Q: “Regarding the “spirit of sonship” series: I have friends both inside and outside of church who have never experienced being a son or a daughter of a father. They had to adjust their lives and I think that they may not even feel the need to have a father or understand what it entails to be a son or a daughter. How can I minister to them a greater understanding of why they need a father and what it means to be a son/daughter?”
A: We live in a day where many children do not have a father in their lives. We also have the “absent father syndrome” where there is a father in the family but he does not spend any significant quality time with his chidren and therefore has little influence in shaping their lives in a positive way. The result of this is that the child grows up with a distorted image of what a good father is.
In both of these scenarios there is no healthy father image for the children to draw their identity from. The father image that we have generally determines what we become in our lives. Self-worth and esteem are especially imprinted in children by what the father projects. For example, if my father never spends any time with me or seldom pays me a visit, I grow up insecure with a sense of rejection and low self-esteem. Such children grow up and often get drawn into early unhealthy opposite sex relationships because of their high need for affection. Young girls especially who have had poor father images are often promiscuous and undiscerning in their relationships. And there is no father to guide them or protect them.
Studies show that a child draws its identity from its parents in the following way:
Between 0 and 3 years: child draws its identity from both parents;
Between 3 and puberty: parent of the opposite sex has a profound influence;
Between puberty and maturity: parent of same sex is vital.
The type of relationship I have with my earthly father, influences how I relate to Father God. If I’ve been unfairly treated or neglected, I will have difficulty in having a close relationship with my Heavenly Father, and the reality is it will be more difficult for someone who has not had a good relationship with their father to understand God as Father than it will be for someone who has had a good father.
Jesus illustrated the love of the Father when He told the parable of the lost son (Luke 15), which should be more aptly titled “the parable of the loving father.” This father gave his younger son his inheritance when he asked for it, but it was squandered with reckless living. When he had spent all and lost his “friends” he came to his senses and went back to his father to request to be taken in as a servant. But this father saw him afar, was filled with compassion and ran to his son, fell on his neck and kissed him, clothing him with the best robe, put a ring on his hand and celebrated his return with a feast. This is a true picture of our heavenly Father… ever looking out for us and full of compassion and mercy.
Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He drew His complete identity from the Father. Jesus said “If you had known me you would have known My father also”.
The good news is this. No matter what relationship you had with your earthly father, if you had any relationship at all, our heavenly Father is able to restore His identity when we are in Christ. He “predestines us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself” (Eph 1:5). In Christ, we gain our sense of being deeply loved, unconditionally accepted and highly favoured… everything portrayed by our loving Father.
Furthermore, in Romans 8:14-17 (ESV) it says:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
It is the Spirit of God in each believer that leads us into the reality of God as Father and us as His children. I would encourage those who don’t know God as Father (whether or not they had a good relationship with their earthly father or not) to ask that God would reveal Himself in all His fullness. He wants to be our Father and He wants us to find our place around His table as sons and daughters, enjoying all the privilege and responsibility that this entails.
To not know God as Father is to live as an orphan. It is to live with a survivor mentality where we have to make things happen for ourselves because no one else is going to do it for us (some are very successful at this). But this is not the way God intends us to live. He intends us to have life and life abundant. There are some Christians who even understand God as Father yet they too live with an orphan spirit. When we understand God as Father we come to understand that we are not orphans fighting it out on our own through life. We realize that we have a Heavenly Father who (1) loves us deeply, (2) is infinitely powerful, and (3) has an unlimited wealth of resources and is incredibly generous with these (don’t think just money – think peace, joy, favour, provision, protection, etc). Tim Keller says in his book “The Reason for God”: ‘Any heart that has come to its senses wants to surrender to Someone who not only is all-powerful but has proved that he will sacrifice anything for our good.’ This is the kind of Father that every one of us needs.