“Redemptive Release” for Wayward Souls - 3 Biblical Examples
What do you do when someone you love—a friend, a spouse, a child—goes wayward, as we sometimes say? And how do you pursue someone who has hurt you, who has sinned against you?
These deep, important questions are often fraught with pain and confusion. Two pastors with fifty years of experience want to help you navigate them.
In their richly biblical, deeply practical new book Letting Go, pastors Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert offer counsel for dealing with and caring for the prodigal who has strayed.
As pastors and counselors, we offer to step into your pain and confusion and point you to the One who redeems prodigals with his tough, rugged love. … He cares for the wayward person infinitely more than we do. In this book we want to look at that truth and learn to trust that his prescribed path forward is trustworthy. (23)
Key to their approach is redemptive release—“a redemptive hope that releases the person to God and trusts in his work when you can no longer be an agent of change” (22). Below are three biblical examples that model such hope to illustrate how you can offer rugged love for wayward souls.
Adam and Eve
It’s paradoxical but also true: “God sometimes pursues us by releasing us” (102). We see this biblical insight straight away with humanity’s fall in Genesis 3. Taking a closer look, “we see the first outline of God’s pattern of redemptive release” (103), which necessitates freedom.
As Harvey and Gilbert explain, God could have put angelic guards around the tree of forbidden fruit to play interference. But he didn’t, because he “did not want contrived and coerced obedience” (103). Instead, he let our ancestors freely exercise their love for him and his Word through obedience—or not. Such freedom carried with it consequences, a necessary corollary.
When our first parents rejected the goodness and beauty of faithfully fulfilling their God-ordained roles, their Father released them to the consequences. … God’s consequences for Adam and Even included a dose of reality, a taste of what life without God is like. This taste would serve the redemptive purpose of awakening them to their need for God’s grace as their only hope. (103)
Certainly, God did not leave them East of Eden. But he did let them go there and experience its results—which led to redemption.
The Prodigal Son
We all know the story: son prematurely asks his father for his inheritance; father obliges, releasing his inheritance and releasing his son; son leaves and squanders said inheritance, only to return home to father after hitting rock bottom; father receives son back with open arms, only to alienate his other more responsible son—which is a whole other story.
Perhaps Jesus’ parable is so memorable because it’s so universal. Who hasn’t known a so-called prodigal? Harvey and Gilbert offer sound insight for those who deal with such people: what the father did by releasing his son was one of the most loving things he could do.
When we release prodigals to the fruit of their choices— instead of enabling them, controlling them, or bribing them—God’s redemptive work has a chance to run its course. … When we release someone, we’re no longer in charge of the outcome—we relinquish any influence we have and give the person and situation to God. (105)
Letting go, then, is an act of love.
The Adulterous Husband
In our final example, Paul shares the story a prodigal living within a community of believers, and offers instructions on what to do about it.
The scenario is a little odd: a man is living an incestuous, adulterous relationship with his father’s wife. And the Corinthian church tolerated it—they “made the entitled sinner more comfortable in his wayward behavior” (106), which empowered the sinner to continue perpetuating his sin. Paul’s instructions were clear and decisive:
“Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
Paul instructed the church to discipline the man by removing him from their fellowship so he could experience life outside of Christian community—which was how they actually loved him.
Paul’s end game is clear: by experiencing temporal consequences for his sin, the man may yet be saved from eternal consequences. Though this release may seem vindictive in the short-term, it is truly an act of loving discipline designed to care for and really save the man’s soul. (107)
And according to 2 Corinthians 2 it worked—“the redemptive releasing had its intended effect” (107).
Bottom line: “Trust God with your prodigal. He has a way with those who stray.” (110)
Letting Go is a must-have resource if you’re a counselor, pastor, or a person ministering to hurting families and churches to help those you shepherd express a rugged love for wayward souls.
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