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Overwhelmed by the Father

Quotes from Chapter 5

The Father Revealed in the Son

The right way to think about God is not to think of him primarily as Creator (naming him “from His works only”). For if God’s essential identity is to be the Creator, the ruler, then he needs a creation to rule in order to be who he is. But God existed for eternity before he ever created, and he existed with complete self-sufficiency, depending on nothing to be who he is. He is not a God who needs anything. He has life in himself.

Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.

Acts 17:25

For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself.

John 5:26

We cannot come to a true knowledge of who God is in himself simply by looking at him as Creator. We must listen to how he has revealed himself—and he has revealed himself in his Son, making known that revelation in all the Scriptures. Through the Son we see behind creation into the eternal and essential identity of God.

God is known truly not through the unaided efforts of fallen human minds but through the preaching of Christ in the gospel.

Christ leads us to the revealed God in this way. When Philip begged that the Father be shown to them, John 14:8–9, the Lord earnestly rebuked him and said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” He did not wish God to be sought by idle and vagrant speculations, but He wills that our eyes be fixed on the Son who has been manifested to us, that our prayers be directed to the eternal Father who has revealed himself in the Son whom he has sent.

Philipp Melanchthon 1

The deepest revelation of God’s glory and nature is found in his identity as Redeemer. Consider our Isaiah speaks of “the Holy One of Israel.”

Indeed, your husband is your Maker—
his name is the Lord of Armies—
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Isaiah 54:5

My own hand founded the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summoned them,
they stood up together.

Isaiah 48:13

Who has performed and done this,
calling the generations from the beginning?
I am the Lord, the first
and with the last—I am he.

Isaiah 41:4

Now this is what the Lord says—
the one who created you, Jacob,
and the one who formed you, Israel—
“Do no fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are mine.”

Isaiah 43:1

This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:
Because of you, I will send an army to Babylon
and bring all of them as fugitives,
even the Chaldeans in the ships in which they rejoice.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.

Isaiah 43:14

The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer;
The Lord of Armies is his name.

Isaiah 47:4

This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:
I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
who leads you in the way you should go.

Isaiah 48:17

This is what the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel, his Holy One, says
to one who is despised,
to one abhorred by people,
to a servant of rulers:
“Kings will see, princes will stand up,
and they will all bow down
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel—and he has chosen you.”

Isaiah 49:7

Yet you are our Father,
even though Abraham does not know us
and Israel doesn’t recognize us.
You, Lord, are our Father;
your name is our Redeemer
from Ancient Times.

Isaiah 63:16

The deepest reality of what it means for him to be “high and lifted up” is unfolded only when the suffering servant is “high and lifted up.”

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple.

Isaiah 6:1

See, my servant will be successful;
he will be raised and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13

Jesus replied to them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

John 12:23

As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.

John 12:32

In all creatures, indeed, both high and low, the glory of God shines, but nowhere has it shone more brightly than in the cross.

John Calvin 2

Calvin divided our knowledge of God into two steps or levels: the knowledge of God the Creator and the knowledge of God the Redeemer in Christ.

As sinners in a fallen world, that in “this ruin of mankind no one now experiences God as Father or as Author of salvation, or favorable in any way, until Christ the Mediator comes forward to reconcile him to us. 3

We do not truly understand God’s work as Creator or his providence (and so we have no comfort) unless we understand that it is a fatherly work.

To conclude once for all, whenever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us at the same time bear in mind that … we are indeed his children, whom he has received into his faithful protection to nourish and educate.

Calvin 4

Without that knowledge of the Son as our Redeemer and the Father as our Father in Christ, we simply do not properly know God. It is the work of the Spirit precisely to give us that certain knowledge.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”

Romains 8:15

And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”

Galatians 4:6

Filial Fear

The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 1:7

That deeper knowledge of God—through Christ—must lead to a deeper, richer, and sweeter fear. It leads us from knowing God as the Creator to knowing him as our Redeemer and our Father. Not that we will ever stop knowing him as the transcendent Creator; rather the knowledge that he is our Father makes his creative awesomeness purely wonderful to us. By opening our eyes to know God aright, the Spirit turns our hearts to fear him aright—with a loving, filial fear.

