And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:21)
Every believer is familiar with the story of the prodigal son and the beautiful example of God’s love and forgiveness that it presents to us. I have no doubt that every single one of us has had those times where we’ve drifted, been tempted or pushed into situations through a focus on ‘me’ instead of on Him. While in one sense the parable was given to God’s children – those who live as His people – it has, nevertheless, provided a wonderful example to lead others to Christ as well. This is because it’s a wonderful illustration of the father heart of God. I often return to read it because it reminds me of the gracious truth that every sinner that turns to God has this incredible gift included in the ‘package’ of salvation. Before salvation, we relate to God as only the great judge, ruler of the universe, the almighty, omnipotent, sovereign Lord. After salvation, this same God who previously meant only judgement to us, is now Abba – our Father.
The father heart of God is only revealed through salvation – confession, repentance, forgiveness and restoration.
This is the truth that is so often presented when speaking of the story of the prodigal son. We are reminded that pride and self-serving attitudes and behaviour will never restore us to right relationship with God. We are reminded that God waits patiently for us to make the right choice, to turn away from our wrong behaviours, and to begin the journey home. This is because we have free will, and we must first find humility before we are able to receive the forgiveness required. It’s significant that the father does not go out to find the son and drag him home. He does, however, wait and watch, and when he sees him on the road, he rushes out to meet him. The father heart of God operates in exactly the same way. He knows what is good and right for us, but He allows us to make our own choices. He will wait until we return, and He will wait with an eagerness to forgive us, cleanse us, dress us in His righteousness, and celebrate our restoration.
All of this is true and all of this is wonderful. It’s a gift of infinite grace that we have the assurance of the father heart of God waiting for us despite our weakness, foolishness, and sinful errors. But for me, the greater truth lies in this simple but powerful reality: We now, through Christ, have the right to call God Father. We do not return to the God of the universe alone. In Jesus, we return to Abba, to Daddy, and to all the assurances contained in the father heart of God. We do not return as sinners and supplicants. We return as sons, as heirs, as those who God has adopted through Jesus. We are not simply ‘bought and paid for,’ although this is also a wonderful truth. The father heart of God waits for His children to return home, and celebrates when they do.
How often do we pause to consider and reflect on this great gift? We rejoice in His power, His majesty, His glory, His provision, His protection… All of these things are real and eternal, and form part of the very foundation of our faith. But the real nature of the father heart of God lifts them into the place of royal privilege. In Jesus, God provides an awesome reality that makes all these other things that much more significant. We are not beggers at the gate. We are not simply sinners seeking pardon, or transgressors fearing judgement. We have the right, as we humble ourselves and turn from our waywardness, to cry out ‘Abba Father’ and expect that He will hear and welcome us home.
To borrow from one of the many lessons of Paul, this does not mean we can sin and turn aside from righteous ways because we are assured that God will forgive His children. Just as we depend on the integrity of the father heart of God, so He looks to the integrity of the heart of His children. While He may love us enough to have given His only Son to enable us to become a child of God, He will never allow us to abuse the blood-bought to call Him Father. The blood of Jesus is not a passport to either privilege or loose pleasures. It is a royal covering granted to those who come with a humble and contrite heart.
Wrapped up in this wonderful truth of the father heart of God and our right and privilege to call Him our Father, is an equally simple but powerful truth. We should come as little children. Jesus Himself told us this. The child heart is the one which, first and foremost, recognises the authority of the Father. It is the heart which recognises His sovereignty. It is the heart which recognises His wisdom and power. It is the heart that surrenders to all of these and willingly yields to His will. A child’s heart comes with trust and assurance, with absolute faith – not only in His promises but also in His chastisement if it comes. It is the heart that knows that all things work to the good.
Above all, the child’s heart is the one which cries out without pretense or excuse to the father heart of God. It is the heart that can be satisfied with nothing less than Abba. It is the heart that knows that Father is everything. It is the heart that is willing to surrender self, dreams, desires, and plans for the simple privilege of coming home to the father heart of God.
When we pray, from now on, to Father, let us pause and consider the awesome privilege and grace in being able to do so. Let us rejoice in the wonderful blessings it brings, and willingly yield to the eternal love contained in the father heart of God. When we cry out ‘Abba Father,’ let it be with the heart of a child, in full assurance and trust, but also with thanksgiving for the truth that our Father purchased us with the blood of His Son.
Abba Father, what grace there is in coming before Your throne, not as sinners and supplicants, but as sons and daughters. Forgive us, Father, for the times we have taken this for granted. Help us to stay mindful of Your love and sacrifice, and hold us always in Your father heart, close in Your love, wrapped in Your eternal grace.