Well, good morning everyone, it's really great to be back with you again in Thomas Street, and it's good to renew fellowship with you again. Thank you for the welcome. If you weren't here the last time, I apologise because I'm jumping in right in the middle of a series. We began a series when I was with you on 'Knowing God', we began looking at how we can actually know God as a Person. Now, I know that sounds obvious, perhaps, to some, but on a practical level it isn't obvious to many Christians, sometimes folks who have been Christians for years upon years. We can actually know God as well as we know our nearest and our dearest - in fact, we can know God better than we know anyone else. That is truly a revelation, and we started looking on the first day of this series, morning and evening, at how - just like any other relationship - we need trust and we need truth, we need to be able to trust God and sense that trust, and there needs to be transparency in our relationship with Him. Then in the evening we looked at how there also needs to be an awareness of love and acceptance - and I'm not going to repeat any of that, get the recordings if you can.
Let's just pray before we come to what we will consider this morning and then later on this evening. I want to encourage you, if you would, to pray yourself right now, that God would speak to you - OK? Just say: 'Lord, please would You meet with me now, would You speak to me', and He really can do wonders in just the time that we have left through His word and through the Holy Spirit. So, why not open your heart to Him now?
Father, we come to You, and we thank You that we can call You 'Our Father', 'Abba Father'. We come to You through Jesus Christ, Your Son, the Lord Jesus who died for us, rose again, bore away our sins, and who is now with us by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. So, we welcome You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to be with us now, to minister to us, to help us. We need You, and we ask specifically for a revelation of Your heart for us - who do You want to be for us now, Lord? So, come, we pray, help us now as we open Your word. In Jesus' mighty name we pray, Amen.
I want you to turn to John chapter 14, please, John 14 then and verse 7. Jesus is speaking: "'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him'. Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us'. Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?'".
You'll remember, I hope, if you were with us, I began explaining how there are essential components that are key to relationships that we have as humans, and actually they kind of cross over and correspond to the relationship we have with God. Now, obviously that relationship with Him that we have is vastly different in aspects than human-to-human relationships, and yet there are parallels that I think are very instructive when we consider how we can know God in a very intimate way. I'll not go through them all on the screen, but I've already mentioned trust and truth, love and acceptance, and up there is also 'understanding'. It's vital that, if we're going to know someone deeply and personally, that we understand them, that we understand who they are, that we understand how they are towards us, how they feel about us. So, to truly know someone, you have to understand them. We know that's a process, and it takes many many years for us. But what I want to bring to you this morning is that to truly know God - and I hope that's your desire - you have to understand God as Father. You have to have a grip of the Father-heart of God, and how He is toward us as Father to His children.
Let's just park that for a moment or two, and we will look at it in great depth throughout the proceedings this morning. But I want to challenge you that the most important thing about you is actually what you think about God. The great question is: what is God like? It's the question that has obsessed theologians, philosophers, intellectuals, and the ordinary simple man or woman throughout human history. But what you think about God is the most important thing about you, because what you think about God actually affects you and how you think about yourself. Let me repeat that: what you think about God affects how you think about yourself. So, it's obvious then that it's vital to get God right, because it affects absolutely everything.
Here's a principle that you do well to remember as you look about the world where there is such a plethora of belief and gods, deities: you become like the God you worship. That's why your conception of God is vital, if you get that right, because you will actually be affected by what you think about God, you will actually be transformed into the image of the god that you adore. I don't know whether you can read that Psalm terribly well there on the screen, but basically it's talking about idols, and how the pagans worship them, and how they have eyes but cannot see, ears but they can't hear, and hands but they can't move - Psalm 115:3-8. At the very end of the Psalm it says that those that worship them become like them, isn't that interesting? There is an impotence that comes to us when we worship a god that is lesser than the True and the Living.
Of course, there is so much confusion abroad, isn't there, as I've alluded to, in regards to: who is God? What is He like? What does He require of us? But could I suggest to you that, in the church, confusion is abroad. What is our God really like? What does He think of us? Well, let me make it very simple for everyone here today: if you want to know what God is like, you need to know that Jesus came to reveal the Father's heart. I mean, that just summarises it all! The disciples had this kind of dilemma as well: they were listening to Jesus' parables, they were watching His great signs and wonders and works, and Philip is exasperated and he says: 'Look, if You just show us God, just show us the Father and that will be sufficient, we'll be satisfied! Show us God!'. Jesus says: 'Have I been so long with you, and you don't know this, Philip? To see Me is to see the Father. Look at Me...' - and if I can just elaborate on what Jesus was meaning: 'I am the perfect and absolute complete revelation of God. If you want to know exactly what God is like, look at Me'.