It is not enough to know God as the Creator and Judge. Only when God is known as a loving Father is he known aright.

We were totally unable to come to a recognition of the Father’s favour and grace except through the Lord Christ, who is the mirroring image of the Father’s heart. Without Christ we see nothing in God but an angry and terrible Judge.

Martin Luther 5

Through sending his Son to bring us back to himself, God has revealed himself to be inexpressibly loving and supremely fatherly.

Through his redemption our fear is transformed from trembling, slavish terror to trembling, filial wonder.

For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:40

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:28–30

This fear—trembling, filial wonder—continually and wholly rests upon Christ’s redemption as sufficient, not our own works. It can remain constant in dependent wonder, not terror. Its wonder is only increased by the perfection of Christ’s redemption and the infinity of his grace toward such extreme sinners as us.

Jesus’s Own Fear

To understand the filial fear believers have, we must be clear that it is Jesus’s own filial fear that we are brought to share.

Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and with people.

Luke 2:52

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

Jesus could not have grown in wisdom without the fear of the Lord.

Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
a Spirit of Wisdom and understanding,
a Spirit of counsel and strength,
a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
His delight will be in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1–3

Not only do believers share the Son’s own standing before the Father; we also share the Son’s own filial delight in the fear of the Lord. Charles Spurgeon called this filial fear

the fear of his Fatherhood which leads us to reverence him. When divine grace has given us the new birth, we recognize that we have entered into a fresh relationship towards God; namely, that we have become his sons and daughters. Then we realize that we have received “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cray, Abba, Father.” Now, we cannot truly cry unto God, “Abba, Father,” without at the same time feeling, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” When we recognize that we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ,” children of the Highest, adopted into the family of the Eternal himself, we feel at once, as the spirit of childhood works within us, that we both love and fear our great Father in heaven, who has loved us with an everlasting love, and has “begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”

In this childlike fear, there is not an atom of that fear which signified being afraid. We, who believe in Jesus, are not afraid of our Father; God forbid that we ever should be. The nearer we can get to him, the happier we are. Our highest wish is to be for ever with him, and to be lost in him; but, still, we pray that we may not grieve him; we beseech him to keep us from turning aside from him; we ask for his tender pity towards our infirmities, and plead with him to forgive us and to deal graciously with us for his dear Son’s sake. As loving children, we feel a holy awe and reverence as we realize our relationship to him who is our Father in heaven,—a dear, loving, tender, pitiful Father, yet our Heavenly Father, who “is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.”

Charles Spurgeon 6

This filial fear is the overwhelmed devotion of children marvelling at the kindness and righteousness and glory and complete magnificence of the Father.

Just as the Son had no need to fear for himself being separated from his Father’s gracious presence (except when he hung in our place on the cross), so the adopted children of God need not fear in that way. If there is any fear of separation from God in believers, it is not the fear of being ultimately separated; it is the fear that our sins might part us from the warmth of enjoyed communion with God. More positively, it is the fear that inspires us to appreciate God’s character and so hate sin and long to be more Christlike.

Now it would be very wrong for a child merely to restrain himself in his father’s presence out of respect for him, and then break the bounds with unbridled licentiousness in his father’s absence, as I fear many do. But you and I need not fall into this danger, because we are always in the presence of our heavenly Father in every place. Who among us that fears God as he ought would wish to do anything anywhere which is wrong, and offensive to him. … A sense of the presence of God, a conscience that prompts one to say, “Thou God seest me,” fosters in the soul a healthy fear which you can easily see would rather inspirit than intimidate a man. It is a filial, childlike fear, in the presence of one whom we deeply reverence, lest we should do anything contrary to his mind and will. So, then, there is a fear which arises out of a high appreciation of God’s character, and a fear of the same kind which arises out of a sense of his presence. … Holy fear leads us to dread anything which might cause our Father’s displeasure.

