by Mike Ratliff
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:25-30 ESV)
I heard part of a sermon on the radio in my pickup this afternoon that pierced my heart. I have learned to pay attention when this happens. The preacher was Dr. Richard Land and he was expounding on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. I began listening just as he read Luke 15:25-30. Then he gave a couple of illustrations that God used to direct my path to this post. The first illustration concerned a friend of Dr. Land who was dying. He had terminal cancer. This man was a Pastor of a church in a small town. His daughter had returned home after living a sinful debauched lifestyle. She was pregnant out of wedlock. Her intent had been to privately abort the baby, tell no one, and remain in her sinful lifestyle. However, God entered in to her heart, brought her to repentance, and sent her back home. She arrived at home as her father was dealing with his cancer.
One of the deacons in this man’s church began a campaign to oust the Pastor by telling everyone that he must have sin in his life if all of these bad things were happening to him. The church fired him as their Pastor as he was at a hospital dealing with his terminal cancer. Dr. Land wondered if things would had gone differently if the daughter had gone through with aborting her baby. The second illustration was an example in his own church. A young lady raised in the church went off to college. While there she also rejected her former lifestyle and also became pregnant out of wedlock. Her boyfriend abandoned her. She also wanted to hide her shame by having an abortion, but she became convicted of the sinfulness of that. She repented. She got right with God. She came home to her parents pregnant. It was decided that the baby would be offered up for adoption. She rejoined the activities of the church with those in her age group.
Dr. Land shared that a group of ladies from his church came together to see him. They were upset that this young lady was being involved in all parts of the activities in the church as if nothing had ever happened. They said, “Surely there should be some sort of ‘punishment’ for what she had done or separate place for people like her!” It was at this moment that I knew I had to write this. Dr. Land said that he rejected the first three responses to these ladies that came to mind. Then he said to them, “If you knew the heartache and tears and agony this young lady has gone through, knowing what shame she had brought on her family and what sin had done to her relationship with God and her savior, then you would not be so quick to point that finger of judgment.” He then shared with them that if the role of the church was to be vindictive to those God has forgiven then the whole body of believers would have to find that place in the church full of untouchables.
Notice in both cases that these two young ladies could have taken the “easy way” out and aborted their babies. Who would have known? They would have and certainly God would have known. Isn’t it amazing how “Christians” can be so heartless and vindictive in their self-righteousness? It is all about appearances. Those people would have been “happier” if two babies had been killed for convenience sake. However, when God enters into a heart, doing His good work there, there is repentance and courage to do what is right no matter who has a problem with it. What we must never forget is that all Christians are sinners saved by grace. We were all on the way to hell before God captured us, turned us around, and saved us. He has made us positionally righteous in His eyes, however, we still have our flesh and a vindictive enemy who works overtime to come between us and God.
We still sin. That is why God gave us 1 John 1:8-10.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 ESV)
Notice that John tells us that all of us still sin and if we try to be self-righteous then we prove that the truth is not in us and we are actually calling God a liar. However, if we confess our sins, what does God do? He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Verses 8 and 10 describe the self-righteous who hide their sin and attempt to make everyone see themselves as somehow worthy of salvation. On the other hand, v9 describes the broken Christian who confesses his or her sin and God grants repentance to them.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV)
The genuine believer grieves over his or her sin (Matthew 5:4). This mourning leads to repentance because it is produced by the Holy Spirit. Genuine repentance cannot occur apart from genuine sorrow over one’s sin(s). This repentance proves the validity of one’s salvation. On the other hand, worldly grief is unsanctified remorse. It cannot save. It is a product of a wounded pride of getting caught. This grief only leads to guilt, shame, despair, depression, self-pity, and hopelessness.
The conviction of sin that leads to godly grief always comes from God. It brings the sinner to the threshold of an understanding of God. Our Lord stated that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin. When He does this He rouses the conscience and brings the sinner into the presence of God. Godly grief is running full blown at this point. What is bothering the sinner? The sullied condition of his or her relationship with God is now apparent to the heart. The guilt of their sin is hard pressed upon them. They know that it is against God they have sinned. Their relationships with others is now seen as less important. This is why the penitent sinner can be so bold in his or her repentance.
God is good my brethren. The marvels of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven who are holy. He or she proves they are forgiven by their transformed life by God’s grace. When God grants repentance it always brings the believer to confess, “I have sinned!” When a believer does this and means it then we know that God is at work in that heart. The cleansed life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness. Never forget my brethren that conscious holiness leads to self-righteousness. We must focus on walking in repentance. God will grow us in holiness.
Now, as we witness professing Christians make a huge sinful mess of their lives and there is no mark of genuine repentance within then we know that they are either not really believers or they are horribly backslidden. We must pray for their repentance. On the other hand, when we witness confession of sin and obvious regenerate behavior then we rejoice as the Prodigal Son’s father did. He killed the fatted calf and threw a huge party. On the other hand, let us not be like the older brother who, like the vindictive deacons and church ladies wanted to exact a pound of flesh from those who have obviously been granted repentance by God. If God forgives then we must too.
Soli Deo Gloria!