I don't think there are many people who would look at Jesus and be disappointed with how God is. Even people who don't follow Him in our world, tend to like Him to an extent. He is how the Father is. He is how God is. I know some of you may have quandaries and confusion about the Old Testament and the way God is portrayed, and we need to leave that for another day - but just know this: that Jesus is where you need to look.
Many counsellors believe that the majority of a child's identity is formed through the father-child relationship. I would add to that that our idea of God is actually formulated largely from the father-child relationship. Someone said Jesus was the Man He was because of the Father He had. He was the perfect Son with the perfect Father. The Father-heart of God, knowing and understanding that God is our true Father, is actually the answer for the age in which we live. In fact, just as a bit of a digression, Malachi chapter 4 verse 6 promises that in the end times this is something that God is going to do: He is going to turn father's hearts back to their children, and children's hearts back to their fathers, 'lest I come and strike the earth with a curse', the verse says. So, wherever a father's heart is turned toward anything other than his children, a curse ensues not only upon the family, but upon the land - isn't that interesting?
Some of you can remember the 1960s - not me, of course! There was during that era what has come to be known as the sexual revolution, 'free love', supposedly. During that period, I believe there was a moral and spiritual meltdown. There was the rise of feminism, and I'm not suggesting absolutely everything that came with that was bad - but fatherhood, and indeed masculinity in general, was not very popular during this period and ever since. Our present age is suffering the fallout of this meltdown, because we - if ever there has been one - are the fatherless generation. Without doubt, it is the social crisis of our nation and indeed our world. The nuclear family is in trouble.
Britain has the highest divorce rate in the European Union, according to a survey in August 2014. In the United States, divorce statistics are little different among Christians than they are among non-believers. Fatherlessness is the crisis of our age. The Centre for Social Justice reported in 2013 - this is a UK-wide report - that in some areas (I mean geographical areas, neighbourhoods), fatherlessness has reached such high levels that there are virtual (and I'm quoting) 'men deserts' - wildernesses where there are no positive male role models or influences. It was reported in the Guardian in 2017 that almost half of all children born today will not be living with both parents by the time they are fifteen - almost half of all children! Three million children are growing up today with only their mothers. The report went on to say, I'm quoting again, 'The absence of fathers is linked to higher rates of teenage crime, pregnancy, and disadvantage'.
By the way, these statistics that I'm giving you, and all these quotes, are secular - they are not from some Christian ministry, they are secular and available on the Internet. The Institute for the Study of Civil Society (CIVITAS), says: 'Children without fathers are eight times more likely to go to prison, five times more likely to commit suicide, twenty times more likely to have behavioural problems, twenty times more likely to become rapists, thirty-two times more likely to become runaways, ten times more likely to abuse chemical substances, nine times more likely to drop out of high school, and a tenth as likely to get As in school'. The Centre for Social Justice warned that the UK is experiencing 'a tsunami of family breakdown'. I believe much of the identity crisis in our society, indeed gender confusion, actually stems from a lack of fathers - I'm not going to go into that this morning, but I believe that a lot of people are just looking for their Dad, looking for the affection of their fathers.
Jack Frost, in his interesting book 'Experiencing the Father's Embrace', says: 'Before every major revival, there has been a social crisis in the land. Then God brings a fresh outpouring of His grace, and begins to meet the needs of the social crisis. He has chosen this season in church history to reveal His affectionate Father's-heart'. Now what I'm sharing with you just now is not, in any shape or form, to make a single parent, a single mother feel uncomfortable here today. If your father has been absent, deserted, or your parents divorced, I want you to understand: this is a message of hope for you today, not condemnation, and not guilt - because you have got a head start in fact! Because if anybody needs to hear it - we all need to hear it - but you need the healing of your heart through the Father-heart of God. You need to know that whatever you've lost out in life's terms, you can receive from the abundant love and affection of your Heavenly Father.
A great deal of our social, moral, and sexual problems today can be traced to fatherlessness. The answer is knowing God as Father through how Jesus revealed Him. So if you want to know God more, you've got to know Him as Father. Turn with me to Galatians chapter 4, please. Galatians 4, and we will read a few verses from verse 4: 'But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons', or children 'And because you are sons', or children, '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'. What Galatians 4 is saying is that we were slaves, but now we are sons, we are children of God. This has taken place by adoption through Christ's redemption.
