315). It must be remembered that the Jews of the first century avoided pronouncing God’s name when possible, and even when they did say it, they accompanied God’s name with a blessing, for fear of profaning His name. Jesus, however, in a “remarkable break with tradition,” dared to simply address God as “Father” in His prayers (Matthew 26:39; John 17:1) (Edwards 208). The one time Jesus used “Abba, Father,” it was a very emotional and stressful time under the looming shadow of the cross. Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). Paul’s use of “Abba, Father” in Romans 8:15 is in a similar context. The term “cry out” in “by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” reflects strong emotion, and it is likewise in a context of suffering (Romans 8:17-18). “Abba” would be the normal way a child in that culture would address his or her father in times of great distress. The comfort that this brings to us today is that the very same intimate relationship that Jesus had with the Father moments before the cross, expressed by His address, “Abba, Father,” belongs to every faithful child of God!
To the Galatians, Paul wrote, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:6-7). Sonship carries with it the most intimate relationship with God. Because all faithful Christians are “sons” (children) in good standing, all will be heirs of every blessing that can possibly come from God through Jesus Christ, who in this sense is also our fellow Brother and Heir!
Although “Abba” as an address to God may have seemed inappropriate in the first century, it did (and does) show the new family relationship that Christians have entered. The Spirit’s indwelling makes possible this relationship. The Spirit only indwells the faithful Christian (Romans 8:5-9). Are we outside of Christ? If so, let us go through the “adoption” process and obey the Gospel (Acts 2:38). Are we faithful Christians? If not, let us repent and be restored. God wants all of us to have the intimate relationship with Him expressed by “Abba, Father.“
Barclay, William. The Letter to the Romans. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Westminster P., 1975.
Edwards, James R. Romans: New International Biblical Commentary. Vol. 6. Ed. W. Ward Gasque. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992.
Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.