Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lost and found

The story of the prodigal son is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written. There always seem to be new nuances of meaning for those who study it. Today I listened to an exposition of the story by Steve Stanton, the leader of the Overseas Student work here in Bournemouth. For those who don't know, Bournemouth is the major center for learning English in England. Over 35,000 foreign students come here to learn English every year - the total population of Bournemouth is 165,000.

Stanton introduced me to some points in the story that I hadn't noticed before. For example, both sons wanted things from the father, but didn't want the father himself. How that so accurately portrays the relationship of most people to God. We are happy to receive God's gifts of life and all that creation affords, yet we spurn an invitation to be part of God's family in close relationship with him.

The second point is how easily we adopt the idea that we can work our passage. When the prodigal comes to his senses, his intention is not to fall on his father's mercy and be reintroduced into the family, but to think that he can work off his debt by becoming his father's slave.

The older son has the same attitude. Of course, he is meant to represent the Pharisees who had been criticizing Jesus for eating with sinners. But his complaint is "All these years I have been slaving for you." (Luke 15:29) in other words, 'working his passage'. He too wants what the father can give - a young goat - but not the father himself because he wants to 'celebrate with his friends'.

The father's response is to eschew the requirement for works but to offer free grace to both the sons. He brushes aside the Prodigal's prepared speech and puts a ring on his finger and a cloak on his back and kills the fatted calf to celebrate his lost son being found. As for the elder son, his father sees him sulking, but rather than scold him for it, invites him to to join the party.

So here too, salvation is all of grace and none of works.


Anonymous said...

Dear Terry,

I enjoy all of your articles on the subject of theology, as well as ones on medicine.
Grace is a wonderful gift and a very important one. It is true we can never save ourselves that we fall short of the mark always and will always sin, the atonement of Jesus grants salvation to all.

Nevertheless, I feel that an aspect of grace is works.

Repentance is work, prayer is work, scripture study is work, forgiveness is work, and let's not forget that love is work too.

Is it not because of the atonement that repentance becomes effectual? Or why repent? Repentance works because the atonement facilities it. Without the atonement repentance (and other works) would be fruitless.

By their fruits ye shall know them…….

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

Anonymous appears to have missed the point of grace.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Nothing about work mentioned.

Repentance is joy born out of the love & grace from the Father, prayer is kindness seeking the will of the Father, scripture study is faithfulness to the truth of God, forgiveness is kindness and goodness that flows from love, love flows from God.

Terry Hamblin said...

The Bible is quite clear that our salvation is entirely dependent of grace: Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast.

But the next verse tells us that we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works. Good works are the result of grace not part of it. The thief on the cross was saved by grace - he had no time to do good works, but he was atypical. The letter of James tells us that faith without works is dead - this is to catch out those whose faith is a sham. By their fruit you shall know them.