The Grace-Giving Father

Pete AlwinsonBy Pete Alwinson13 Minutes

Once there was a Spanish father and son (José) who, like many fathers and sons, had an angry argument where they both said hurtful things. The son stormed out saying he never wanted to see his father again, and the father said much the same. Then, as Ray Stedman tells the story,

Years passed. The father regretted the things he had said in that moment of intense emotion. He longed for his son. Finally, the pain of separation became too much for him to bear. He left home and went searching across the length and breadth of Spain—but his son seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

Finally, arriving in the capital city of Madrid, he went to a newspaper office and took out a personal ad in the classified section.

It read, “My son, José—I am sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. Please forgive me. I have forgiven you. I’ve looked everywhere for you and want only to see you again. I will be at the plaza fountain every day this week at noon. Please meet me there. Your father.” It is said that hundreds of young men named José came to the plaza fountain that week, hoping to reestablish a relationship with their fathers.

Ray C. Stedman, Talking with My Father: Jesus Teaches on Prayer1

I get choked up when I read that story. Father-son relationships can be complex, hurtful, and lead to separation. Sons long to be close to their fathers, but as they grow up and have conflict with their dads, they often don’t know how to get close to them. Often their dads—who should be able to take the lead in moving toward their son—have no idea how to do that, so fathers and sons remain tragically separated. In the many broken father-son stories I have heard over the years, unfortunately there are few stories like this example, where a father sees the light and “the pain of separation” from their sons becomes “too much for them to bear” and out of a “deep inability to do nothing” they search out their sons and do whatever is possible to reestablish ties.2

But we have a different father-son story, don’t we? The very best father-son story is in the Bible. It’s about a perfect Father and his imperfect sons (and daughters) who went astray. Our perfect heavenly Father, whose nature is loving, merciful, and gracious, comes after his sons at great cost to himself, to bring them home. It’s the story of grace.

God’s Grace Story

You can find the thread of God’s grace through every story about God and his people in the Bible. There is no difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. God has always been gracious to his people because that is his nature. Here’s how God describes himself to Moses: “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

Without grace we are lost, and with it we find new life and forgiveness and hope. Grace is God’s unearned favor that he pours out when, where, and on whom he is pleased to be generous. The pinnacle of God’s grace is seen in sending his Son, Jesus. It was because of grace that God the Father gave his Son for the sins of his people. It was God’s grace that the Son freely gave himself for his enemies (Romans 5:6–8). And because of God’s grace we are given the Spirit to give us the power to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7).

The Greek word for grace, charis, is found over 120 times in the New Testament. Paul sums up what God’s grace means to those who trust Jesus when he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

God’s Grace for You

Religion is trying to get God to accept us by what we do to please him. But being a Christian is not about religion. The only way to be acceptable to God is by faith in Christ alone.

Paul reminds us that before Christ meets us we’re “dead in the trespasses and sins” of open rebellion and resistance to God (Ephesians 2:1). He graphically describes the true nature of our sin by saying, “We all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (2:3). That’s so true! Before we came to Christ we simply went along with our passions and let them guide us in our behavior. We hurt others and ourselves, revealing that we really were not alive to God’s way at all. To be dead, spiritually dead to God, means that we have no relationship with him and no interest in or ability to move toward him. Dead men have just one hope—the grace of God that makes them alive in Christ.

God shows us his mercy and great love (2:4) in withholding his judgment for our sin and in giving us the gift of faith, the grace of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This unearned and unrequested favor of God is the power that enables us to see our sin, come to the end of what we can do for ourselves, and see our own brokenness and emptiness. It’s only then that we put our trust in Jesus Christ as God’s substitute for us on the cross.

We are the sons who went away from a perfect Father. He comes in search of us by sacrificing his own Son, Jesus, and calling us home. We are the sons who didn’t think we were the problem, but by grace have come to see that we are wrong, not God. We are the sons who now have nothing in our hands or hearts to give God. We only have our sin and shame to offer God. Yet Jesus’s death on the cross paid for our sins as a free gift from our heavenly Father, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Grace is what we desperately need for salvation, but also what we need for every day of our lives. Because even though we’re forgiven for our sins once and for all, we sin daily—we lose sight of the importance of others, we run after all kinds of God replacements (idols), and we forget our high status as sons of God through faith in Christ. Every day we need the Father’s grace for forgiveness and help. It’s so easy for us as men to try to do life on our own, without our Father. But self-made men inevitably self-destruct. Without God’s grace, we won’t survive. We need to come back to the Father through Jesus every single morning, noon, and night.

A Grace Manifesto

Paul, in the book of Romans, fills our minds and hearts with how God’s grace changes needy sinners. All have sinned, but

  • By grace we are freely justified (Romans 3:23–24).
  • Because we are justified we have peace with God (Romans 5:1).
  • Because of God’s grace those who are in Christ are no longer condemned (Romans 8:10).
  • Because of God’s grace all things work together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).
  • And because of God’s grace in Jesus nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35–38).

God’s grace is the source for everything Jesus has done for us and everything good that has happened in us. There’s no such thing as bad luck or good luck for a Christ-following man. By grace we belong to our heavenly Father, by grace we are called his sons, and because of his grace all of life’s events are tied to his good purpose for us. It all started before we were born as God foreknew (foreloved) us and in love predestined (predetermined) us to be so radically transformed as men that we would take on the same character as Jesus, and that Jesus would be the first of many sons to follow (Romans 8:29–30).

Grace is free to us for the asking, but oh-so-costly for our Savior. We couldn’t be called into a relationship with God and justified until the work of atonement was accomplished on the cross. But Jesus was the faithful Son, the lion who became a lamb as our substitute in keeping the law perfectly and receiving our curse completely, so that we could be justified (declared not guilty) from our sins. This work of Christ is so thorough, so complete, so effective, that Paul tells us that because we’re united to Jesus through faith we are in fact glorified already.

As a man following Christ there is simply nothing more to be accomplished for us or that we can accomplish for ourselves (Romans 8:31–38). Jesus is completely sufficient.

1 Ray C. Stedman, Talking with My Father: Jesus Teaches on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1997), 19.
Mark Batterson, All In: You Are One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 35.

Excerpt adapted from Like Father, Like Son: How Knowing God as Father Changes Men by Pete Alwinson ©2015 by Key Life. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.