The Prodigal Son says, “God Forgives.” How Do We Know God? It is By Knowing the Forgiveness of God.
I’ve written a couple of recent articles on the love of God. Today I want to talk about how we begin knowing the love of God. The answer to this is that we begin knowing the love of God by knowing that “God forgives.” This is how we know God: by knowing the forgiveness of God. And this often begins with truth from ‘The Prodigal Son.’
We Human Beings Have Trouble Forgiving
We struggle with forgiveness because we judge everything by means of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. We see things in life as being either good or bad. We see them as being either right or wrong. When we live in this realm, then bad things that people do to us are hard to forgive. Counselor’s offices fill up with people who have a hard time forgiving – beginning with their parents.
Understanding God’s Love Deeper
In understanding the love of God, it is necessary to know the heart of God for us. Some Christians see God as God— legalistic, demanding, and judgmental. The gospel reveals God as Father, and even ‘Abba,’ which means DADDY. Most dads don’t want to condemn their kids. They want to strengthen and mature their kids. If this is true of us, how much more is it true of God?
Dads are not unforgiving toward their kids. They tend to readily forgive them when they do wrong, even if they have to spank them. Their motivation is not to punish their kids, but to help their kids become better. If this is true of us, how much more is it true of God? This is why we are told that God not only forgives our wrongs, but he forgets them too.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
The parable of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15. You know the story, but briefly, the younger son asked for his inheritance early (which he had no right to do), and when his father gave it to him, he ran off and wasted it on all types of sinful living. But when he returned home, his father accepted him back like nothing had ever happened, restoring him to full son-ship. It’s a picture of how God loves, forgives, and deals with us.
But this is really the story of a prodigal Father. The word prodigal means, ‘lavish in bestowing grace, outlandish in giving, extremely generous, profuse in sharing everything he has.’ This describes the Father — not his son, or his older son.
God Is a Giver, and Gives Us All Things
The nature of God in the gospel is that of a giver. Giving his love to his children comes with being part of the family. John says God IS love. Love is who he is, not just a quality he has. It seems sacrilegious to say Father must love us, if we are family. But this is the truth of the gospel. Our Abba cannot deny who he is. The fact is you only experience the reality of his love in gospel truth. You can never experience it living under any type of law.
In Luke 15:31, the Father says, “ALL that I have is yours.” Jesus also communicates this reality in Luke 12:32 when he says it the Father’s good pleasure to GIVE us his kingdom — meaning all things of his kingdom. Paul says we have ALL the blessings of God (Eph 1:3), and he repeats himself twice for emphasis when he tells us ‘ALL things are yours’ (I Cor 3:21-22).
I Corinthians 2:12 says that part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to us is to show us ALL the things that are freely given to us by God. Even if we MISS something, he shows it to us. This is how God is with us. He’s a giver – beginning with forgiveness and love.
This Is a Story about Two Sons
The younger son’s older brother stayed home with his Father, but his focus was himself: protecting his inheritance. While he lived with his Father, he didn’t know his Father’s heart. This is so true of so many Christians in the church today. They only know God as God — not as their loving Abba Father. We know about God’s forgiveness, but often we don’t truly experience God’s forgiveness. We know about God’s love, but don’t experience it.
The Father loved both boys the same. He loved the younger son who ran off and got into all types of sin. And he loved his older son who stayed home, took care of his chores and duties, and seemed to do everything right, and according to the law. But both boys were wrong, and both needed to experience their father’s love and forgiveness.
But he was too busy being religious, and living life by rote, and by the book. There is evidence the younger son responded to his father, but not the older son.
Everything Begins with God’s Love and Forgiveness
In receiving the love of God, and truly living in it, it is necessary for us to understand the heart of Abba — our Daddy — our Papa. Both Jesus and Paul refer to God in this way. If God only is seen as God, we can never know him as Abba.
Only the gospel reveals him as Abba. We must live gospel truth, not life focused on Christian principles, in order to know God as Abba Father. Otherwise, there is no intimacy — only a fulfillment of obligation, like the older son did. Here, we are servants, not sons.
First John says, “Behold! Now we are the sons of God!” Jesus even says, “I no longer call you servants but friends.”
The whole focus of the gospel life is to truly know God for who he is, experience him, and enjoy him for who he is. He is someone for us to ‘hang out with’ — the Bible calls this ‘fellowship.’ You don’t hang out with people you don’t like. As we know Father’s heart and love for us, our desire to hang out with him multiplies.
And as we will see later, the more we know his forgiveness, the more forgiving we are.