Now, let's pause for a moment. I want to ask you the question, going back to your conception of God and your understanding of Him, or lack thereof: have we got God all wrong? What is our conception of Him? Or, to put it another way, in the context of Galatians 4: have we got our idea of God from Moses or from Jesus? Now, I'm not saying Moses had a different God, but there was a partial revelation of God in the Old Testament. We have got the complete revelation in Jesus - and Galatians tells us that the law of God, the first five books of the Old Testament, were like a schoolmaster, a tutor, a coach, to lead us to Christ. Now what we have is far better. We're not slaves, we are sons and daughters! We now have the Spirit of God's Son living within us, and we are crying out: 'Abba Father!'.
James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on Galatians, in his footnotes references an academic work by a man called J. Jeremias, and the title of the work is 'The Central Message of the New Testament'. There is an essay within that great tome and it's just entitled 'Abba'. The inference is that the central message of the New Testament Gospel is this understanding of God as our 'Abba Father'. He actually points out in that chapter three things: no one ever used this term for God. Now, they may have called God 'the Father of the nation', 'the Father of Israel'', but no one would ever have had the audacity to call God 'My Father' personally. A second point he makes is that Jesus, it would seem, always addressed God as 'Abba Father' when He prayed. But thirdly, and most audaciously, He taught his disciples to pray to God in this manner - which was scandalous to those who were hearing Him! 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name'. So, right away, He's laying as a foundation for the disciples that our whole prayer life and approach to God, our knowing God, is based on this intimacy of understanding that God is our Abba Father. Do you know that?
It's staggering, how intimate we are expected to be with God as our Father. You know, 'Abba', though it became used in Hebrew, is essentially also an Aramaic word. 'Abba' and 'Imma' are the Aramaic baby-speak words for 'Mama, Dada'. 'Imma', Mama; 'Abba', Dada. Now this is where people get all panicky, you know? 'Oh, make sure we're not getting irreverent here'. Look, forget about all that just for a moment: this is the Bible, God's word. Whatever your tradition is, or whatever your sensibilities, need to be subservient to this book - and Jesus teaches us to call God and approach Him 'Abba Father', as if a little toddler was climbing up on Daddy's knee, that's the way you meant to come to your Heavenly Father.
Now, if that's overfamiliar for you, you're not familiar enough with God - because that is the relationship that God has given to us through Jesus. Just as one of the most important earthly relationships that we'll ever have is with our earthly Dads, so knowing God as our Heavenly Father is one of the most vital aspects to truly knowing Him as He is toward us. So, are you having a Father-child relationship with your Heavenly Father, or are you stuck in slavery - do you behave like a slave?
Turn with me to Luke chapter 15, I got you to turn here the last time I was with you, this is such an important parable. You could spend your whole life expounding it, no matter how many times I look at it, I usually see something different, something new. We'll not read the whole passage - you know, the young fellow, there's an older guy, the elder brother, he stays at home, but the young guy has asked for his inheritance. It's split between the two of them, he goes away into the far country and wastes it in prodigal living - prostitutes, alcohol, partying, all the rest - hits rock bottom, realises there is bread in his father's house and to spare, so he journeys home. But before he journeys home, he kind of looks in the mirror and practices a speech to make when he sees his Dad, you know, to get it right. Here we have it in verse 18: 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants''. So, he's basically saying: 'All I can really expect to happen for me now - because I've made such a blunder, and I've sullied the family name, and I've wasted my inheritance - is just to be made a hired servant, a slave'.
But he travels home, and we'll not go into all the details, but the father sees him a long way off - he's been watching for him obviously - and the father runs to him, to meet him. Then if you look down you see what actually happens, verse 20: 'And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said' - OK, so here's the spiel - ''Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son'. But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him''. The father interrupts him in mid-flow in his rehearsed speech and doesn't let him get out the words 'make me like one of your hired servants', because he is a son, and he is now treating him like a son, dressing him like a son, feeding him like a son.
