Monday, February 19, 2007

Captured by Grace (Part 2)

The theme of the book "Captured by Grace" is two-fold. It shares the story of how the former slave trader named John Newton, upon conversion, was transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Twenty-five years later, he became the author of one of the most beloved of all Christian worship songs, "Amazing Grace."

Today, it is my goal to share the insights I gained in chapter three, "The Converting Power of Grace." This chapter contains a detailed description of what the lyrics, "I Once Was Lost but Now Am Found" means.

The "once lost; now found" story of the prodigal son is a well-known one, but did you really know the huge meaning and significance that can be derived from it for your life?

The Apostle Paul certainly identified with the parable, and, almost every epistle he wrote echoed the themes of lost and found. He shared what it meant to be a helpless individual captured by the grace of God.

What is interesting to note is that every one of us can identify with someone (or even several of) the characters in the story.

But the truth is, that every single one of us has to identify with the wandering, wasteful son. That identification is the needful step for every lost child in search of salvation.

A thought just occurred to me while I corrected a typo above. I had hurriedly typed, "slavation" instead of "salvation." The truth is, whether or not we want to admit it, is that we are all slaves to the sin of the flesh when we are not salved by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The term salve can be used as a noun or a verb. Let's look at the definitions from

noun, verb, salved, salv·ing.
–noun 1. a medicinal ointment for healing or relieving wounds and sores.
2. anything that soothes, mollifies, or relieves.
–verb (used with object) 3. to soothe with or as if with salve; assuage: to salve one's conscience.

[Origin: bef. 900; (n.) ME; OE sealf; c. G Salbe salve, Skt sarpis melted butter; (v.) ME salven, OE sealfian]

—Synonyms 3. ease, alleviate, mollify. Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

verb (used without object), verb (used with object), salved, salv·ing. to save from loss or destruction; to salvage.

[Origin: 1700–10; back formation from salvage] Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

We are the objects of Jesus Christ's affection and love! We need the salve he supplies us through his sacrifice for our salvation! We need the ongoing salve application provided by the Holy Spirit's leading in our lives for sanctification.

Salvation occurs but in a moment whereas sanctification continues on throughout our lifetime.

Jesus' ultimate goal during his three year ministry and mission on earth was to "save us from loss or destruction." His destiny was to change ours. The story of the prodigal son is one of the best parables that shows us our need for confession and repentance to God, and God's mercy and grace afforded to us.

Luk 15:11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons.
Luk 15:12 "And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood.
Deuteronomy 21:17 shows where the second son stood as far as how much of his father's estate would come to him. However, we must consider that it was highly insulting for the second son to ask for his portion now.

It was like he was saying, "I can't wait for you to die, Dad."

The author states:

"By the simple act of granting the insulting request, the father showed himself to be a man of grace."
Apparently, the customs and Jewish law in those days would have landed the son a slap in the face and a penniless push out the door!

But similarly to the Lord of the universe, this was a father who could see into the future.

Jeremiah states:

"He knew the desolation and heartbreak that lay ahead for his son. He knew his own heartbreak. Yet he stood by the door and watched his son turn his back coldly and leave, taking with him one-third of the estate."
What's worse, the neighbors would know all about this because of the public sale of a portion of the land so the money could be given to the son. They would all see into the family's shame. Apparently, a public display called the kezazah ("the cutting off") would, according to Kenneth E. Bailey result in the community members breaking a pot in front of the boy. They would cry out that the offender was cut off from his people and then turn their backs upon him forever. 1

As Dr. Jeremiah reiterates, "It was like the son was saying, 'I invite you to ostracize me, and I don't care.' "

The author goes on:

We place ourselves in the shoes of the father and wonder how we would respond. What emotions would dictate our action? For many, the answer would be anger. Yet in this tale, the father's emotion is disciplined love. That kind of love has no strings, no conditions. It knowingly leaves every door open to hurt.

God's grace finds an expression infinitely repeated in His willingness to accept our insult. We stand before Him and say, "Give me what is mine." as if responsibility and obedience weren't part of the legacy. Who would want to take leave of His wonderful palace? Yet that's you and me. We go our own way, to His heartbreak, until we have injured ourselves to our capacity of being injured.

God could take the stance of may parents and bar the doors, lock us in our rooms, and breed in us hearts of rebellion. Yet He stands and watches us set out on the path of misery, knowing it is the only way we will grow a heart of humble obedience. There is no limit to the mileage He will allow us to wander, no limit to the patience with which He awaits our return.

Do you see the hope in this?

Do you see the loving God of the universe pursuing YOU, even when you are in rebellion?

