“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘” (ESV – Read the chapter)
When was the last time you had that moment when you suddenly came to your senses? You realized that what you were doing wasn’t working; that you didn’t like your outcomes, but unless you changed your inputs, your outcomes weren’t going to change? Have you had that moment before at all? If you have and you actually followed through on those thoughts, that was called repentance. And repentance is the only way out of a pit of justice and back to life.
In the main body of the parable of the prodigal son, repentance forms the heart of the third movement. The younger son set out after wishing his father dead to his face with evil-minded foolishness. He wanted to do what he wanted, the way he wanted, for as long as he wanted, and for no one to get in his way as he did it. We’ve all been there. It usually feels great in the moment, especially if we are allowed to have it like he was, but the life doesn’t last.
Eventually, if we stay on that path, we will run square into God-delivered justice. This is where everything seems to fly apart on us. This is never a pretty place to be. And the thing is, this season will last until, like this younger son, we reach that moment of coming to our senses.
But, coming to our senses, is harder than it sounds. Coming to our senses requires a couple of things that we can see here in the text. It requires us to recognize that our circumstances are not good. More than that, it requires us to want to see our circumstances change more than we want to remain in them. There are not a few folks who have remained for a long in time a situation none of us would want simply because they were too lazy to do what it was going to take to change them. If we are in a hard place because of some sinful choices we made, getting out of it is going to require us to deal with those choices.
Dealing with sinful choices means acknowledging they were sin and moving to be reconciled to God and to whomever we have sinned against. This is called repentance. If we want any chance of getting out of a season of God-delivered justice that results from some evil-minded foolishness, it is going to take an attitude of humbly-righteous repentance.
That’s exactly what we see here. The younger son acknowledged that his situation was awful. He recognized that it was a mess of his own making. He saw clearly that there was a better option. And he realized that obtaining this better option was going to mean seeking grace and forgiveness from his father. So, that’s what he did.
Look at what he said: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Let me simply be your servant. This is a level of humility few people reach, and yet is critical to the humbly-righteous repentance that will enable us to walk to the path out of our mess.
If you are in a mess and you want your repentance to do anything, his is a great model to follow. First, own your sin and be honest about who it was against. Second, seek forgiveness for what you did while acknowledging the reality of your unworthiness to receive it. Finally, seek to be restored at a station well below what you had before with the hopeful plans of beginning to work back up from there. Then, commit to doing the work.
Now, this tells us nothing of how our efforts will be received, but this is the only path that has the potential to take us from our messes and back to life. How it is received will be our topic next time.