True Life Change - An Excerpt from Visual Theology
As Christians, merely not sinning isn’t enough. We are to pursue holiness.
The story of the prodigal son is the perfect example of what it means to turn from sin to righteousness. In today’s excerpt from Visual Theology, Tim Challies and Josh Byers offer encouragement and visually guide us through the four traits of the prodigal's change, the same true life change you want to see in your own life.
The story of the prodigal son is one of the finest short stories ever told and certainly one of the sweetest of Jesus’ many parables. You are familiar with the story, I am sure.
It involves a young man who approaches his father and demands his inheritance. By demanding his inheritance, he is essentially wishing his father dead, wishing he could have the benefits that ought to be his only after his father is in the grave. It is as if he is saying, “I wish you were dead so I could have your money. Since you’re not dead, at least give me my money.” Remarkably, Dad grants this young man his wish and gives him the money.
Not surprisingly, the money does not last long. The young man goes out and blows it all on wild and reckless living. He lives the high life, spending the equivalent of millions and millions of dollars until every penny is gone and he is left alone and destitute. All he has left to keep him company is his regret. With his pockets empty and his belly aching, he soon finds himself feeding pigs, doing the absolute worst and most menial job that society can offer. But this is what he has to do to keep himself from starving to death. He even finds himself looking wistfully at the pigs and fighting jealousy as he sees them gobbling their food.
But then he comes to himself. He comes to himself and remembers the love and the character of his father. (Luke 15:17-24)
The prodigal gives us a great picture of true repentance, of true life change. I want to point out four marks of repentance because they highlight the very traits I know you want to see in your life.
This man has been utterly lost in his sin. He has been so committed to his sin that it has blinded him to his foolishness. He has been behaving like a pagan and a fool. But then he suddenly comes to his senses. Actually, God brings him to his senses, and at that point, he is able to see his sin clearly. He is given the gift of insight — of seeing his condition, of seeing his fallenness. And you, too, if you are a Christian, have come to your senses. True life change begins with a spiritual awakening.
The prodigal son’s spiritual awakening is followed by repentance, by seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. The son determines he will return to his father and beg for help. He takes the long road home, goes to his father, and admits his sin: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (verse 18). He shows that he regrets not only the consequences of his sin but the sin itself. This is the great distinction between true and false repentance. He is not distressed that his money is gone, and he is not distressed that he had to eat pig’s food — not first or foremost. He is distressed that he has alienated himself from his father. What hurts worst at the end of it all is the distance he created from his father by sinning against him. True life change demands repentance.
The son admits his sin, but he does more. He says, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” He even plans to say, “I don’t need privilege. I don’t need position. Just give me you. Be my father, and I don’t care about anything else.” He would rather be a servant in the house of his father than a rich man in a distant land. Do you see how far his heart has changed? He has not only repented of his pride but has begun to display humility as well. He not only has repented of his laziness but is now willing to work hard. He is a changed man. He is replacing sin with righteousness. True life change demands new behavior.
Finally, we see him receiving his father’s forgiveness. He receives his father’s hug. He receives the ring and the robe and the shoes, those symbols of position and acceptance. There is no faux humility here, no attempt to throw those things off and play the martyr. He does not try to say, “No, I’m beyond forgiveness. I am wretched and wicked. Please punish me. Please hurt me.” No, he receives the forgiveness of his father and knows that he has been fully restored. He believes his father and begins to live as if what his father tells him is true. True life change demands accepting God’s forgiveness.
In the prodigal son, we have a great picture of what it means to turn away from sin and to turn toward holiness and righteousness. True change is not only admitting wrong and stopping doing what is wrong. It is far more than that, far more complete. Let’s talk about what it means to put on the new man or to put on those new clothes.
PUTTING ON THE NEW
In the last chapter, we looked at these words from Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” The passage does not end there. Paul does not conclude with a list of things we must not do. Instead, we find a second list of traits and behaviors — the kinds of traits and behaviors that Christians are meant to exemplify: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (verses 12 – 14).
See the truth. Live the truth.
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