Here is the shocking truth – God has no grandchildren. Even if your mother was a saint, and your father a preacher, your grandfather an elder and your grandmother a deacon, you have to come to Christ yourself. God wants to be a father to all of us.
This does not mean that there is not a generational dynamic, blessings that flow from father to son and daughter, through the lineage of a godly seed. But, the qualification for such blessings, the foundation stone, is a personal relationship with God in Christ by grace, through faith, on the foundation of Scripture, a work of the Spirit.
In Luke 15, there is a story of a father with three sons. One son, the younger, becomes restless. He doesn’t like the farm. He rejects his father. He demands his share of the inheritance. He leaves. He disappears. As a result, the father will have no contact with him, perhaps, for years. The narrative gives us only the highlights. He goes through his inheritance like melting ice at barn fire. He spends it foolishly, on cheap thrills and fleshly aberrations. When his money is gone, so too are his so-called friends.
He ends up with a job feeding swine and eating the best of their food. A Jewish boy, living with the pigs. What a site! Nothing could be more demeaning, more un-kosher! Even as a back-slider, as a rebel from faith and family, it is degrading and demeaning. It shocks him from his blinding trance into rational thinking. He “comes to himself.” His personal epiphany causes him to reflect on his options. He decides that he will go home, that he will appeal to his father’s mercy. Already, it becomes clear, that his father was no brute. His father was not the cause for his flight into the dark night. He anticipates that his father will receive him back. He rehearses the speech, “I have sinned. I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” His speech is designed as a plea to the father to take him back, at least in a minimal way.
Here is the recognition of sin. Here is humility. Here is the “father honor” that he had previously not given. Here is the servant heart which he had not earlier possessed. Here is the willingness to allow the father to determine his fate – not himself. This is a radical shift in perspective. Here is faith in the father’s nature. Earlier, he had only been dazzled by the father’s fortune, his power and privilege. Now, his focus is on the father’s character – something he had ignored previously. He now hopes that the father, a man of character, will be nicer to him than he had been to the same father when he was at home. He is, after all, a good father.
Faith in the Father’s character, in the very nature of God, is critical to healthy salvation.
There is a little emphasized distinction in the prodigal’s expectations. First, he does not expect that he will have the status of son-ship reinstated. He is not requesting it. It is, he thinks, given his sordid record, out of reach. He has squandered that inheritance. He has disqualified himself. The second option is that of being the family slave. He does ask for that status – it too seems out of reach. The slave was provided living quarters – room and board. The slave had benefits – a roof over his head and bread on his table. The prodigal will ask neither for the status of a slave or a restored son. Rather, he will ask that his father consider giving him an opportunity to work as a day-laborer, a hired hand. He will have to fend for himself. He will have to find his own roof under which to sleep. But, he will at least have a job, and some food, and some means of employment, and he will have opportunities to be near the father and back on the farm! This is humility. This is the foundation of true conversion.
When he is still a long way off, his father, whose eyes must have searched the horizon a thousand times for the lost boy, sees him. The father knows his son. Age is forgotten, the father runs to meet him. He races to close the gap between them. He hurries the moment of reconciliation. He shamelessly embraces him and kisses him. He asks for no explanation. His love is tethered by no condition. He orders a robe – a symbol of status. And a ring – a symbol of authority. The tattered garments will be discarded. The ring will be placed on his finger – an ancient credit card. The father orders the killing of the fatted calf. The party is on.
His son is prepared to give the apologetic speech. He is prepared for the self-deprecating moment. He is repentant. The truth of his absence is not ignored at the expense of blind love. His attitude must have been apparent – and that allows the father to suspend the speech and lavish him with love. It is the heart that matters most. His attitude reveals repentance. His actions are clear.
Now, the father has his son back. Actually, the father has a completely different son back – a third son. He has a new son, transformed, a humble son, a repentant son, a son who now knows what mercy and grace are all about, a son who appreciates the father, a son who is willing to work in the father’s fields for a completely different reason than before. This is the father’s third son. Dead, but alive again.
The elder son will not be so gracious. He cannot forgive. He cannot join the celebration of grace. He cannot bestow mercy so freely – he has never needed mercy, nor tasted mercy himself. He needs no repentance, he has so carefully kept all the rules. Such blindness allows no place for grace and mercy.
Half the church seems to grasp truth and holiness. The other half seems to grasp love and grace. Sadly, the grasp of truth and holiness without love and grace is what makes the elder son mean and harsh. He is a worker. He is faithful. He would never waste money, like the younger son. He is appalled at the places this young rascal might have been. It is disgusting to have such a wretched creature, who has done such unimaginably wicked things, in the same house. He is saddened by the father’s mercy! He feels like the father is compromising truth. He feels the celebration is inappropriate, an insult to his own faithful integrity and service. It is a slam against holiness and truth, against moral standards and respectability.
On the other hand, the younger son had held to grace, without truth. He wasn’t true to his father or to his elder brother, not true to the demands of the farm or the father’s dream. He had exploited the father’s kindness. The father was under no obligation to give the younger son his inheritance upon demand. That he did so was an act of grace. But it was wasted. It was grace without truth! It was the desire for the father’s love, while simultaneously rejecting his right to advise and to direct.
Only when the younger son comes home, transformed by repentance, does he find a balance – love and truth now come together. He is now able to be both son and servant. He has tasted grace and embraced truth.
Why is it, that a prodigal, who finally gets love, is better able to embrace truth, than it is for an elder son, who holds onto truth, to also embrace love? The church seems full of elder sons, self-righteous people, who have only half the gospel. And simultaneously a lascivious people, who resist sacrificial truth and hold to a distorted view of God’s love.
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