11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. Lk. 15:11-32
One of the most horrible nightmares that plague my life is the fact that I find I am still a man of law. It’s a nightmare, and it’s real. To be fair, God has helped me in many ways, and I know I have changed in many areas. But to find myself entirely free from the spirit of law in my heart is a challenge that I have yet to fully surmount.
And yet… I believe the worst person in the world is a person of law. The person who carries law in their heart, I believe, is the person who displeases God more than anybody else.
On the other hand, I am convinced that the person who carries grace in their heart pleases God the most. Grace is an attitude of heart. It is not something that we can crank up through our own effort. In fact, to put it in even better terms, grace comes about only through a work of the Holy Spirit in a man’s heart. Only the revelation of the cross can bring grace into a man’s heart. Grace is not something natural; it is spiritual.
Law is also an attitude of heart. Law resides in the heart of a man who has not encountered the work of the cross in their heart. When we find ourselves exercising law in our lives, either towards others or towards ourselves, that is a sure sign that we are not carrying our cross and following Christ.
Neither law nor grace can be measured by what we do in the natural. I could invite you into my house and have you sit on my best sofa, and serve you from my best china – and I would still be a man of law.
On the other hand, I could rebuke you and still be a man of grace. Jesus often rebuked His disciples severely, and yet He embodied grace. The law in our hearts shows up in our attitudes, not in what we do or not do. That, as we shall see, is what happened with the elder son in the above story.
But before we get to the elder son, let us a take a glimpse of the father. The father in the above scripture epitomizes grace. This man was rich in grace. He had so much grace he was ready to lose!
When he “divided unto them his living” and allowed the younger son to go his way, the father was losing not only his son, but his property, and his pride. Pride is who we are, and when a man loses his pride he has lost his very self. But the father allowed the son to despise and to trample upon all that he represented to him.
He was willing to give his son all the freedom he needed. Maybe, this gracious father reasoned, maybe my son will one day come to his senses and return home.
And we see that was exactly what happened. The boy went into the world and, after he had suffered terribly, he finally came to his senses; the Bible says he “came to himself”.
What does it mean to “come to himself”? Surely, something must have touched his heart. The soft voice of the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart – and he heeded. He repented and went back to his father. He was now a changed man. He knew what it was like to be far from the safety and comfort of his father’s arms.
I wonder what would have happened if the father had prevented him from leaving home. The boy would probably have stayed on, but his heart would still have yearned for the world. He would have lived and died at home, but his heart would long have wandered elsewhere.
But by giving him all the freedom he wanted, the father allowed God to work on the young man, and when God confronted him, he came back to his father on his own accord.
The father’s attitude is what we need to have as people of God if we really desire to bring the life of God into the church. In retrospect, we see that this particular father carried his cross and in doing so he gave life to his son.
When we are men of law, we stifle people by trying to hold them back by our own strength. Because there is no work of the Spirit involved, and because there is no grace, the day they break free they will never come back.
Back at home, the father still lived with his elder son. This son apparently did all that his father commanded. At no one time did he fail to obey his father. More importantly, he never left home.
And yet… this son was a man of law. He had never come into contact with the revelation of the cross and he had never opened his heart to the working of the Holy Spirit. He was still the old man of self.
So it was that when the younger brother returned, and he was received in such glorious fashion by his father – instead of being punished, as the law demands – this action was the catalyst needed to unleash all the pent-up frustrations of the elder son. He had stoically held in his anger and condemnation; but now his heart was finally exposed. He had no revelation of the cross, and his heart was full of every kind of spiritual debris.
There are many such Christians in church today. They are always in church, good people, obediently doing all that the pastor asks of them. But if they have no revelation of the cross, they are still their old selves. They will never become people of grace, and they will never change.
All they do is obey the letter. When push comes to shove, they crack!
Being good is good, but God demands we be spiritual. True power is in taking up our cross and following Christ.
The person who carries grace may miss it here and there, but you will always feel the freedom in their hearts, which very freedom is the single ingredient that is necessary for the Holy Spirit to continue working in them. These are the kind of people that God is happy with.
I love the father in this story. At no one time did he exhibit a lack of grace: neither with his rebellious younger son; nor with his grace-less elder son. In every situation, this man was perfectly full of the grace of God. He must have lived a life full of inner joy and peace.
[Below: Are you free?]