True Fatherhood: Two Pictures, Six Commitments from James
America is in a fatherhood crisis. According to the National Fatherhood Initiative,1 one in every four children lives without a father at home. But as BJU Seminary faculty member Stuart Scott discussed with Steve Noble on a Theology Thursday episode earlier this month, there is an even greater tragedy than lacking a connection to an earthly father.
And that’s for someone — maybe one of our own children — to live without a connection to our heavenly Father through a “spiritual father,” two pictures drawn by Pastor James in his epistle:
- “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17-18, NASB95).
- “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21–23).
James’ reference to our gift-giving, unchanging heavenly Father is clear, but how could Gentiles call Abraham their father? It’s about spiritual ancestry, not physical. That connection was made both by Christ in John 8 — when He revealed that unbelieving Pharisees, who were physical descendants of Abraham, were not spiritually related to him — and by Paul in Galatians 3:7 when he says, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.”
As Dr. Scott made clear, there is “no perfect parent” and “no picture of a perfect family” in the Bible, and our children are responsible for their own choices.
That being said, Christian fathers do have a unique opportunity — and calling — to bring all of these aspects of fatherhood (earthly, spiritual and heavenly) together: by seeking to demonstrate to their children how to cultivate a true, living faith that is whole-hearted, single-focused, and fully trusting in our heavenly Father and His Word.
James, who teaches us much about true faith, offers six important commitments to help bring earthly and spiritual parenting together into true fatherhood.
1. Receive God’s Wisdom Eagerly
In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls (1:21).
True fathers: we must display our eagerness to receive and to read God’s implanted “perfect law” (1:25) regularly, joyfully and carefully; to employ His “law of liberty” (1:25) to liberate us from our sins, shape our lives, and define who we are and what we do as dads; and to share with our children what God is teaching them from His “word of truth” (1:18).
2. Persist in God’s Will Joyfully
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (1:2-3).
As God grows and matures our faith through ongoing, prolonged, and painful trials, do we grumble, or do we joyfully point our children to the faithfulness of Christ?
3. Hope in God’s Promises Unwaveringly
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? … As a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’ (2:21-24).
What greater hope could we show our children than emulating the sure trust, which Hebrews 11:19 indicates Abraham had, that “God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received (Isaac) back as a type?”
4. Embrace God’s Values and Priorities Unswervingly
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (1:1b).
James reminds us that though for now we exist in the world’s little kingdoms, as followers of Jesus Christ we must live distinctly for His kingdom until He establishes it, pursuing:
- Its values, by viewing our possessions as stewards instead of owners, rejoicing that our true, lasting wealth is in His coming kingdom (1:9-10).
- Its priorities, shaped by our desire to know and do God’s will, not following our plans for “today or tomorrow,” seeking our success, and making a profit for ourselves (5:13-15).
5. Develop Grace-Favored, Gospel-Shaped Relationships Boldly
True fathers must model relationships that please God by:
- Being a friend of God, not of the world (4:4).
- Enduring mistreatment patiently and graciously (5:7-10).
- Serving others impartially (2:1).
- Loving others genuinely and selflessly, particularly in this way: “If any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20).
6. Pray earnestly
The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain (5:16-17).
Again, there is no guarantee of results, but as we live out our true faith in true fatherhood, God can use our lives, words and prayers to turn a particular set of wandering sinners back to Himself, save their souls from death, and meet their sins with mercy in this life and not judgment in the next — our own sons or daughters! May those prayers be answered in your families!
As discussed by Sam Horn on The Steve Noble Show on September 29