“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Once we’ve walked a path of evil-hearted foolishness, experienced the pain of God-delivered justice, come to a moment of humbly-righteous repentance, what comes next? Well, that depends. On what, you ask? It depends on to whom it is we’ve repented.
You see, if we just repent to the other person, there’s no real guarantee what will happen. If the offense was bad enough, they may not have any interest in forgiving, much less being reconciled with us. We can repent all we want, but they’ll stay distant and hold us back as well.
Some folks will try and repent to the universe as if their primary offense was against some kind of impersonal force. The nice thing about trying to repent to something impersonal is that there isn’t anyone to hold you accountable. There isn’t anyone to get angry with you and drop any guilt on your plate for whatever it is you’ve done. But, because there’s no one to hold you accountable, there isn’t anyone to forgive you either. There’s no real relief from the burden if there’s no one available to forgive you. Forgiveness is always personal, and an impersonal force can’t grant something personal.
But if we will bring our humbly-righteous repentance to the one true God, our heavenly Father, we will find what this younger son, this prodigal son, found: a grace-filled reception.
The younger son had repented in his heart and had all his plans for making his plaintive case before his father in hopes of being received as merely a servant in his household. He didn’t have any visions of being forgiven, much less restored. He was just looking for his former status to grant him enough of a break so as to have a better living situation than he had most recently known. With all this in mind, he headed down the road for home.
What he didn’t count on was the fact that his father was watching the road, waiting for him to return. The other work of the farm was carrying on, but the father was spending time every day watching the road, hoping against hope for this very moment. At the first sight of his son, he didn’t walk, he ran down the road to receive and embrace him. His son started in on the lines he had rehearsed, but the father never heard any more than, “Dad, I’m sorry.” He was so excited to have his son back that forgiveness and restoration were the only things on his mind.
Now, consider this for a minute in light of a couple of things. First, this father represents God and the son represents us. His sin stands in for our sin. And what was his sin? He told his father—our God—that he wished He was dead. That’s the message of our sin: God, I wish you were dead and gone so I could live however I want to live. Give me my inheritance (that is, the world), and I’ll be off to make my own way apart from your standards and influence. Every time we sin, that’s what’s in our hearts. Every time we commit some act of evil-hearted foolishness, that’s the message we send to our God.
Why on earth would He receive us back after we’ve done that once, much less over and over and over again?
Because He’s God and giving grace in response to repentance is what He does.
When we come to God with a heart of humbly-righteous repentance, He will extend to us a grace-filled reception every single time. He won’t walk, He’ll run to receive us back into His arms as His beloved children. He missed us so badly it hurt. Now, He wasn’t going to compromise His character and simply wave away the sin when there wasn’t any real repentance on our part—sin separates and as long as we are committed to continuing in our sin (something which a lack of real repentance indicates), we will remain separated from Him by our own choosing and acting. But, the moment we are ready to repent, He is ready to receive us. No matter what it is we’ve done. And He doesn’t want us as mere servants, but as sons and daughters.
When you’ve gotten tired of sitting in a place of God-delivered justice and your heart is filled with humbly-righteous repentance, go. Go to your heavenly Father. He is ready to receive you. He is ready to forgive you. He is ready to restore you. You just have to go. Go home. No matter what you’ve done, go home. Your Father is waiting for you there.