I wonder do we see the Father as He really is? When you make your blunders, as we all do - I occasionally sin as well, more than occasionally, unfortunately - but how do we behave? 'Oh, God, I can't come to Him now after what I've done, you know, I'm going to leave it a day or two before I pray'. We mightn't do that, I hope we don't, but that's often how we feel, isn't it? Because we don't really understand how He is toward us: He does not deal with us according to our sins or reward us after our iniquities - it's grace now, not law, grace! When you understand the Father relationship that we have, as sons and daughters, we start to behave more like the prodigal - at least he knew to come home - rather than the elder brother. Look at him, look at verse 28 - so the party is thrown for this young reprobate, and in verse 28 the elder brother is angry, would not go into the house: 'I'm not going in there! What's going on in there?'. 'Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you'' - look at the language - ''Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends''. Now, who talks to their Dad like that? 'All these years I've been serving you, I've never broken any of your commandments'. The elder brother had a slave-master mentality with his father, the elder brother had an employee-employer arrangement with his father. He was in the father's house, but he hadn't seen into the father's heart - yet the guy that burned his bridges and made a mess, he understood more, because at least he came home and he knew there was bread in his father's house.
Religious people relate to God like the elder brother. The elder brother was really the Pharisee. We stop at the prodigal, but actually this was the sucker punch to the ones listening to Jesus, He's saying: 'This is you guys. You don't do all the dirty stuff, but you've never understood God'. You see, the Pharisees, they knew their Bible, but they didn't know their God when He turned up in human flesh. Isn't that interesting? They were incarcerated in legalism and laws, rather than love; in rules, rather than relationship. Some of us have many biblical concepts of God, but we are still not personally intimate with Him because we don't understand or enjoy Him as our Abba Father!
Why is it that we might have a problem grasping that God is our Abba Father? Well, let me give you at least two reasons. It could be that we have had wrong teaching, or maybe unbalanced teaching about God - harsh, legalistic, cold and demanding teaching that has made us afraid of God in the wrong way. The fear of God is true, and it is the start of wisdom, but the fear of God is not being afraid of God. I think I touched on that the last time. You can't get to know anybody that you are afraid of, you'll never come near them.
Maybe we have to look at some of the things we've imbibed and been taught. If we get the impression that God can't wait to drop us into hell some day - that's not the heart of God. Don't get me wrong, there is a hell, there is a judgement day coming - there is one day, but there have been thousands and thousands of years of grace. That's why Jesus came and suffered hell on the cross, because God doesn't want us, anybody, to go there - the heart of God is to save! He's not going to put our arm up our back to get us there, we've got to make a choice - but wrong teaching of God can be a real problem here, because we don't see God as 'Abba', we see Him as a cruel, harsh taskmaster; someone who is distant from us, maybe even disinterested.
But what can really add problems to this is the bad example, the wrong examples we may have been given by our earthly fathers. Bad teaching is one thing, but wrong example can really solidify our concept of God - because our parents, fathers in particular, but both parents are meant to cover us, spiritually protect us as well as physically, and they're actually meant to be signposts pointing towards God, but so often they are pointing in the other direction, away from God. If you've had an absentee father, or a deserting father, or a detached father, or a passive father, an aggressive, angry, harsh father, a perfectionist father, a religious hypocrite of a father - we could go on and on and on, couldn't we? This can be one of the biggest obstacles to people knowing God as their Abba Father, and I'll tell you why: have you ever played the word association game? Someone says a word, and you speak out the first word that comes into your mind without thinking about it too much. So: microwave-oven; toothbrush-toothpaste; couch-chair; David Legge... No, don't answer that one! But, you understand: 'father' is not a neutral word. When you say 'father' to people, even if it's 'Father God', all sorts of things can be conjured up. What's the association with your father? Very different thoughts come to very different people. All of us have had biological fathers, but not everybody has had a Dad.
Years ago, when I read 'Father' in the Bible, I just substituted it with 'God', I just thought it was the word for 'God' - but I never got anything from it emotionally or spiritually until I had this revelation of God being my Abba, my Heavenly Dada. Like a baby, I can come to Him at any time, and crawl up on His lap, and know that I am accepted, and I am loved, and I am protected.
God becomes our Abba Father, and I want to ask you today: do you know Him as that? Do you call him that? Do you know how this has actually happened? Romans 8:15 says: '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''. Adoption! It has happened through adoption. There are two ways you can have kids: you can have them naturally - and when that happens, you get what you get, yes? No choice. But adoption means you see what you're getting, and you get a full history of the child, warts and all - that's the way God has made us His children! He knows everything about you, He knows who you are. He made you, He formed you, He knows your full history - the good, the bad, and the ugly - there are no surprises. The miracle of this is: knowing you as you really are, He wants you! He wants you! He wants you not as a slave or a servant, He wants you as His child. Not only does He want you in His family, He pursues you!
The problem is: not only do we not know who God is as our Father, we don't really know who we are. We are living like slaves and orphans with a begging bowl. Look at Romans 8:15-17: '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'. The Spirit Himself 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 with Him'.
