Anyone who is physically able can become a biological parent. However, God uses biological parenthood to transform believers into spiritual parents. This is the highest calling human beings were created to fulfill. Jesus, Paul, and John all embodied this truth.


Jesus was many things to the disciples. For example, He was their Shepherd (ex. John 10:11), their Teacher (ex. Matthew 10:24), their Master (ex. Matthew 10:24), and their Friend (ex. Luke 12:4). However, the very last role identified in the gospels can be found just before Jesus’ crucifixion (John 13:33) and again just before His ascension (John 21:5). These are the only two times He refers to the disciples as His “children”. After completing everything He was given to do in their formation, He finally became their spiritual father. This is why Isaiah 9:6 calls Jesus “Eternal Father” and why Isaiah 53:10 says, “He will see His offspring.”


The apostle Paul also had many roles. For example, he was a teacher (2 Timothy 1:11), a pastor (ex. 2 Corinthians 11:29), an evangelist (ex. Romans 15:20), a prophet (ex. 1 Timothy 4:1), and an apostle (2 Timothy 1:11). Yet his own words indicate his greatest role was that of a father. Listen to what he said to his spiritual children, which included the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus (1 Corinthians 4:14, Galatians 4:19, 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 1 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 10, respectively).


For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers… Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16)


“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8)


“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19)


Even though Paul ministered all over the ancient world, his children were different from everyone else. They were special. They were his “hope” and “joy” and “glory” and “crown of exaltation”!


Finally, there is the apostle John. He lived longer than any of the original apostles. He wrote the final great prophecy of scripture and arguably the most powerful gospel. What do you suppose was his greatest source of joy at the end of his life? Was it reflecting on his accomplishments or looking forward to heaven? Neither. He told us in his second to last letter: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking the in truth. (3 John 1:4) He too considered his greatest role to be that of a spiritual father.


(As a side note, Jesus did also call the disciples “children” in Mark 10:24. However, I believe He was referring to their relationship with God the Father, not Himself. This was just after He said to them, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all” (vs. 16) and just before they asked Him, in astonishment, “Then who can be saved?” (vs. 26) They may have been feeling insecure about their own standing with God and Jesus called them children to reaffirm their identities as God’s children.)


What is a Spiritual Parent?

What does it mean to be a spiritual parent? I believe spiritual parenthood refers to two things: maturity and influence.


First, let’s look at maturity. A spiritual parent has reached a level of maturity in an aspect, or aspects, of Christ’s nature so that he or she is ready to pass it on to others in a pure and untainted way. A spiritual parent should be able to say of some area(s) of his life what the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”


Second, a spiritual parent has so much godly influence on another person or group of people that he forms them in his own image, spiritually – similar to how a biological father passes on his genetic image. Being a spiritual father or mother is much more than just teaching information. It’s about modeling. It’s about imparting identity. A spiritual parent is someone others can behold and be transformed by.


As I said earlier, it is human nature to be conformed to the image of whatever we spend the most time beholding. This is why 2 Corinthians 3:18 says it is by “beholding” Him that we are “transformed into the same image” and why Hebrews 2:12 says to fix “our eyes on Jesus”. One of the ways we behold Christ is by beholding spiritual parents who model His nature to us.


Every biological parent is called to also become a spiritual parent to his or her children. However, many parents, including Christian parents, do not fulfill this role. Oftentimes, young people who want to live zealously for God have to look outside their family for examples of a spiritual father or mother.


The Faith of Abraham

Let’s briefly look at three more examples of spiritual parents, beginning with Abraham. What is Abraham most known for? He is the father of faith. This is why Romans 4:11 calls him “the father of all who believe”. Abraham modeled faith in a way that set an example for mankind in every generation since.


Abraham modeled faith in multiple ways. First, he believed God for the forgiveness of his sin and an impartation of His righteousness (Romans 4:3-5, 11). Second, Abraham trusted God to fulfill the promises He had spoken over his life. He persevered in this even though it took several decades and became physically impossible (Romans 4:18-21). Third, Abraham believed that laying ahold of God’s promises was worth the immense cost. He forsook a life of comfort and wealth in his homeland, traveling around like a nomad in foreign lands, and living in tents for decades (Hebrews 11:8-9). Not only that, he didn’t even get to see most of what God promised in his lifetime (Hebrews 11:13). He spent his life pursuing promises that would mostly be fulfilled in future generations and in the ages to come (Hebrews 11:10, 12, 16).


Abraham had great faith, but how much good would it have accomplished if he didn’t pass it on? In Genesis 18:19, God said of Abraham:


“For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”


God did not choose Abraham only because of his faith, but also because he had the heart of a father. He knew Abraham would be faithful to pass on a legacy to his children that would endure. Without this vital component, Abraham’s faith would have died when he died. His impact on history would have been microscopic compared to what it is today.


It is interesting to note that Abraham’s father Terah may actually have been called to inherit the promises that were given to his son, but chose to settle for less. Genesis 11:31 says that Terah took his family out of their homeland in order to enter the Promise Land, but stopped short and settled in Haran. Perhaps this indicates he also stopped short and settled, spiritually. However, on the positive side, perhaps he also deposited a vision for the Promise Land in Abraham’s spirit that God later awakened.


Sarah is a Spiritual Mother

Scripture also indicates that Sarah is a spiritual mother. 1 Peter 3:6 says that women who imitate Sarah’s faith “become her children”. Verses 1-5 elucidate the qualities that Sarah modeled – she remained submissive to her husband’s headship even when he was disobedient to God, she was chaste and respectful, she had a gentle and quiet spirit, she hoped in God, and she overcame the temptation to be fearful.


Adam Became a Spiritual Father

Adam was a spiritual father, but it took over a century of walking with God after the fall for him to become one. At age 130, Adam finally matured to the point of being ready to pass on God’s image in him to a son. Genesis 5:3 says:


“When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.”


This was the redemptive turning point in the ancient world.


The genealogies of Genesis 4 and 5 follow the primary representatives of two opposing family lines – Cain’s line, through which Satan’s kingdom advanced, and Seth’s line, through which God’s kingdom advanced. Satan taught Cain’s descendants things like polygamy (Gen 4:19) and weaponry (Gen 4:22), whereas Seth’s line would eventually bring forth Enoch, who walked with God so closely he was translated straight to heaven, and Noah, through whom God preached righteousness to an evil generation (2 Peter 2:5) and started humanity again after the flood.


Men and Women Help Each Other Become Spiritual Parents

Men often feel more drawn to impact the world outside their homes while women feel more drawn to impact the world inside their homes. This difference is by God’s design. It helps them become spiritual mothers and fathers.


When a husband and wife walk through life together with Christ, they take on each other’s positive traits and refine each other’s negative ones. They learn to combine the tenderness of family relationships with godly ambition for making a broader impact. Their vision is not limited only to biological family or to outside-the-home pursuits. Instead, it becomes both. It grows into a vision for their eternal family.


Delayed Parenthood

If you are a Christian couple that desires to live fully for the Lord and are having trouble getting pregnant, it may well be that God wants to do something new in your generational line and He is maturing you to the point of being ready to be spiritual parents to your children. He is making you wait, just as He did for Abraham and Sarah with their son Isaac, or the way He did for Adam and Eve with their son Seth, or the way He did for Hannah with her son Samuel, or the way He did for Zacharias and Elizabeth with their son John the Baptist. Perhaps he is being careful not to entrust a great responsibility to you prematurely. Perhaps He is patiently preparing you to make an impact that will echo for generations to come.



How can we learn from our parents’ mistakes without becoming critical of them? How can we help our children to overcome in areas we struggled in? We’ll find out in the next chapter.