I met my wife in 1987 while attending college in Boston, and by 1991 we were looking to move to Texas. At the time we were engaged, I was jobless after finishing my masters degree, and she was offered a wonderful job in Dallas. I really, really didn’t want to move down here – but I made the long journey kicking and screaming with the promise from Lori that we’d only stay here for 2 years (right). I mean, I had friends warning me that Christians in Texas believe that Jews have tails and they will constantly ask to see mine! Now, armed with that kind of information I could have stayed in New York – found a job – and just have done the long distance thing for 2 years while she got some great work experience. Yet, truth be told. She was eating and I wasn’t!
I like to eat! Who doesn’t! So for me and my pension for cheeseburgers … my belly and I decided to follow the food! Food, yes food brought me around to my senses!
Well, I once preached on the power of food and how it brought the prodigal son to his senses. It caused such a stink, and I got all kinds of pushback. I hadn’t realized that I stepped on a spiritual nerve … I never realized that for many the story of the prodigal son is a poster child for our required repentance. Yet, I’d argue … the story isn’t at all about repentance … it’s about the Father’s love for His kids.
When you read the story, you see that the son was tired of being hungry … and he basically rehearsed an apology speech for his dad. Food brought him to his senses, but he didn’t need his rehearsed speech. Long before he ever gets within earshot of his dad, the father kills the fatted calf in celebration of the son’s return. It wasn’t at all the apology … it was simply the RETURN to the father! In love, all dad wanted was for his kid to come home again … yep, no questions asked.
Do we repent? Yes! But it isn’t to change God, it is to change us! He is unchanging and loves us unconditionally … no questions asked.
Repentance is nothing more than a change of mind (Greek: metanoia). And like the prodigal son, is simply a point of turning away from poor choices. Repentance is getting ourselves and our will aligned with Him and His will. It is simply a restoration of the relationship and a return home to the loving Father!
For many repentance becomes a point of confession saying, “Father, I need to stop doing ABC – I know this part of my life isn’t right and I need to change. Lord, I can’t do this on my own – the ABC or XYZ right now in my life seems so much bigger than you. Jesus, I need your help in getting rid of this ABC or XYZ.”
Yet, our repentance and confession isn’t to be forgiven … that part was FINISHED 2,000 years ago.
Look, if you want to go even deeper … the story isn’t even about the dad … it’s about the OLDER brother! Remember, in Jewish law when one child receives their inheritance … the other children do too (even if they didn’t ask for it). What’s more, with Jewish law, the older brother receives DOUBLE the younger brother. So, the prodigal son received an inheritance … but the OLDER brother got double!
The older brother had EVERYTHING … yep, he had wealth, cash cows (literally), and direct access to his loving father and everything that the father has. He spent all that time with dad working FOR him AND following all of dad’s orders and rules. But he never really KNEW the love of the father. The older son didn’t understand the depth and type of love dad had for him.
How do I know that? Well, when the younger brother came home he had a hissy fit and got very angry that dad had never killed a calf for him. Yet, if the older brother really knew or understood the depth of the father’s love … he would have hugged on the younger brother’s neck and celebrated that he was home.
We don’t work for God’s love. We don’t follow the rules for God’s love. We don’t repent for God’s love. We already have it … and there is NOTHING we can do to lose it. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
His forgiveness is relational and NOT conditional upon our repentance. Why? Because His love is unconditional … and you can’t put conditions on an unconditional love.
When you experience the Father … and you KNOW the depth of His love … you can’t help but be compelled to love and hug the necks of those prodigals that have lost their way (2 Corinthians 5:14).
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.