And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
To receive adoption as sons—what a remarkable privilege! This fact alone ought to thrill our hearts, and all the more as we further understand the privilege of being adopted into God’s family. Which is where Paul takes us in the very next verse; in fact, he points to two privileges: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (v. 6).
One privilege of divine adoption is the change of a child’s nature. Human adoptions are of course very special, but they don’t change a child’s nature. The change is only legal and relational; there’s no inner transformation of the child. But when God adopts a person into his family, he changes who he or she is from the inside out. In Christ we become new creatures! We receive new spiritual DNA, God’s own in fact.
How does that happen? God changes our nature by sending the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. And there, in the very core of our being, his Spirit remains and resides. He never departs. But more than that, he transforms us, starting from the inside and steadily working his way out, over time consuming the whole of who we are.
This leads to a second privilege of divine adoption: a change of disposition. Those with new DNA through the Spirit of God express that changed nature in a changed disposition, toward both God and the circumstances of their lives. From the moment of their new birth they begin to cry like newborn babies. However, theirs is a distinctive cry because it flows from this new Spirit-given nature and disposition. It is a cry of intimacy and dependence, and this is what it sounds like: “Abba! Father!”
But what kind of cry is this? Well, the only other person who cries this way is Jesus. In fact this is the cry he uttered in the garden of Gethsemane. His final hour had come. He was staring death in the face. No doubt he was also coming to terms with the suffering he was about to endure on the cross. His soul was in utter anguish. And at precisely that moment he voiced this cry: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36; cf. Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42).
The cry “Abba! Father!” is the Son’s cry of distress to his loving heavenly Father. It’s his way of addressing his Father in his time of greatest need. Yes, this is a cry of intimacy and dependence. But it is even more fundamentally a cry—a response to pain, something one utters in the face of suffering or in the midst of hardship.
Because God sends the Spirit of Christ into the hearts of every one of his adopted children, they learn to cry this same cry when they’re in a time of need. Adopted sons and daughters cry out to their heavenly Father in the same way God’s one and only Son did. In fact, the cry of an adopted child of God is the cry of the Son himself, uttering his cry to God in them and for them through his Spirit (cf. Romans 8:15-17).
God’s adopted children have, then, a very distinctive cry; they have a distinctive way of responding to life’s challenges. The distinctive thing is not that God’s children have fewer challenges. Nor is it that God’s children don’t grieve or experience disappointment. Instead the distinctive thing about God’s children is this: when they cry they make a different sound than those who aren’t God’s children. When faced with suffering, whether great or small, God’s children turn to their heavenly Father and cry out to him, “Abba! Father!” And by faith they expect their heavenly Father to hear and respond to their cry.
Have you listened to yourself cry lately? What do you sound like when you are faced with difficulties or hardships or suffering or setbacks? If we heard a recording of your response to some recent difficulty in your life, what would we hear? Would we hear the sound, “Abba! Father!”? Or would we hear something else entirely, perhaps the sound of grumbling or even the gnashing of teeth?
All too often the children of God get into difficulties in life and start to cry, as well they should, but it’s not the distinctive cry of his adopted sons and daughters. Instead it sounds like the cry of those who don’t know God as their Father. It’s not the cry of intimacy and dependence; instead it’s the cry of indignation and desperation—“What am I going to do!” or “How can God do this to me!”
God’s children who are walking with the Lord don’t gnash their teeth at their heavenly Father. Even when they receive a heavy blow in life, they don’t curse the day they were born, much less curse the God who made them. Nor do they cry the way the world does—blaming themselves or others or God, suffocating under a sense of guilt and shame, or redoubling their efforts to work harder to get themselves out of their mess. God’s children look to their heavenly Father in faith and cry out to him, “Abba! Father!”
Adapted from Galatians: Gospel-Rooted Living by Todd Wilson