November 21, 2014

Prodigal Grace II: Live To Give, Give to Live

[Continued from previous post]

I ended the last post with a question and I'll ask it again to start this one. Why is there no retaliation or rebuke by the father against the Prodigal Son for his sinful stupidity? It is actually quite simple. I suppose that it is the same reason God doesn't do it to us when we often times deserve chastisement. It is called love and grace.

What most fail to realize about the story of the Prodigal Son is that every single one of us has had the opportunity to be the father, the son or the brother in this narrative. At some point in our lives…we have been all three. The one abusing grace, the one giving grace…or the one greatly in need of grace. If we retaliate we are doing so against people that are just like ourselves. This would not be loving our neighbors as ourselves, would it? In these situations in our lives when we know we did wrong, was a tongue-lashing really necessary? Would it have improved the already bad situation. Just the fact that we are already repented tells God and others that the turnaround has already taken place, a verbal beating might move everything back to square one.

The Grace Abuser

We often abuse grace when we realize we are saved by God’s grace and it is permanent. Paul told us in Romans 6:1-2 that we should not continue to sin so more grace abounds. In other words, just because we are saved does not give us license to do whatever we want over and over in habitual sin or even regular sin. As Paul also said…

1 Corinthians 10:23 ~ “All things are lawful” [to a Christian] “but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

If a person continues to willingly and habitually abuse grace (habitually sin) that person may wish to check to assure that they are even in the faith. Habitual abuse of grace is not the sign of a true believer since a true believer will not continue to habitually sin.

1 John 3:9 ~ “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

Many overlook this and it is to their detriment. Many will say Lord, Lord but He might say that He never knew you. You my have walked through life under a false assurance and false pretense. I know people that were in eldership positions in churches that may have done this. I have done this in the past. It was utterly clear that not only didn't they/I manifest the fruits of the Spirit, they/I clearly sinned in a habitual manner and never once bothered to look inward. 

The Grace Giver

The one that willingly allows a wrong and does not seek retribution or revenge. This type of person realizes they are not giving of themselves. They are looking outward not looking inward. They realize that everything they have is actually God’s. In this way we understand that the giver of grace here is just redistributing or reallocating something that they were given stewardship of.

1 Corinthians 15:10 ~ But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

Another sign of a grace giver is a person who trusts God, not their circumstances and their control over their circumstance. The father of the young man trusted in God. It is God who arranged the circumstances that allowed the son to go wayward but it also arranged that he eventually return home. Until he arrives back home we hear nothing of the father but when the son does return he is immediately giving grace to his son. As a matter o fact, the father runs to the son to give the grace. That is a true grace giver. I person that strives to give grace away. This is a person overflowing with the Spirit.

The last thing in this story that is notable about the grace giver is that they live to give. The father gave the son his portion without fight and also gave when he returned home. He didn’t point out why the actions were so wrong, he just gave. When the man returned home…same thing. Giving was on the grace giver’s mind, not rebuke.

Again we see hints of Jesus’ statements from the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:46-48 “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The father still risks rejection from the returning son because he does not know the pretense under which the son returns. He risks his dignity and pride and sprints to meet his son. In this way the Father is being like God in Heaven. He accepts regardless of the possible outcome. He loves unconditionally, just as God does.

We must all live to give.

The One In Need of Grace

It is both sons and the father that need grace in the story. It is also all of humanity outside the parable. Some of them need it more than the others but all humanity benefits from grace. Do we continue to sin so grace abounds? No! Do we try to give it abundantly and freely to others? Yes! As I said before, we have all been all of the characters in this story at one time or another. As such we have all been in need of grace in all of their situations too. It is the very nature of believers as sinners that screams, "I need grace!" It is what has saved us from the wrath of God’s judgment. It is the grace of the Gospel.

This one is a critical to the Christian life. It is the main underlying premise of the whole story. The Father in the story is an image of God giving grace to the son who is the believer that has gone astray but returned to God. We being the son in this story are undeserving of the unmerited grace given by the father but receive it anyway. We, in the position of the father are the image of the Christian believer who, being like God, gives grace to others who are undeserving. The other son is an image of the person that is given grace of a normal life at home but abuses that privilege by refusing the grace to his brother and his father. Instead it is almost as if he wants retribution for what he has suffered (or perceives he has). The other brother is the one most worse off in this narrative yet he is the one least mentioned.

Sadly but reassuringly, these images are all snapshots of the sinful human condition and the sinful human need of grace. Because Christ died on the Cross for all sin, we have the possibility of redemption regardless of whom we emulate in this story. It is sad because of the fallen condition of sinful man but reassuring because...even in our fallen condition there is hope. It is reassuring because no matter how bad our sin condition is, there is enough grace to redeem us and we need do nothing to gain it other than believe in Christ.

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