Question: "What does it mean that God is our Abba Father?"
Answer: 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 would most closely be translated as “Daddy.” It was a common term that young children would use to address their fathers. It signifies the close, intimate relationship of a father to his child, as well as the childlike trust that a young child puts in his “daddy.”
While most people, at least those who do not irrationally deny the existence of God, would claim that all are “children of God,” the Bible reveals quite a different truth. We are all His creations and under His authority and Lordship and will all be judged by Him, but being a child of God and having the right to truly call Him “Abba Father” is something that only born-again Christians are able to do (John 1:12-13).
Understanding that not all people are children of God and that becoming a child of God only happens when you are adopted by God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26) is important for understanding how and why God deals with people differently. If we are born again (John 1:12, 3:1-8), we have been adopted into the family of God, redeemed from the curse of sin and are “joint-heirs with Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:17; also Galatians 4:7). Part of that new relationship is that God now deals with us differently, which includes His chastisement when we sin (Hebrews 12:3-11). Because of that new relationship, Christians may sin, but they cannot be comfortable or content living a life of habitual, ongoing sin. If people are living a life enslaved to sin and are comfortable in that sin and without the chastisement of God upon them, then we know they are “illegitimate and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8). In other words, they are unbelievers.
The misguided but popular concept that all people are children of God and can truthfully call Him “Abba Father” is simply not true. Just as children do not choose to be adopted or choose who will adopt them, neither do Christians choose to become children of God. Instead, God chooses them. He predestines them “to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:5), having been chosen by God from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
It is life-changing to understand the full force of what it means to be able to call the one true God our “Daddy” and what it means to be joint-heirs with Christ. Because of our relationship with God, we know He no longer deals with us as enemies; instead, we can approach a holy God as our heavenly Father with “boldness” (Hebrews 11:19) and “full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 11:22). We have that confidence because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17).
The benefits of being adopted children of God are many. Becoming a child of God is the highest privilege and honor that can be imagined. Because of it we have a new relationship with God and a new standing before Him. He deals with His children differently than He deals with the rest of the world. Being a child of God, adopted “through faith in Christ Jesus” is the source for our hope, the security of our future and the motivation to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (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 a greater hope.
As we come to understand the true nature of God as revealed in the Bible we should be amazed that He not only allows us, but even encourages us, to call Him “Abba Father.” It is amazing that a holy and righteous God, who created and sustains all things, who is the only all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present God, would allow sinful humans to call Him “Daddy.” As we come to understand who God really is and how sinful we are, the privilege of being able to call Him “Abba Father” will take on a whole new meaning for us and help us understand God’s amazing grace.