It was not enough for God to make us his children. He wants us to know that we’re his children. He wants us to experience his love. And that’s why he sent the Holy Spirit. Galatians 4:6 says, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.”
The reason why God sent the Spirit is so that we can experience what it is to be sons and daughters loved by our Father. And notice how the Spirit is described. Most of the time in Galatians Paul simply refers to “the Spirit.” Often in the New Testament he’s described as “the Holy Spirit.” But here Paul calls him “the Spirit of his Son.”
Our experience of the Spirit is the experience of the Son, for the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son. The Spirit enables us to experience what Jesus experiences.
God Sent the Spirit of His Son So That We Might Know That We Are Sons
So the Father has given us the Spirit of his Son so that we can enjoy the experience of his Son, so that we know what it is to be sons like the Son, so that we can enjoy the love the Son experiences from the Father.
God gave his Son up to the whip, the thorns, the nails, the darkness, and the experience of forsakenness so that you could be his child. No wonder he sends the Spirit of his Son. He doesn’t want you to miss out on all that the Son has secured for you. This is his eternal plan: that you should enjoy his fatherly love.
The world is full of people searching for love and intimacy. Many sexual encounters and affairs are a desperate attempt to numb a sense of loneliness. Many people who seem to have it all feel empty inside. The actor and director Liv Ullmann once said, “Hollywood is loneliness beside the swimming pool.” We were made for more. The reason why we yearn for intimacy is that we were made for intimacy: we were made to love God and be loved by him. And this is what the Father gives us by sending his Son and by sending the Spirit of his Son.
What Does This Intimacy Look Like?
We Can Talk to God Like Children Talk to Their Father
“The Spirit . . . [cries], ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6). The Spirit gives us the confidence to address God as our Father. A number of our friends have adopted children. And it’s always a special moment when the adopted child starts calling them “Mom” and “Dad.” God is infinite, holy, majestic. He’s a consuming fire before whom angels cover their faces. He made all things and controls all things.
Can you imagine calling him “Father”? Of course you can! You do it every day when you pray—most of the time without even thinking about it. How is that possible? Step back and think about it for a moment, and you’ll realize what an amazing miracle it is that any of us should call God “Father.” But we do so every time we pray, through the Spirit of the Son. This is how John Calvin puts it:
With what confidence would anyone address God as “Father”? Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honour of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ? . . . But because the narrowness of our hearts cannot comprehend God’s boundless favour, not only is Christ the pledge and guarantee of our adoption, but he moves the Spirit as witness to us of the same adoption, through whom with free and full voice we may cry, “Abba, Father.”
Think of those adopted children saying “Mom” and “Dad” for the first time. What must that feel like for them? Perhaps they do so tentatively at first. They’re still feeling their way in the relationship. And that’s often what it’s like for new Christians, feeling their way in this new relationship.
But think, too, what it means for the parents. It’s a joyful moment. It’s a sign that their children are beginning to feel like children. It’s a moment of pleasure. And so it is for God every time you call him “Father.” Remember, he planned our adoption “in accordance with his pleasure” (Eph. 1:5 NIV).
We Can Think of God Like Children Think of Their Father
“So you are no longer a slave, but a son” (Gal. 4:7). Slaves are always worried about doing what they’re told or doing the right thing. They fear the disapproval of their master because there’s always the possibility that they might be punished or sacked. Children never have to fear being sacked. They may sometimes be disciplined, but as with any good parent, it’s always for their good. God is the best of parents. And we never have to fear being sacked. You can’t stop being a child of God—you’re not fostered. You’re adopted for life, and life for you is eternal!
The cry “Abba! Father!” is not just for moments of intimacy. It was actually the cry that a child shouted when in need. One of the joys of my life is that I’m good friends with lots of children. Charis always cries out, “Tim!” when she sees me. Tayden wants me to read his Where’s Wally? book with him. Again. Tyler wants me to throw him over my shoulder and swing him around. Josie wants to tell me everything in her head all at once in her lisping voice. They all enjoy having me around. But here’s what I’ve noticed.
Whenever any of them falls over or gets knocked, my parental instinct kicks in, and I rush to help. But it’s not me they want in those moments. They run past me looking for Mom or Dad. They cry out, “Dad!” and Tim won’t do. That’s what “Abba! Father!” means. When we’re in need, we cry out to God because the Spirit assures us that God is our Father and that our Father cares about what’s happening to his children.
We Can Depend on God Like Children Depend on Their Father
“And if [you are] a son, then [you are] an heir through God” (Gal. 4:7). When Paul talks about “sonship,” he’s not being sexist. Quite the opposite. In the Roman world only male children could inherit. So when Paul says “we” (“male and female,” 3:28) are “sons,” he’s saying that in God’s family, men and women inherit. Everyone is included. And what we inherit is God’s glorious new world. But more than that, we inherit God himself. In all the uncertainties of this life, we can depend on him. He will lead us home, and our home is his glory.
What could be better than sharing in the infinite love and infinite joy of the eternal Father with the eternal Son? Think of what you might aspire to in life—your greatest hopes and dreams. And then multiply them by a hundred. Think of winning Olympic gold or lifting the World Cup. Think of being a billionaire and owning a Caribbean island. Think of your love life playing out like the most heartwarming romantic movie. Good. But not as good as enjoying God.
Or let’s do it in reverse. Think of your worst fears and nightmares: losing a loved one, never finding someone to marry, losing your health, not having children. Bad! But Paul says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). The only time Jesus is quoted as saying, “Abba, Father,” is in the Garden of Gethsemane as he sweats blood at the prospect of the cross (Mark 14:36). Even when you feel crushed by your pain, God is still your Abba, Father.
Where does joy come from? It comes from being children of God. How can we enjoy God? By living as his children. How can we please God? By believing he loves us as he loves his Son.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.20.36–37.
Content taken from Reforming Joy: A Conversation between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today by Tim Chester, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Tim Chester is a pastor of Grace Church in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire, and a faculty member with the Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. He was previously research and policy director for Tearfund and tutor in missiology at Cliff College. Tim is the author of over thirty books, including The Message of Prayer, Closing the Window, Good News to the Poor, and A Meal with Jesus. Visit Tim’s website and read his blog or follow him on Twitter.