Continuing with the parable, in Luke 15:13-16 we find that the young son "journeys to a far country" in order to pursue the sensuality, dissipation, and sexual adventurism he craves there. The author adds:

... the cheapest bait Satan has to offer: "Eat, drink, and be merry." The problem with sensuality is that it fails to notice anything but the object of its lust.
We know the rest of the story. The money runs out. There is a famine in the land. He realizes that it would be better to be a "slave" in his former household than to live (or, more likely die!) from hunger.

Luke 15:17-19

Luk 15:17 "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

Luk 15:18 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,

Luk 15:19 "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'
Dr. Jeremiah gave me some new insight into the words, "he came to himself." Some preachers have likened that phrase to the moment of grace. But is it? If we read more carefully, do we find any inkling of remorse or sorrow? Perhaps we must ask whether it was really about his (spiritual) guilty soul or his (fleshly) growling stomach? Is this sincere repentance or just a common sense goal for him to get some food?

Dr. Jeremiah states:

We cannot be certain of the answer - or, more to the point, Jesus keeps it dark. For in a parable we see exactly what the Master desires us to see. And what He wants us to know for now is that the Prodigal knows he needs help. He surrenders.
The Prodigal knows this much. For reinstatement into his father's home he would need to repay every cent he has squandered. But could he do this? It might take years to work off the debt and meanwhile he'd be lowest servant on the totem pole. But he is desperate enough to do this. He is willing to surrender.

But this is key to the story:

It is essential that we, Jesus' listeners, understand that the Prodigal is still unprepared for grace. He is still running his own plans, only sadder and wiser in running them. Whether he realizes it or not, he is still securely within the borders of the far country, a self-chosen exile from the rescue of unconditional love.

This is where I want to insert a previous post on "Beware the crossless gospel." This is what so many of the "feel good, emergent, grace without repentance" churches go wrong. They skip over the need for repentance and almost promote a kind of "redeem yourself" type of gospel that doesn't offend anyone or cause them to suffer any kind of guilt, sorrow or shame for their sin.

Dr. Jeremiah:

We might prefer that the Prodigal "redeem himself" but that would be a misunderstanding of this parable and a misunderstanding of grace. No one on this planet has the ability to redeem him- or herself. Every one of us, like the Prodigal, must ultimately throw him- or herself on the mercy of the court.

But wait -- are we certain the Prodigal isn't penitent? Listen to his speech he is preparing to give: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son."

Again, Kenneth Bailey offers us a surprising glimpse behind the details. The Pharisees in Jesus' audience would recognize the son's speech as the words of Pharaoh when he tried to manipulate Moses into lifting the plagues (see Exodus 10:16). The Egyptian ruler certainly had no contrite heart; his words were simply damage control for the natural disasters that were ravaging his land. He would have said whatever Moses wanted him to say. 2

In the past, people have often disapproved of a term that I use calling nominal Christians "false converts." But this portion of the story shows the reality of such "false conversions." Look at what Dr. Jeremiah says next about the Prodigal:

"Many a humble word has been spoken when someone is at the mercy of someone else. Words are cheap and inadmissible as evidence of a repentant heart. The Prodigal was simply seeking access to what he hadn't already consumed of his father's estate.

In other words, he is like you or me trying to save ourselves, completely on our own."
This is exactly what I have been trying to convey with my posts that expose those who claim to be Christian, yet who wish to "hold onto a sin that has clearly been shown to be a sin in the eyes of God." They, like this Prodigal, refuse to see the manipulation technique(s) of their position!

Don't be like the manipulative Prodigal!! You need to take one more step towards genuine reconciliation with the Father!

I will share the conclusion in the "Captured by Grace" part three post. Meanwhile, if you are residing in the state of being a "manipulative Prodigal," take heart!! There is much hope!

Here's a taste of the conclusion:

1. We know that the Father has kept watch with all that was in him, for that is the essence of all three stories Jesus tells in Luke 15 - a relentless pursuit of the lost treasure.

2. The power comes from the Father's grace, not the son's guilt!

3. Hold the thought of the son's carefully prepared, manipulative speech in mind. Then, think of the end of the parable where the Father, consumed by compassion, filled with love, joyful, and estatically runs out to meet the broken, battered, disheveled, smelly, weary, "ready to surrender" son. The Father greets the son with joy, grace, and kisses. By this time, the son's speech is neither rote nor rigid. The Prodigal is a helpless child again, secure in his Father's arms with no need to plan or contrive. Only now is repentence genuine, when it floats upon a sea of...

__________. Fill in the word!!


1. Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005), 52-53.

2. Ibid., 67.

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