Bulletin Banner

Return to July/August 2016 articles.

The title of this article is: ABBA, FATHER, with a father and daughter reading the Bible.

This illustration is a quotation from the English Standard Version of Galatians 4:3-7.

Romans 8 * is one of the most encouraging chapters in the Bible. But it does present us with a sobering thought in verse 9 where it says, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”

Young father with his little daughter reading from the Bible.

Although we may be listed on the roll of members in a local church, if we do not have the Spirit of Christ, we are not his. But how are we to know if we have the Spirit? What evidence do we have that the Spirit of Jesus indwells us?

We are told to test spirits by confession (1 John 4:1 – 2). No matter how good a life someone may live, if he denies the incarnation, the Spirit that indwells him is not from God. But, even if someone claims to be a servant of the Lord, we must examine the fruit of his life to be sure (Matthew 7:16). If these two tests are valid for others, they certainly are valid when examining ourselves.

Where the Spirit of the Son truly dwells, we can expect certain results. Where these results are not found, we must question if the Spirit of the Son is being allowed to dwell in us as it should. Later in Galatians, there is a longer list of the fruits of the Spirit. But here at the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 we have a couple of things that we can expect to happen in the life of one who is truly converted.


The Spirit of the Son gives us freedom from excessive regulation. This was indicated in 3:23 – 26 and is restated in 4:1 – 2. In Christ, we are no longer to live as minor children under the tutelage of the law. Instead, we are to honor the Lord with a degree of freedom.

A man in an office showing a paper with Rules and Regulations.

I grew up doing the modern equivalent of herb tithing (cf. Matthew 23:23). I do not blame those who taught me. It is not unusual for children to exaggerate and misapply the lessons they are taught. I certainly did so. I remember an occasion when someone’s house burned down on a Monday evening. A collection was taken up to help them when we gath­ered for Bible study on Wednesday. I honestly thought that we might all be lost because we were engaging in an act of worship (taking up a collection) that should only be done on Sundays.

That, thankfully, is an extreme example, but I still meet people who are restrained from doing good by too much attention to regulations. Sometimes I still see reflections of such a person in the mirror. That is not the Spirit of the Son. In Christ, we are free to serve the Lord without excessive attention to regulations. Of course, we are not to go beyond God’s revealed will in our teaching. But we are not to be restrained from doing good by the paranoia of legalism.


Stop being afraid.

Are we living in fear of spiritual forces beyond our control? To live in such fear may be better than not fearing spiritual forces. Those forces are real (Ephesians 6:12). We need to be aware of the danger they represent. But while we need to be aware of them, we no longer need to be enslaved to fear of them. “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3). “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods” (4:8). We are delivered from these in Christ. We should not live in fear (Romans 8:15).

Are you living in fear that you are not good enough? Let me put your mind at rest. You definitely are not good enough; for “… we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). Of course, we are not good enough, but not being good enough is not a problem.

Several years ago I showed up at a concert for which I had not purchased a ticket. Despite not having purchased a ticket, I was perfectly confident that I would be allowed to see the concert. I had not purchased a ticket, but I had been given one, free of charge, by the organizer and featured artist of the concert. Having an undeserved ticket was in a way better than having a purchased ticket. If anyone had questioned my right to be there, I could have appealed not only to the ticket itself but to the giver of the ticket to defend my right to be at the concert. Thus, we who know that our salvation was given, not earned, have the greater confidence.


Have you ever been left in charge of something you did not understand, something powerful and potentially danger­ous? Imagine yourself at the controls of a jumbo jet. How would you feel knowing that hundreds of lives are dependent on your ability to fly a plane you do not understand? Sometimes I imagine that I am in control of my own life. It is terrifying.

The word self in vintage metal letterpress type.

It is a false spirit, a spirit from Satan, not the Spirit of Sonship, which causes us to think ourselves freed in such a way that we are now independent of the Lord and the masters of our own fate. Like Israel coming out of Egypt, we are freed to serve the Lord, not freed from serving the Lord (Exodus 4:22 – 23). We, like all of God's children, are in his hands, not in our own (Proverbs 3:5 – 8).

The real Spirit of Sonship causes us to cry out to him (6), not to draw up our own plans or rely on our own ways (Psalm 44:4 – 8). The Spirit of the Son cries to the Father with urgency and intensity. We will all experience seasons of spiritual dryness. But, as a rule, we ought to be moving toward greater dependence on and greater communication with the Father. If we do not find ourselves doing that, we have reason to question the reality of our conversion.


I will close by mentioning a bit of a red herring. We sometimes hear it asked, “Does ‘Abba’ mean ‘Daddy?’ ” The answer to that question depends on what is meant by “daddy.” Daddy is appropriate on the lips of a small child. But, for many of us, the use of this term by a teen or adult may indicate a lack of respect. Abba, when used by Paul, is intended to indicate dependence and childlike trust, not disrespect. So let us be careful of claiming that the use of Abba here equates with the modern use of daddy. It may or may not, depending on what we mean by daddy.

If the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we will never be disrespectful of the heavenly Father. We will be submissive to his will (Matthew 26:39), eager to please him, quick to cry for his help. If we live most of our days with little reference to the will of God, that is a pretty clear indication that we are not converted, that the Spirit of Sonship does not dwell in us.

Forgiveness-why, how, and when we receive it.

Paul tells the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Let us consider whether it is the Spirit of Sonship that is manifest in our lives, or if it is some other spirit that is prompting our actions. Let us surrender control to the Spirit of Sonship. When we do, we will find ourselves freed from excessive regulations, from fears, and, perhaps most of all, from self.

* All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Picture credits:
Top two pictures: © Koca777. Images from BigStockPhoto.com.
© tashatuvango. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© illustratorkis. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© enterlinedesign. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© Pixels Away. Image from BigStockPhoto.com.
© Koca777. Image from BigStockPhoto.com