Jesus’ famous story about a lost son, in Luke 15:11-32, illustrates God’s story of salvation: the heavenly Father’s unconditional grace in saving undeserving sinners.
In the parable, the son’s repentance was not a pre-condition of his father’s gracious love, it was the means which enabled him to receive his father’s forgiveness.
The father was looking and waiting long before his son returned home; and, as soon as he saw his son, he rushed out to welcome him with passionate, generous joy – without a question about his motives or misdeeds. The son found repentance in the father’s arms of acceptance. The father’s unconditional acceptance melted the boy’s heart, and the unconditional acceptance that he received resulted in changed behaviour. This shows that changed behaviour is a consequence, not a cause, of forgiveness.
The parable is such a gripping celebration of ‘divine grace at work in human salvation’ that it prompts some people to ask why the heavenly Father does not forgive us in much the same way – without any need for the cross. They do not understand why divine forgiveness depends on Christ’s death, and so they wonder why God does not forgive us – like the father in the parable – without a costly sacrifice.
But people who think like this have not grasped either the seriousness of human sin or the holiness of God; they have not appreciated the scale of the confrontation between human rebellion and divine perfection. In fact, the Bible implies that human sin is an immovable object which is faced with the irresistible force of God’s holy wrath.