In my job, I’m periodically called upon to dig up some obscure fact or bit of data that answers a pressing question. The result might be a historical note about why a particular decision was made, instructions on how to execute a rarely-used process, or documentation on an ancient piece of software. I appreciate good functions on my computer that help me find things, but – like the Internet – even a good search engine sometimes needs just the right keywords to pull a specific needle out of a haystack. Even the best organizational system (which is definitely not my own), or highest-quality inference engine (take your pick: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, etc.) sometimes needs a little bit of human memory and creativity to help it along.
When I find just the right document from my files, there’s often a bit of euphoria. Maybe it’s just dopamine, made all the more effective by the cost of the search and the risk of failure. However, I think that finding what was lost is often more than just an emotional boost. This might be locating something important (so that we don’t have to buy another one), preventing someone from having to go through a lot of unnecessary work, or even saving someone we love from harm. When we find what was missing, it can be one of the truly rewarding achievements in this life (and even more so when a lost soul is found, which has positive implications for eternity).
In the hymn, “Amazing Grace”, we sing about once being lost, but now being found. These lyrics may very well have had their roots in the parable of the Prodigal Son, as the father celebrates that his lost child has returned.
We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Luke 15:32 NLT
In the light of the father’s words to his older son, I don’t think that many of us (except a few “elder brothers”, who I admit that I have acted like in the past) would disagree with the father’s cause for celebration, here. When a lost family member is restored (regardless of whether or not the fault for the estrangement was their choice, or the result of poor behavior from others), genuine rejoicing is not merely appropriate: often it’s the only rational reaction within the family.
A “family reunion” is a wonderful thing, and not just when relatives get together in a convention hall. It includes a family member returning from a trip (or from being deployed in the military). The joy of family restoration can also occur when separation was due to a break in the relationship, after forgiveness and repentance have led to healing. As incredible as this is, though, the restoration of a lost soul – ours or someone else’s – to the family of God is even more amazing.
Sometimes, I think that those of us who have studied the details of God’s salvation (through Jesus Christ) can let it get a little too technical, especially for those like me who are wired a little more for the analytical side of life, rather than my friends who were created to be more relational.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate (and recommend) the teaching I’ve received about how God made it possible for our sins to be paid for, and how things like “substitutionary atonement”, “propitiation”, “reconciliation”, and “imputed righteousness” make it possible for me to be back on good terms with God: adopted into His family after I – like the Prodigal Son – had left.
However, I think that potential signs of letting salvation become too “sterile” in our lives may include becoming too focused on “getting people saved” (to the exclusion of discipleship and healthy relationships with God), or an attitude of judgement (to the exclusion of sharing God’s grace and mercy). It might even show up as abusing our freedom in Christ to the point of living in sin, selfishness, or pride (rather than listening to the Holy Spirit and living according to His direction).
Of course we should seek salvation, call sin what it is, and live freely in Jesus. However, when we are tempted to make salvation merely a business arrangement, let us remember that our restoration into God’s family isn’t just a technical state change or a legal agreement. It is also something worth celebrating (see Luke 15:10)!
As a result, I encourage you today to not only remember the joy of your salvation (or, to experience that joy, if you haven’t yet accepted Jesus’ gift of redemption), but also recall the excitement that you have felt when others around you experienced the same change for the better. Then, may we all take that enthusiasm, and actively search out more opportunities to rescue souls from their life of sin, so that we can bring them to the table of celebration, too!
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.