Addressing God as Father is something pretty close to innate for most Christians. How many times do you begin a prayer with “Father in heaven”? It’s the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, after all. Yet too often our striving, our insistence on control, and our insecurity suggest that we have not truly grasped this magnificent truth, that God is our Father.
I wonder, what damage have you done to yourself, and your relationship with God, and those around you because you don’t act like God is your Father? If you don’t know what you have, you’ll try to find it elsewhere. And that may destroy what you’ve had all along.
Hope Changes Everything
In Isaiah 63, God’s people need to know him as their Father. The chapter is a plea for rescue, for God to act again in compassion and mercy. But the rescue the prophet longs for isn’t rescue from outward enemies—it’s rescue from the enemy within. Isaiah despairs over Israel’s sin and God’s inaction to address it. And in that awful intersection is the hope of God as Father.
“For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name” (Isa. 63:16).
What damage have you done to yourself, and your relationship with God, and those around you because you don’t act like God is your Father?
We must understand the significance of Abraham and Israel to God’s people in Isaiah’s day. Because they were children of Abraham, they were heirs of God’s promise. Because they were children of Israel, they were God’s people. The people of Israel without Abraham is inconceivable. And the people of Israel without Israel, their namesake, was inconceivable.
But God says there is one further impossibility: that he should cease to be their Father. Though Abraham and Israel call it quits because of the people’s sin, the Lord never will.
And that is the Israelites’ hope. Yes, they’ve rebelled, as the first half of chapter 63 laments. Yes, God seems silent, as the second half of the chapter laments. But God is still their Father, and that changes everything.
As we see in the New Testament, that changes everything for us too. Recall Paul’s magnificent words: “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5–6). For all of us in Christ, God is our Father too. Not by Abraham’s flesh through ancestry, but by Abraham’s faith through adoption.
How does this change everything? Consider three implications of God being our Father.
1. Security for Eternity
Here is the first implication of Isaiah 63:16, the verse quoted above: security. God doesn’t change. That’s the point of the last phrases in Isaiah: “from of old is your name,” “from eternity is your name.” God does not change and so he is forever our Father. Our relationship with him is no more dependent on performance than my children’s is with me.
For those in Christ, God is our Father and will always be. Society constantly sells us security, from Pennsylvania Avenue to Madison Avenue. It says that secure comfort is everything, that it’s worth anything. But we already have what we need, because God is our Father. He will be our Father if markets fall, if nations fall, if mountains fall. That’s real security. And it means you don’t need to build your “forever life” here in this world.
2. Hope for Change
There’s a second implication in this verse: hope for change. That’s what’s at stake in Isaiah 63. And amid such desperation for change, Isaiah clings to God for hope: “You, O LORD, are our Father; our Redeemer.” God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt, generations ago; and because he is their Father, he will redeem them again, from their sin.
But while the final result is sure, the timing is not. Thus Isaiah’s anguished question immediately following this statement of hope: “Why do you make us wander from your ways?” (v. 17). Trusting God as Father means not only trusting him for redemption but also trusting him for the timing of that redemption.
Because God is your Father, his timing for change is purposeful and perfect. Strive to change, yes. Pray to change, yes. And then be content with God’s pace.
Pray to change, yes. And then be content with God’s pace.
I’ll never forget what a dear friend told me, her eyes full of joy, as I prayed for healing while she was dying of cancer: “Jamie, I know that your prayer will be answered. I know that I will be healed. Maybe here on earth. More likely by going to heaven. But I will be healed.”
3. Affection Without Conditions
Here is one last implication of God as Father: affection. You realize, don’t you, that God designed the father-child relationship in order to teach us about him? Our sovereign God did not simply seize on it as a convenient illustration; he designed it with his relationship to us in mind.
Not all of us grew up with affectionate fathers. Not all of us knew our fathers. But we all have some sense for what a father should be, and we know that a father’s affection for his children should be rooted not in their lovability but in his love. How much more is this true for our heavenly Father?
God loves you, Christian. Full stop, no qualifications—no ifs, ands, or buts. He delights in you. He wanted to be your Father, from before the foundation of the world. His affection is in no way conditioned on your lovability. He loves you because of who he is.
That means that we can stop trying to earn his affection. Is there something in you that thinks God’s basic attitude toward you is a big frowning face? Is there something in you that feels that if you could just read more, study more, evangelize more, disciple more, serve more, feel more, do more, then God would love you more?
His affection is in no way conditioned on your lovability.
Stop trying to earn his affection! He placed his affection on you before the foundation of the world as your heavenly Father. His affection is better than conditional; it is contra-conditional. He has placed his affection on us, despite the condemnation we have earned.
Do my kids make me happy or sad by what they do? Of course. Can we grieve God’s Spirit? Of course. But is my love as a father conditioned on my kids’ performance? No. How much more so with God! How much damage does your striving, your insecurity, your restlessness do to those around you and to the reputation of Christ? To put it more strongly, because you are not resting in Christ’s love for you, how much damage does that do to your love for Christ?
Trust in a Perfect Father
Society encourages us to mistreat others in order to climb the totem pole of power. You call the line manager to reach the general manager to reach the vice president to finally to reach the person at the top. Not the God of the universe! “Though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father.” That should blow our minds.
So stop entrusting your hope to earthly security. Stop insisting on change on your terms. Stop trying to earn God’s affection. He is our Father. He is good, he is strong, and we can trust him.
Written By: JAMIE DUNLOP
First published 08.03.21: How God’s Father-Love Could Change Your Life (thegospelcoalition.org)