The New Testament parable of the Prodigal Son provides insights into the process and principles of forgiveness, or of securing forgiveness. In that parable, a junior son demands his inheritance from the father, and promptly goes off to a very distant land where he wastes everything in debauchery. Sometime later, the hammer of hardship forces his eyes open. He realises his trespass and takes steps to make amends in the frittered relationship with his father.

17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son (Luke 15:17-22).

The following deductions are possible from the parable:

1. Realisation

There was self-realisation, which is where the miracle started for the Prodigal Son. Apology or confession without realisation, without true consciousness of the harm done to the other, is mere oration. Apology that does not come from the deep well of penitence is like a forced sacrifice, which could be painfully offensive, additionally offensive, especially to the one for whom it might have seemed intended. He “came to himself.”

2. Responsibility

There was admission of guilt for the trespass committed, a personal acknowledgment of sin. “I [not you] have sinned,” he said to the father. He did not blame his ways on someone else; not on the father, not on the other brother. He took responsibility for what he had done wrong, putting the blame where it rightly belonged. True penitence does not seek whom to hang the fault on. It acknowledges its sins, which is where its strength lies.

Apart from not guilting others for his trespass, he also did not excuse himself. He did not call his act a ‘mistake,’ a ‘wrong journey,’ or some ‘juvenile misadventure.’ He frankly called it a sin; a sin against God and man. Alone, at last, he told himself the truth. Sinners are usually ready for healing when they start to tell themselves the truth. It is one sign to look out for in the ‘application’ for reconciliation/restoration, that they have accepted the truth or have told themselves the truth rather than keep blaming their fate and faults on other people or on other factors. “I HAVE sinned…”

3. Resolution

After realisation, there was a resolution to do something about the discord separating him from his father. He made up his mind what he would do. He took a decision, and he spoke out his resolution. He told himself out loud what he would do, as if to enlist himself as witness against himself if he did not follow it through. He rehearsed what he would say when the moment came: “… and will say unto him, Father….” The resolution was firm… ”I WILL arise and go…”

4. Return

There was action backing the resolution. He did not make a resolution that he was not going to follow through, like the shadowy New Year’s resolutions that some people make but never keep. He backed his resolution with action. He began a journey to reach the father he had trespassed against, and he followed that process through to its ‘logical conclusion.’ He did not wait to be begged. He arose, and he went. It was willingness backed with action; action that did not give up midway. “And he AROSE, and CAME…”

5. Renunciation

He did not expect the father to give a cue before he would start his speech. He confessed to his sin against God and man. It was concrete confession, an actual verbal, worded confession, a clear renunciation of his wayward past: “And the son SAID… I have sinned.” The trespasser spoke in words, not ‘in action’ that the other was meant to ‘understand.’ Anyone that cannot put their repentance into words or speechless tears is proud, and has not yet regretted their error. They could do worse tomorrow. There is less likelihood for someone to repeat a fault that they have sincerely regretted in express words of confession. Confession is a form of renunciation of past errors. “And the son SAID unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight…”

6. Repentance

The Prodigal Son did not return merely to restart the prodigal culture in the father’s house. He had changed. True repentance is not mere words, it’s meant words; it’s not lip service, it’s heart-service. True repentance is not always hard to notice. One does not search for it with a magnifying glass; one does not need the village council to announce it on behalf of the close-lipped adamant ‘renovated’ trespasser. It shows. The distant Far-Country son had brought himself so close that the father could say, “THIS my son…” (v.24), not ‘THAT my son…’ and everyone could see it. Repentance is a change in lifestyle, a coming back home, a coming closer, a turnaround, a resurrection from ‘death,’ which was why the father could say that son was alive “again,” as if he had been dead all the prodigal while. “For THIS my son… is ALIVE AGAIN…”

*7. Response *

There was a response from the father, in the form of the items and symbols of restoration administered to the returning son. The father would not even let him complete the long speech that he had prepared ahead of that meeting. Forgiveness is the kind hand that one stretches out to receive a returning sinner.

What if the father had said nothing and done nothing despite all the prepared long apology speech of that miserable ragged returnee from a distant land? What if… Repentance and forgiveness are like a dialogue. One says something penitently, the other responds reassuringly. “But the father SAID…”

8. Restoration

There was a natural outcome to the return and repentance. The father restored him to sonship through the ritual of the ring, the shoes, and the garment. The restoration was part of the father’s response to the returnee. “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet” (v.22).

9. Remanence

The son remained at home. He was not about to take the father’s forgiveness for granted, and take off again to a farther country with the new shoes on his feet. He did not repeat the same offence for which he had confessed and received forgiveness. The father testified to that when he said that the lost son was in the state of having been found. Forgiveness gives the other person another chance to start afresh, not another chance to sin again. “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and IS found…”

10. Specific Sin

The trespass is called by its proper name: SIN, not ‘mistake’ or ‘accident.’ The offender did not try to lighten his offence by calling it a clever nicer name. It is neither repentance nor apology that lightens one’s trespass with fanciful words while exaggerating the other’s side to the matter. Any repentance or conflict resolution that evades calling errors by their deserved ugly name is a cover for worse days ahead. “I have SINNED…”

11. Specific Confession

The confession was specific as to the trespass committed. It was not a generalised ‘sorry for everything’ addressed to nobody. It was not a “sorry” that admitted no guilt. It was not apology for the sake of apology; apology merely to flatter the father and get an improved image.

12. Specific Address

The ‘application’ for forgiveness was specific to the person trespassed against, to the father offended, not to an uncle or the mother or the father’s pastor. The trespasser “came”; he didn’t send a proxy; and he came “TO HIS FATHER,” not to another.

13. Multiple Apologies

Sometimes one wrong act distresses more than the person immediately affected by the act, and should therefore, as much as is possible, be accordingly addressed in those multiples. The son made ‘two’ confessions: the first, addressed to “heaven,” and the other to the father. He did not say that he owned nobody anymore apology because he had ‘settled with heaven.’

In summary, the main highlights are the 9 R’s, the 3 S’s and the Multiple Apologies:

Realisation, Responsibility, Resolution, Return, Renunciation, Repentance, Response , Restoration, Remanence, Specific, Sin, Specific Confession, Specific Address, Multiple Apologies

If resolving relational concerns would be so imperative as to make no affronted father too far from Far Country and no betrayer-brothers too blighted to be embraced again, forgiveness might mean more than we would ever know. If a royal servant’s timeless horror could be hinged on a moment’s cross-relations with another, despite how well and how long he had served his king; if relational offences are capable of disqualifying the great sacrifice one brings to the altar, and eventually determining whether one remains in the King’s court or is cast to tormentors in ‘outer darkness,’ forgiveness must be more than just another Sunday school subject. Your very life and eternity might depend on it.

From The Preacher’s diary
October 13, 2018.

To be continued…
Culled from the latest bestseller, Forgiveness. Contact the office for copies or get online from Amazon:


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