Charles Spurgeon 7

The filial fear the Son shares with us is quite different from the sinner’s dread of God and dread of punishment. It is an adoration of God that dreads sin itself, not just its punishment, for it has come to treasure God and so loathe all that is ungodly.

The pious mind restrains itself from sinning, not out of dread of punishment alone; but, because it loves and reveres God as Father, it worships and adores him as Lord. Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone.

John Calvin 8

Why It Matters

Having a right knowledge of God is inextricably bound up with having a right fear of God. Those who do not know God as a merciful Redeemer and compassionate Father can never have the delight of truly filial fear.

We must keep a careful eye on the identity we most commonly ascribe to God. The very shape of the gospel we proclaim will speak loudest about how we most essentially think of God.

Think of the gospel presentation that describes God only as Creator and ruler or King; sin is no deeper a matter than breaking his rules; redemption is solely about being brought back under his rulership. Such a gospel could never impart a filial fear and wonder, for there is no mention of God’s fatherhood or our adoption in his Son. Such a gospel can only leave people with a fear of the Creator.

Only when we are resolutely Christ-centred—”signifying” God from the Son and so calling him Father—only then can we tell a richer, truer gospel. Only then does the story make sense that our sin is a relational matter of our hearts going astray and loving what is wrong. Only then will we speak of God the Father sending forth his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, sharing his sonship and bring us as children into his family. Only that Christ-centred gospel can draw people to share Jesus’s own fear.

It is all too easy to point people to God’s grandeur as Creator—which is absolutely right to do—but then fail to point to the gospel and God’s grandeur as a compassionate Saviour.

The two steps Calvin argues for in our knowledge of God both need to be observed if people are to fear aright: the knowledge of God the marvelous Creator and the knowledge of God the merciful Redeemer in Christ. Those who know God as Father can have a deeper enjoyment and fear of God as the omnipotent Creator and the righteous Judge. Those who know God only as Creator cannot fear him rightly as either Creator or Redeemer; only those who have a filial fear can also enjoy fearing God rightly as their Creator.

The wonders of creation are best enjoyed by the self-conscious children of God. Lightnings, mountains, stars, and wild oceans are all more marvelous to those who see them all as the works of their majestic and gracious Father.

  1. Philipp Melanchthon, Loci Communes (1543), trans. J.A.O. Preus (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1992), 18.
  2. John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel according to John, vol. 2, in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), at John 13:31.
  3. Calvin, Institutes, 1.2.1.
  4. Calvin, Institutes, 1.14.22.
  5. Luther’s Large Catechism (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1978), 77.
  6. C.H. Spurgeon, “A Fear to Be Desired,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, 63 vols. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1855–1917), 48:497–98.
  7. C.H. Spurgeon, “Godly Fear and Its Goodly Consequence,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, 22:232–33.
  8. Calvin, Institutes, 1.2.2.


  1. Why is it not right to think about God primarily as Creator?
  2. How do we come to a true knowledge of who God is?
  3. Where is the deepest revelation of God’s glory and nature found?
  4. When is the deepest reality of what it means for God to be “high and lifted up” unfolded?
  5. What are you the two steps or levels Calvin divided our knowledge of God into?
  6. What does it take for us to truly understand or experience God as Father or Author of salvation, or favourable in any way?
  7. Does knowing God as our Redeemer and our Father mean we stop knowing him as the Creator?
  8. Do you know God only as Creator and Judge, or do you know God through Christ also as your loving Father?
  9. How is our fear transformed through God’s redemption?
  10. If there is any fear of separation from God in believers, what is this fear and how does it affect us?
  11. How is the filial fear the Son shares with us different from the sinner’s dread of God and dread of punishment?
  12. What is the danger of only thinking about and presenting God as Creator and Ruler?
  13. Why must the gospel always be Christ-centred?
  14. Can those who know God only as Creator fear him rightly?

This article is adapted from: Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund and Gentle and Lowly Study Guide by Robert Zink.


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