It’s often been pointed out that the difference between the prodigal on his way out into the world and the prodigal anxiously returning home is the difference been “give me” (Luke 15:12) and “make me” (15:19). I suppose if we press very hard we’d end up thinking that that’s too simple; but too simple or not, I’m convinced it goes in the right direction.
I tire easily when I read authors who offer us ten-step sure-cures for selfishness and sin. Do these people—any of them—really believe what they write? I’m certain of this: when we’re done reading these authors the fine print (that’s scattered though their writings) requires the sensitive and desperate reader to do the very things the sensitive and desperate reader finds he/she is unable to do; that’s why they come to these books in the first place for pity’s sake—for enablement. They don’t deny what they should do; they lack the power to do it. The weary psychologist had seen a number of clients so by the time he got “Harold” he was a bit out of sorts. Harold seemed to be overwrought about rather trivial issues and the counsellor finally and tersely told him: “Go home and pull yourself together.” Harold told him that that’s why he was in the office to begin with: “The thing I pull myself together with is busted.”
So, what then, is there no help to be found? I’m certain that God helps sinners in their struggle against sin and I’m just as certain that that hunger for holiness, that desire to be done with sin, is part of God’s redeeming work. Forgiveness for those who remain in Jesus by faith is a done deal but it isn’t the entire story of redemption and reconciliation. God’s redemption from the power of sin begins with our faith in Jesus and is brought to its completion through faith in that day when He returns.
You understand I’m speaking about people who care for holiness, however feeble their present struggle toward it; if its genuine it’s the work of God and it will be completed by God (Philippians 1:6, for example). But there is no divine coercion!
There’s some truth in the ancient saying that, “Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.” An anguished Jeremiah speaking the heart of an anguished Lord (Jeremiah 8:19-22) sees the wounded and ulcerated Judah suffer greatly. “Is there no balm in Gilead? No caring doctor there—if there is, why is it that my people remain diseased and wounded?” God with a shake of the head, as if baffled. Gilead, famed for its balm as far back as Jacob’s day (Genesis 37:25, Jeremiah 46:11), was there within reach but, stupidly and tragically, they didn’t want cured and by and by no medicine would work (Jeremiah 46:11).
I know no comfort for those who impenitently push God away. The spookiest thing I know about God is that we can defeat Him. It’s true that our capacity to resist Him successfully operates within His overarching purpose so that His overarching purpose is not thwarted; but there is ultimate personal loss for the impenitent.
“Sin may conquer love!” said George Adam Smith in a terrifying passage on Hosea. “Yet it is in this triumph that Sin must feel the ultimate revenge. When a man has conquered this weak thing, and beaten her down beneath his feet, God speaks the sentence of abandonment. There is enough of the whipped dog in all of us to make us dread penalty when we come into conflict with the strong things of life. But it takes us all our days to learn that there is far more condemnation to them who offend the weak things of life, and particularly the weakest of all, its love….God’s ‘little ones’ are not only little children, but all things, which like little children, have only love for their strength. They are pure and loving men and women—men with no weapon but their love, women with no shield but their trust. They are the innocent affections of our own hearts—the memories of our childhood, the ideals of our youth, the prayers of our parents, the faith in us of our friends. These are the little ones of whom Christ spoke, that he who sins against them had better never to have been born. Often…a father’s counsels, a mother’s prayers, may seem foolish things against the challenges of a world calling us to ‘play the man’ and do as it does; often the vows and enthusiasms of boyhood may seem impertinent against the temptations which are so necessary to manhood; yet let us be true to the weak, for if we betray them we betray our own souls. We may sin against law and maim and mutilate ourselves, but to sin against Love is to be cast out of life altogether…If we sin against Love, we do destroy her: we take from her the power to redeem and sanctify us. Though in their youth men think Love a quick and careless thing—a servant always at their side…let them know that every time they send her on an evil errand she returns with heavier feet and broken wings. When they [cheapen her] they kill her outright. When she is no more they waken to the realization that love abused is love lost and love lost means Hell.”
This is true though fearful teaching, but those who long for righteousness or who long to long for righteousness, these have nothing to fear (longing to long is longing). To sin is inevitable but to faint in the pursuit of Christ-likeness is not at all the same as sneering at the quest or despising the longing. These two responses don’t belong together in the same universe! To fail is one thing and to sneer is something else.
“Give me, give me, give me” is an altogether different spirit than “make me”. They’re both a heart’s desire but they are worlds apart. But even “make me” is an appeal and not a demand; it is a gift asked for and not a right demanded, so that when the prodigal said to his loving father “make me” the tone was altogether of a different kind.
The spiritually sensitive and desperate will be glad to confess that they are not in control and that their heavenly Father is the only one who can grant their request; a request generated in their hearts by the heavenly Father. And in making the request the already wakened sinner will not be looking for magic but will allow God to work the transformation by whatever means he sees fit however long that takes and in the middle of sinful chaos generated by no single person but a human race. It is a complex matter; the cure doesn’t work with the human as if she or he was not a human. It is humans God loves and works to redeem; He doesn’t want puppets or mindless or heartless “obedience”. In Jesus and in view of Jesus Christ He will take what you have to offer Him from your confused and maybe frightened heart. Remember your baptism (Romans 6) and remember that when by faith you were baptized into Jesus Christ You shared in His death and in dying with Him the “old man” (your existence in the old Adam) died—Romans 6:2-7.
Don’t stay away from Him. Return to Him if you’ve lost your way. Come to Him if you haven’t done that before. Died with and in Him and know you have died to all the sin and death that is part of being one with the “old man” (see Romans 5:12-21).
Say to Him, “Make me!”
God bless you.