Christianity 201

March 26, 2017

The Prodigal Son and God’s Love for the Repentant Sinner

by Russell Young

Luke relates the parable of the lost or prodigal son. (Lk 15:11─31) The story is quite well known. According to its presentation, a wealthy father had two sons and the younger wanted his inheritance even while the father lived. Having been given it, he squandered it in “riotous living” until he had nothing left. Starvation caused him to humbly return home where he was compassionately and enthusiastically greeted by his anxious father. The older son had remained home and had worked the remaining part of the estate for his father. Seeing his father’s delight in the return of the reckless son and the celebration that was taking place, the older son became upset since his faithfulness to his father had never been recognized.

This parable is often presented to show the “forgiveness” and love of the father and/or the hard-heartedness of the brother who had faithfully toiled for so long. Regardless, the revelation of God’s heart concerning the repentance of a sinner is highlighted within the parable. The verse leading to the parable (Luke 15:10) reads that “there is much rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Repentance shows humility rather than pride. It indicates that the sinner has recognized the sovereignty of God and his laws and that he or she is subject to them. God loves the repentant person who is prepared to honour him and his creation.

Perhaps writings that have attempted to apply meaning to all aspects of this parable are confusing the issue. The father’s joy at the return of his son has been made clear. He loved his son and wanted fellowship with him. Without doubt, he had misused his inheritance and had done many foolish things, but he had learned some valuable lessons. His misadventure had taught him a great deal. From the parable, it seems that he had returned ready to be a committed and faithful son. Does our heavenly Father want anything less? Could he expect anything more?

Jesus had engaged his earthly ministry to redeem a lost people and was amid a people who had rejected God’s righteous requirements for thousands of years. His sorrow for Jerusalem was expressed as follows: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Lk 13:34─35) His heart was breaking because of the bleakness that sin had brought upon God’s chosen people. In this parable he is bringing the need for repentance to the lost sons of Israel and expressing to them the joy that the Father feels when truth is finally recognized and appreciated.

The issue of repentance applies to humankind today. God’s lamentation over the state of wickedness that exists in the hearts of his created people was expressed early following the tenure of people upon the earth. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6 NIV) God loves his creation and it was for his pleasure that he had created in the first place. Hearts have become thoroughly evil in his estimation and there is no good thing in them. God wants repentance! He wants hearts committed to him and to doing good. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, the church of Christ should rejoice more exuberantly with God when a repentant sinner acknowledges hurt to humankind and to God and returns humbly to meet the heart of God.

For those who want to direct the parable to address the father’s rejoicing over the wayward “believer’s” return it needs to be appreciated that the prodigal had no inheritance and no recourse to attaining any. He had returned home having wasted it. The inheritance that belongs to the believer is the same inheritance that Christ will receive since the believer is a co-heir with Christ. (Rom 8:17) God will not be mocked, the “believer” cannot truthfully be repentant and act otherwise. Concerning the nature of his preaching, Paul told King Agrippa that his preaching to the Gentiles was that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26─27 NIV) God will not be mocked and “believers” who repent after deliberately continuing to sin will not enjoy the celebration that the prodigal received.

Those who want to find meaning in the parable through reflecting on the attitude of the elder son through his hesitancy to rejoice at the return of the lost son need to understand that the elder has been presented as having been fully obedient to his father and the father did not chastise him but conveyed his heart over the return of his lost son. He desired the son to rejoice, as well. The elder son was to get all his father’s inheritance and was to be with him always. (Lk 15:31)

This parable was an attempt to reach out to the children of Israel to encourage repentance and a return to the family and perhaps it should not be considered beyond this point. There is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner has been convinced of the pain he has brought to the heart of God and returns contritely and committed to live a life of humility and obedience. As depicted in this presentation by Christ, believers can cause rejoicing in heaven and can “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3 NIV) through encouraging repentance and a walk of righteousness by believers. The father shared his heart that you might bless him.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

January 11, 2014

What Genuine Repentance Looks Like

Turn aroundRyan Huguley is the founding and lead pastor of Redemption Bible Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois. Click the title to read this at source, you’ll find a number of good articles, including a recently-completed series on doing family devotions.

3 Essential Marks of Genuine Repentance

To hear the entire message, click here.

We’ve all experienced times of confusion – times when we thought we understood something we in reality did not. The problem with confusion is that it has consequences. Some confusion, in fact, can have life-long, fatal, even eternal consequences. Repentance is one of those issues.

From beginning to end, the Bible heralds genuine repentance as foundational to both salvation and spiritual growth. The truth is, there is no salvation or spiritual growth apart from repentance.