Now, when you were adopted in Bible times, there were a few problems. There was often a long period of adjustment for at least two reasons. First of all, when a child was adopted from slavery to sonship, they often had the mindset of a slave. Do you understand? They kept thinking like slaves. So you kept getting up at the same time, you kept doing the same chores, you kept expecting the same reprimand, you kept waiting after the family to get your food. You're not forced any more to do the things you used to have to do, and that's often the way we are as children of God - we've got the slave mentality. Even regarding sin - and you need to know: sin shall no longer have dominion over you. You've believed a lie believing that you have to continually obey it and its desires and passions - it's a lie! You're actually free! You're not a slave any more, you're a child of God!
But after a slave mentality, there was also the slave poverty - not enjoying what's yours. You know - now, I hope you're not foolish enough to give your child your credit card, but in theory everything that is yours is theirs. In a slave house it was unthinkable just to walk up to the fridge and lift something out to eat, or to ask Daddy for some money. Yet this was what was coming in an inheritance that they never knew. I want to ask you: what keeps you back from living in your inheritance as a child of God? The verse we read: if we are children, then heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ - do you know what that means? 'Heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ', the two sons in the parable of the prodigal - we often miss this - the inheritance was split between both of them. The elder brother got his cut as well as the younger one who wasted it, and yet he didn't do anything with his! He didn't enjoy what was his.
We are joint heirs with Jesus, that means God's will has been split between Jesus and us. God makes no difference between Jesus and me; His only begotten Son and I have the same destiny, the same inheritance. That means you are in the will with the Son of God, what is coming to Jesus is coming to you! Often we think about ourselves the way our fathers talked about us, isn't that true? Or the way some other authority figure, a teacher, or even a Christian leader spoke over us. We need to stop listening to those lies, and we need to start hearing what God thinks about us, how He feels about us. You see, it's even better in the New Covenant, because not only are we adopted and we are in the will, but 2 Peter 1:4 says we are protectors of the divine nature. The verses that we read in Romans tell us that we have the Spirit of God's Son within us. Now, no matter how long you're adopted in society today, you will never ever become a biological son or daughter - but in the kingdom of God, in the New Covenant we actually get to become people with the DNA (it's not the true term), but the nature of God - we get it!
So, I want to ask you: are you living as a slave or a son? Do you know that God is your true Abba Father? Do you call Him 'Abba Father'? Do you know He longs to hear you call Him 'Abba Father'? Maybe you'll start doing that today. I'll never forget the first time I called Him 'Abba Father' - from my background, when I put it into English, I thought I was nearly sinning! Some of you here today perhaps need healed from father wounds, earthly fathers, or a parent wound - that's why you find trust and intimacy hard with God. Maybe you need to forgive an offending parent, you need to confess your own sin in how you have reacted toward that. Maybe you have to repent of substitutes? You know, this is the reason why we sin a lot, the way we sin, we're trying to fill the void, the 'love tank' I showed you the last time which needs to be filled by Father's love - we're just looking for our Father. We need to repent of substitutes, ungodly coping mechanisms and reactions, and we need to embrace, by faith, our true Heavenly Father who is just like Jesus.
Let's pray: Father, I just pray for everybody here today. None of us is a perfect father or a perfect parent, and none of us - even those of us who have had exemplary parents, have not had perfect parents. We are here to honour our fathers and our mothers as Your Word says - but, Lord, we are not here to stick our heads in the sand either, ignorant of how we may have been affected adversely by the parental relationship, or other relationships from other authority figures. Lord, give us the grace to forgive our parents and others. Lord, open our eyes to see You, Father, Abba, Dada in heaven through the filter of Jesus, Your Son. Holy Spirit, show us the Father, heal our wounds and fill our emptiness by His unconditional love. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Don't miss Part 4 of 'Knowing God': "Intimacy"...
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the third recording in his Knowing God series, titled "Understanding His Father-heart" - Transcribed by Preach The Word.
All material by David Legge is copyrighted. However, these materials may be freely copied and distributed unaltered for the purpose of study and teaching, so long as they are made available to others free of charge, and this copyright is included. This does not include hosting or broadcasting the materials on another website, however linking to the resources on preachtheword.com is permitted. These materials may not, in any manner, be sold or used to solicit 'donations' from others, nor may they be included in anything you intend to copyright, sell, or offer for a fee. This copyright is exercised to keep these materials freely available to all. Any exceptions to these conditions must be explicitly approved by Preach The Word. [Read guidelines...]