The other day I was driving home on the interstate. I was cruising along happily at just slightly above 60 mph. I came upon a construction zone speed limit sign. It was marked with a bright orange strip and orange flags to ensure that no one would miss it. Construction Zone: Speed Limit 45 MPH.
There didn’t appear to be any actual construction in progress. I started to slow down, but cars were zipping by going at least 75 mph. Going 45 didn’t seem necessary. After all, everyone around me was speeding. Surely I wouldn’t get pulled over as long as I stayed with the flow of traffic.
It struck me how naturally that thought took hold. The same thing happens all the time in my faith-life. I’m cruising along, feeling fine when God sends me a warning sign. I know His laws like I know the traffic laws that govern the roads. My conscience waves that orange flag – time to slow down and reconsider. But it’s easy to feel comfortable in sin. Everyone around me is going full-speed down that road and nothing bad seems to be happening to them. Even my Christian peers who have studied God’s Word often seem unaffected by what it says.
I didn’t get pulled over and I didn’t kill a construction worker. No one around me did either. I could use this as evidence that the speed limit didn’t matter. It’s tempting to persist in our sins, believing everything is fine. I know people who drive drunk and think it’s OK because nothing bad has ever happened when they do it. But it only takes once. We live dangerously, denying the risk. When we continually go against the Word of God, we are living dangerously. Sin is seductive. It seems harmless, even beneficial, when we first give in. The farther we pull away from God, the more our lives begin to careen out of control. Soon, we’re so deep in sin, turning back feels like an impossible task.
God created His laws out of love for us. Our Father who created us knows the way to live that will be most beneficial to us. He provides guidance so we won’t go down paths of pain and destruction. But He wants us to mature and learn on our own, so He gives us the freedom to go down those wrong paths if we insist.
Jesus told a story that demonstrated the Father’s love for us despite our sin. (See Luke 15:11-24) A son asked his father for his inheritance. In that culture, it was akin to the son saying he wished his father was dead because he wanted his money. The father gave his son what he asked for. The son wasted all the money on parties and women and ended up broke and miserable. He came crawling back to his dad to beg for forgiveness. He wanted to work as a servant for his father because he knew he didn’t deserve to be his son anymore. Jesus said that while the son was still far away, his father saw him coming. That suggests that his father had been watching eagerly and waiting for him since the day he left. The son may have been gone for years and he had completely rejected his dad, but his dad just waited and waited for him to come back.
The father ran to his son and embraced him before he even had a chance to apologize. He held no grudge despite the shunning his son deserved. Then he welcomed his son home with a big party.
I heard this Bible story constantly from the time I was little. It became old and boring. Then one time in college I heard the parable explained beautifully, and God’s Words took hold of my heart powerfully again.
At first glance, the story shows that when sin wrecks our lives, we need to repent and come back to God humbly. But really, it wasn’t the son’s humble repentance that saved him. The father had forgiven his son before he returned. He never stopped loving his son. He constantly waited, his heart full of love and sympathy for his wayward child. The son didn’t earn back his father’s favor. He couldn’t possibly do that. As it turns out, he couldn’t do anything to lose his father’s favor.
When I speed down that road of sin, I find myself so out of control that I don’t know how to turn around. I feel incapable of coming back to God. I am trapped and can’t free myself. I don’t have to. That’s the amazing truth. God my Father has already forgiven me. He’s watching, waiting eagerly for me to admit that I need Him. The son in the story didn’t walk all the way back to his father; when he began to seek his father, his father came running to him. When we turn from God, He is ready and eager to come save us. Because He’s letting us mature and learn, God doesn’t come to save us until we ask. Our Father’s heart is breaking when we push him away. Jesus repeatedly says that there is great rejoicing in heaven when one lost person turns to God.
God yearns for my love and faithfulness. He yearns for yours, too. If your life is out of control, you don’t have to fix yourself, get your act together and then try to come before God. He wants you exactly where you are. You can come to God before you address the sin in your life. Don’t try to do it on your own. First turn to Him. Let God do the fixing. We are never so far gone that God cannot reach us. He is ready, willing and able to do great works in us. No matter how many times I find myself desperately far from God, He is always ready to run to me and embrace me.
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8