In Luke 15, Jesus tells His disciples a parable regarding a son who has demanded early receipt of his inheritance from his father. This is possibly the lowest form of relational brokenness between a child and parent: essentially, the son says to his father, “I wish you were dead. Give me now what would eventually be mine, so that I can get out of your presence and go live my own life away from you.”
Astonishingly, the father agrees. He gives the son his portion of the inheritance, and allows him to follow his own feet to wherever they might lead.
I cannot fathom the depth of this father’s heartbreak. What tremendous anguish he must have been in as he stood at the door and watched his son disappear beyond the gates… The brokenness of this relationship is complete. The son is gone, having severed all contact with the father. The son considers his father dead to him, and the father has no indication that he will ever hear from his son again.
This is analogous to our “life” (such as it is) apart from God: in our sin and lostness, we consider Him dead to us. Left with our own limited resources (which, ironically, all came from His gracious provision anyway), we make what little of life we can in our estrangement from our Father. But there is no relationship, and the holy existence of God – His essence of self-sacrificing, reciprocal, interpersonal love – is willfully kept away by our attitude, decisions, and distance.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the son burns through his inheritance in sinful self-absorption and eventually finds himself doing whatever menial tasks he can to try to survive. After hitting rock-bottom, he comes to his senses and decides he will return to his father’s household to beg for the opportunity to work as a servant there.
In His recitation of the parable, Jesus says, “From a long way off, the father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NLT). The father goes on to say of his son, “[He] was dead and has come back to life! He was lost but now he is found!” (Luke 15:32, NLT).
Quick shout-out here to two of my dearest friends who are also two of the best worship-leaders on the planet, Jonathan & Lisa Moore! Their song about the Prodigal Son was the inspiration for the title of this post (song “From A Long, Long Way”, from their album entitled Bright). If you’re unfamiliar with Jonathan & Lisa, I highly recommend you check out their music!
The Prodigal Son had committed some of the worst behavioral sins imaginable – the most egregious of which was aggressively breaking relational holiness with his father. Even after the son came up with a plan to try to fix his behavioral sins, it was the father’s loving commitment to his son that resurrected their relationship.
Relational holiness takes precedence over behavioral holiness. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV). Not only is salvation itself an indescribable gift of grace, but also the abilities to obey God, do good works, and produce fruit – these all come only by grace as well, through our resurrected relationship with Him.
Henri Nouwen explains what follows for those whose relational holiness with God has been restored: “Being in the Father’s house requires that I make the Father’s life my own and become transformed in his image”. Those whose shattered and dead relationships with God have been resurrected and restored will start to become like Him, taking on His nature and character, marked by such attributes as love, generosity, and the warm welcome of outsiders.
From this, we get the idea that obedient living is truly a sacrament. When God’s people love Him and live in obedience to His guiding hand, that obedience actually becomes a means of grace for the on-looking world. God’s grace flows through our obedient lives and touches the lives of those around us with God’s love, Presence, comfort, wisdom, help, and more!
And thus, our dedication to relational holiness with our Father evidences itself in an increasing commitment to behavioral holiness toward others. Not out of a sense of legalism or comparative perfectionism, but out of our desire to help our fellow man also experience relational holiness with God.
 Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (InterVarsity Press, 1996), 22.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (Doubleday Publishing, 1994), 123.
 Shaw Clifton, Who Are These Salvationists? An Analysis for the Twenty First Century (Alexandria, VA: Crest Books, 1999), 62.
 Brownlow North, The Prodigal Son; or, The Way Home (William Hunt and Company, 1871), 174.