But even though it’s one of the most talked-about issues in our faith, repentance is also one of the most misunderstood. As a result, much of what we deem repentance may not be. So, we need to be crystal clear about what it is and what it isn’t.

Here’s the question: How certain are you that you both understand and practice Biblical repentance? 

Two words are used for “repentance” in both the Old and the New Testaments. When translated, these words describe a three-fold change that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7: 11.

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”

From this passage, we can see three essential marks of genuine repentance. Without all three of these, we have not genuinely repented:

1. A Change of Mind – I think differently about my sin.

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you…”

Repentance starts with seeing our sin for what it is: an offense against the heart of God, treason against the King we were created to serve, rebellion against a perfect, heavenly Father. Until we think the way God thinks about our sin, we won’t feel the way God feels about it. No matter how small we think our sin is, it is never insignificant.

2. A Change of Heart – I feel differently toward my sin.

“What indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!”

Godly grief produced strong emotions in the Christians at Corinth. Their hearts were broken and they hated their sin. Genuine repentance will result in sorrow and heartbroken remorse over the hurt we’ve caused God as a result of our sin.

3. A Change of Direction – I act differently in regard to my sin.

“What eagerness to clear yourselves . . .”

When they repented, the Corinthians committed to making restitution. Unlike gift giving, when it comes to repentance, it’s not the thought that counts, but the action taken against it. Repentance that doesn’t result in a radical redirection of our lives is not Biblical repentance.

God had done a deep work in the Christians at Corinth that produced an external change. They did not achieve repentance on their own and neither can we, because repentance is not a work of the will but a gift of grace.

Repentance is a gift of God made possible through the perfect work of Jesus. We can’t earn it, work up to it, or cause it in our own hearts. We can only lean heavily on the grace of God and ask Him to grant us repentance.

If we recognize our sin for what it is, experience remorse for how it grieves God, and allow God to redirect our lives, we have genuinely repented. We can then have deep assurance that we are walking with Him and we can be certain of our salvation.

(Adapted by Diane Rivers from sermon entitled, “How to Be Certain You’re Saved”)

January 11, 2012

The Way of Jesus is not The Way of Perfectionism

Psalm 51
The Message
 1-3Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
   Scrub away my guilt,
      soak out my sins in your laundry.
   I know how bad I’ve been;
      my sins are staring me down.

 4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
      it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
   You have all the facts before you;
      whatever you decide about me is fair.
   I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
      in the wrong since before I was born.
   What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
      Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

 7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
      scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
   Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
      set these once-broken bones to dancing.
   Don’t look too close for blemishes,
      give me a clean bill of health.
   God, make a fresh start in me,
      shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
   Don’t throw me out with the trash,
      or fail to breathe holiness in me.
   Bring me back from gray exile,
      put a fresh wind in my sails!
   Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
      so the lost can find their way home.
   Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
      and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
   Unbutton my lips, dear God;
      I’ll let loose with your praise.

 16-17 Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
      a flawless performance is nothing to you.
   I learned God-worship
      when my pride was shattered.
   Heart-shattered lives ready for love
      don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Eugene Peterson:

The attempt to impose perfection on either oneself or another, whether parent on child, pastor on congregation, CEO on a company, teacher on student, husband on wife, wife on husband, is decidedly not the way of Jesus.

And how do we know?  In large part because of David, the ancestor of Jesus, who was unembarrassed to be called Son of David.  David provides a large chunk of the evidence that disabuses us of the idea that perfection is part of the job description of the men and women who follow Jesus.  More narrative space is given in our Scriptures to the story of David than to any other single person, and there are no perfectionist elements in it.  The way of David is, from start to finish, a way of imperfection.

… David was a person of prayer.  As it turns out we wend up knowing far more about David’s dealings with God than we do about his dealings with Goliath and Saul, Jonathan and Abigail, Bathsheba and Tamar. And we kneed to know this, for God is the large, totally encompassing reality in which “we live and move and have our being.”  John Calvin described the Psalms as “an anatomy of all the parts of the sou.l”  We will never understand the first thing about who we are and what we are doing if we know ourselves only from the outside. Not that the inside can be understood apart from the outside (nor the outside apart from the inside.)  We need access to both: the story and the prayers. And we have both. There are some ancient manuscripts in which copyists left a gap after each incident in David’s life into which the reader could insert an appropriate Psalm, praying his or her human action into God’s presence and action.

There is not the slightest effort given in the biblical story to make David admirable in any moral or spiritual sense. And yet there is the assumption in all of this that flawed and faithless and failed as is he is, he is representative — not a warning against bad behavior but a witness, inadvertent as it was, to the normalcy, yes, the inevitability of imperfection

The Jesus Way, pp. 79-82