One of our homeschooling friends is currently running a series on their blog about the names of God. Each post covers a specific reference to God as mentioned in the Bible. At the close of that article, readers were asked to respond by answering the question: “Is there a name of God which has particular meaning for you?”
My answer was “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
It would have been just as valid to answer with Jesus Christ. Nothing goes deeper or attains the same forms of gratitude that this name rightly summons.
It’s through His name and everything He did, that everyone who calls on that name, will be saved. That those He now represents can come to God. Primarily because it’s through and in the person of Jesus Christ, that God choose to come to us, by becoming one of us.
Two years after being baptized, I found myself stumbling, crashing and colliding with life. Looking back twenty-two years, I can see that my downward spiral didn’t stop with being baptized, it started there.
I entered on a new path towards new life. I had entered on an inevitable confrontation with God. At that time in my life I would have never foreseen this as being a true catalyst; a reckoning and with it a tearing away of my old life in order for the new.
I had surrendered my life to God and with a firm grasp, God responded. There was no buzz. No hype. No euphoric feelings to mistakenly ground my theology on. It was a quiet revolution from practical atheism to Christian life.
Over two years, God never let go. The things that hindered me; things I couldn’t see that were toxic in my life were driven out. I was slowly being separated from the chains [sin and sinner alike] that had my pinned down. I grew closer to a more complete understanding of what needed to change and why.
Answering that question in this way was deliberate. It was, as I read, receive, and remember it: a cry that stems from the immediate awareness of how hopeless I was.
In the words of metal musician Lacey Sturm, it involved a scream, a letting in of light and letting out of darkness; in a sense the cry releases us from a world of continual ”emotional vomit”. It comes from a place of deep pain to deep healing. From the darkness of despair into the hopefulness that comes from the freedom and permission to call God, father, and not just that, but to call upon Him as a father.
Karl Barth understood this. He understood its motivation and its motivating. Some days after replying to that question, I came across his thoughts on Romans 8:15:
‘That the Spirit cries – or that we ourselves cry in the Spirit; Abba Father! (Gal. 4:6, Rom. 8:15) – is the absolutely basic and primal form of the service for which, according to Romans 7:6 we are freed. Obviously, it is the basic and primal form of the command of God. This is what God’s command wants of us – the crying of the child, of the children who have at last found their father again, have at least been found by him, have at last been freed from the tutors and governors, at last been freed from the school-master, at last been freed – self-evidently – from the real power of disobedience, as last been freed from the nerve or lever of sin […] [i]
Barth then adds that God’s call to follow. This command to come, to call, to cry out, is grounded in the freedom to follow. We are set free from sin to be free for God. Our obedience is no longer motivated by a “we must’ or else’, but on, “we may because of”, therefore we can!
‘That God is for us, and therefore no one and nothing is against us, is the reason why it is quite impossible for us to remain in sin, and so necessary for us to transfer from its service to the obedience of righteousness. And if no one and nothing is against us in consequence of the fact that God is for us, this means simply that we are not condemned; that the Law of sin and death is repealed; that the lordship of the world-elements is broken. It is not a case of “must”, but “may.” Our “may” is our “must”. [ii]
After my baptism. I could not remain in sin. It was no longer my identity. It was no longer a debt owed, but one paid for in the liberating life and work of Jesus Christ. Though sin and the potentiality to sin remains, I am not owned by that sin. I am not owned by the past or the people who rather than confront it, choose to ignore it, and instead pretend it never happened.
For the Christian this is impossible because God does not ignore sin. If we can call Christianity a religion, it’s not a religion of convenience. Relationship with God does not revolve around what is convenient to us.Rather then bury sin, God confronts it. He brings order into chaos (1.Cor.14:33). Jesus is God in revolt against the disorder of the world.
“A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, ESV)
God will peel the layers back until we are free to be, where we can be free to truly follow Him. The only denial that has permission to walk hand in hand with grace is self-denial. God doesn’t ignore our needs and leave us hanging around like a bewildered ape. He will not let go of the one who calls out His name and then puts their hand in His.
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
-(Galatians 4:6, ESV)
“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!”
-(Romans 8:15, ESV)
[i] Barth, K. 1942 The Command of God as Claim of God: The Form of the Divine Claim C.D. II/II Hendrickson Publishers (p.592)
[ii] ibid, pp.592 & 593
Updated, 11th April 2017:
Karl Barth also makes mention of this in CD 3/3 on page 39:
‘In the N.T this title, ‘Father’ is not really a sentimental expression for the human experience of the goodness to man of the supreme being who rules in and over the world. It is as Jesus is the Son of God that God is His father and He calls Him by His name […] He invites us too to know and address God as our father. It is as we know this Father that we know the Creator, and not vice versa’