The Unchanging Center
I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”(Luke 15:18)
The cause of all our human miseries is a radical moral dislocation, an upset in our relation to God and to each other. For whatever else the Fall may have been, it was most certainly a sharp change in man’s relation to his Creator. He adopted toward God an altered attitude, and by doing so destroyed the proper Creator- creature relation in which, unknown to him, his true happiness lay. Essentially salvation is the restoration of a right relation between man and his Creator, a bringing back to normal of the Creator-creature relation.
A satisfactory spiritual life will begin with a complete change in relation between God and the sinner, not a judicial change merely, but a conscious and experienced change affecting the sinner’s whole nature. The atonement in Jesus’ blood makes such a change judicially possible, and the working of the Holy Spirit makes it emotionally satisfying.
The story of the prodigal son perfectly illustrates the latter phase. He had brought a world of trouble upon himself by forsaking the position which he had properly held as son of his father. At bottom his restoration was nothing more than a reestablishing of the father-son relation which had existed from his birth and had been altered temporarily by his act of sinful rebellion. This story overlooks the legal aspects of redemption, but makes it beautifully clear the experiential aspects of salvation.
In determining relationships, there must be somewhere a fixed center against which everything else is measured. Such a center is God. When God would make His Name known to mankind He could find no better word than “I am.” When He speaks in the first person He says, “I am;” when we speak to Him we say, “Thou art.” Everyone and everything else measures from that fixed point. “I am that I am,” says God; “I change not.”
Everything created involves the creator in what has been created and the created is an extension of the creator. We know this to be true as it pertains to God and us for we read that when God formed man “He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.”
We can also see this relation between creator-created even within humanity. If you have ever seen beautiful art, you will discover that something of the artist is part of that work of art and without the artist, the painting would have no life. It is the same with great music compositions, great literary works and great inventions. We give credit to those who created and connect their works to them. We know that none of these creations could have occurred without the artist, musician, inventor. Were it not for these individuals, their works would have no value and no purpose.
It would be strange if we were to attempt to separate the works from the creators and yet often we attempt to do so with ourselves and our Creator. The issue with sin is not that it causes wrong and destructive behavior that damages the one sinning and affects those around them; though this is always the case. The issue with sin is that it separates the created from the Creator and the created loses their purpose and drift through life with no way to measure where they are. Once separated from the Creator there is no standard to measure truth, or proper conduct and behavior. Could you imagine, for example of we were to gather a group of children together and leave them to themselves to plot their course of life? Would you bring such a group to your home and leave them on their own? I think not. Why? Because I think most of us know that these children would wreck the house, harm themselves and leave utter chaos in their wake. And so it is with us as adults. Left to ourselves, we would soon destroy everything around us including self.
The Bible tells us that in Noah’s day before the flood, humans had lost their center and were engaged in every imaginable sinful act.
The Lord saw that the wickedness (depravity) of man was great on the earth, and that every imagination or intent of the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually. God said to Noah, “I intend to make an end of all that lives, for through men the land is filled with violence; and behold, I am about to destroy them together with the land.
Separated from God, humans seem to drift toward evil rather than good. In our world today, we find as more and more people lay aside the teachings of the Bible and seek their own standards of conduct, more and more destructive behavior surfaces.
As we read through the Bible we find God repeatedly interacting with His creation. We see Him entering into relation with humanity and as long as humans respond to Him, they live better lives. Their behavior is constructive and produces a better way of living, but as soon as the relation is broken they quickly return to destructive behavior. After centuries of attempts to build a relation with humans through a single person and a single family and a single nation, all which at some point failed, God chose to come to earth Himself in the form of the Son of God, Christ Jesus.
Through His death, He offered first of all a judicial relationship for He took upon Himself the punishments for our sins. Though this was indeed an incredible offering, it alone was not sufficient to change the human heart. Consider it this way. Suppose you had committed a crime and suppose it was possible in the justice system for someone else to pay the penalty for your crime. Perhaps they went to prison on your behalf and agreed to serve your time. Would that change you? Maybe for a while, but then your real self would surface and since you received no punishment for your crime, you would probably repeat it again. You see just having someone bail you out is never sufficient for the needed change in your heart. When we come to Christ if all we see of the relationship is that He removed the penalty of sin and we go no farther in our relation, we will find ourselves returning to our sins.
In the story of the prodigal, suppose the Father had just paid the son’s debt and got him out of the pig pen and left him on his own. Don’t you think that before long as he forgot the smell of the pigs that he would slide back into the very lifestyle that brought him to the pen the first time? The power of the story of the prodigal son is not that the son was out of the pig pen but that he was restored to his position as son in relation with his father.
This is salvation. It is not that we have just been redeemed- bought back, but that we have been restored- brought back. God through Christ not only has paid our sin debt, He has also brought us back into His family, changed our rags of sin for garments of righteousness, exchanged the title of slave to sin to child of the King, placed the ring of identification as a child of God with all the rights and privileges that come to us just because we are His children, and throws the welcome home party when we finally come home with our whole hearts.
The elder son in the story understood the judicial, legal position of being a son in the father’s house. Though he never left home physically, he had abandoned his relation with his father and brother. He literally says that all the years he has been in the father’s house, he only saw himself as a servant- never a son. He resents his father’s welcome of his brother for he has never experienced the father-son relation. What a sad thing to be legally a son without the relation.
Yet there are many such in the church today. They see themselves as servants rather than sons. Their relationship is much the same as the Israelites who told Moses to have God tell them what He wants them to do. We focus much of our attention on what is right and wrong and in truth much of the time we do what’s right only because of fear of punishment. Like the child who behaves while the parent is present only to return to misbehavior when the parent is away, we frequently give over to our sinful nature.
When we view Christ only as the judicial Redeemer, the One who was punished for our wrongdoing and not as our Elder Brother who desires to be involved in our lives we miss the beauty of a changed heart. Salvation is more than just getting us out of trouble. It is reconnecting us to the Creator, to our Heavenly Father in a changed heart relation. You see until our hearts are changed, we will continually hear the siren call of the pig pen. But when we fully give our hearts to Christ, we follow Him and we measure our conduct not so much by our standards of right and wrong but by the standard of what pleases Him.
I have no doubt that when the prodigal son returned home, he no longer saw the father only as a source of supply for his selfish desires. He saw instead a father who offered love, mercy and grace to an undeserving son. I believe that changed his heart. No longer was his goal to live for himself, but I think every day and in every way he lived to make his father’s heart glad.
O how I pray that we too, as adopted children of God, may come to the relation with Him that our desire is to live in such a way that we continually bring joy and pleasure to our Father. May we live in such a way that God says about us what He said about Job.
The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered and reflected on My servant Job? For there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God [with reverence] and abstains from and turns away from evil [because he honors God].”
Dr. John Thompson