There are at least three things we should catch on to in light of the father’s interaction with the younger son in The Parable of the Father and His Two Sons (Luke 15.11-32):
Grace takes the initiative. The father takes the initiative running out to his son and embracing him. Notice that the father doesn’t wait to hear whatever it is the son has to say, instead he rushes out because he has found his son who was lost. This is radical! What does our culture teach us about reconciliation? Usually, we expect the offender to seek reconciliation and make amends. Jesus turns our expectations on our head and shows us that God–the one who was offended–seeks reconciliation. This is the heart of God–for “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners [while we were still a long way off], Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8). God doesn’t require a transformation before we are reconciled to him, rather it is our reconciliation with God that starts the process of transformation. It is reconciliation with God that brings us from death to life!
Grace is costly. Forgiveness has its price–but it is the one who forgives, not the one being forgiven that must pay the price. The father forgives the son at the cost of his honor and reputation so that they might be reconciled. Likewise, God’s grace toward us is costly. As Tim Keller says, “Salvation is absolutely free for us, but it’s unbelievably costly for him.” At the cost of his honor, reputation, and even his life, God became a crucified-Christ “to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,” (1Cor. 1:22). For again, “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom. 5:8).
Grace is restorative. The father goes beyond what is expected of him because he desires reconciliation over penance (that is, some hardship or penalty in order to compensate for wrongdoing). The father restores the son to his proper place in the family; he does not accept anything less than right relationship with his son. He is clothed, he is fed, and he is celebrated. Likewise, God’s grace is restorative, moving beyond the forgiveness of sins towards reconciliation. For we too “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 2:3-6). The son who was lost was dead, but now that he is found the son is alive. He has, in a sense, been resurrected from the dead! We, too, are no longer dead but alive in Christ–through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we are restored to our place as daughters and sons of God. And we look forward to our future bodily resurrection in which our restoration finds its ultimate fulfillment.
As we strive to be the hands and feet of Christ our Lord in this world, and to live as people who walk in the freedom and power of the Spirit, let us take the initiative that grace necessitates, let us bear the cost the grace requires, and let us seek the restoration that grace demands.