This pattern represents four distinct stages that can happen in the life of Christian. It doesn’t mean that it should happen; but it only means that there is a possibility of this happening.
The first stage is marked by a moving away from God. It can happen suddenly and deliberately; or it can happen gradually and accidentally. This moving away is also known by the phrases, “falling away” and “forsaking your first love.”
The second stage is marked by sinful living. This happens because the Christian at this stage has moved away from God’s care and has thrown open his life to evil influences. This stage is also characterized by wrong decisions and actions. Punishment is also possible in this stage.
The third stage begins by a rethinking. The Christian starts to compare his present misery with the goodness enjoyed in God’s presence before the moving away. This leads to a reawakening when the Christian decides to turn back and return to God. This reawakening is also termed as “coming to one’s senses” or “repentance.”
Finally, we come to the fourth stage chiefly characterized by joy. This joy is a result of the return of the Christian to God, God’s acceptance of him, and also the restoration of all his rights.
The Bible gives us two instances for us to understand this process and pattern in the life of Christians.
Example 1: Israel–The Adulterous Wife (Hosea 2)
God talks of His chosen people Israel as His beloved wife in this chapter.
God talks about His wife the people of Israel moving away from Him. She was unfaithful to God and had given birth to children who were born as a result of adultery. This adultery was a result of her worshipping idols and prostituting herself by using God-given gifts to worship idols like Baal. God says that she had not acknowledged the good things that He had given to her.
So now Israel is leading a sinful life. So God says that He will take away grain when it ripens and new wine when it is ready. He adds that He will take back His wool and linen which was intended to cover her nakedness. God also warns that He would expose her nakedness before the eyes of her lovers. He adds that nobody can stop Him from punishing her thus.
God also threatens to stop all her celebrations and appointed feasts. He added that He will destroy the vines and fig trees that she got as pay from her lovers and make them into thickets which wild animals will devour.
God makes it clear that He will punish her for the days that she burned incense to the Baals when she adorned herself with ornaments and went after her lovers. All this God threatened to bring on her because she had forgotten her husband, the Lord God of Israel.
Because of all this God adds that He would block her path with thornbushes and wall her in so that she cannot find her way. When this happens she would chase after her lovers but will not be able to catch them. She will look for them but will not find them. So she will be frustrated in all her efforts to continue her sinful living.
Because of these frustrated efforts to enjoy her sinful life, she will think about the former days. And finally she will say: “I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now” (Hosea 2:7b NIV). Thus she will turn back to God, her lawfully wedded husband.
When she thus turns back, God is going to respond in love and faithfulness. He will lead her and speak tenderly to her. Her vineyards in the desert will be given back to her and the valley of Achor (meaning valley of trouble) will be made a door of hope. She will be enabled to sing as in the days of her youth when she was freed from her slavery in Egypt.
God also speaks here about a new relationship that happens when she returns. She will no longer call God “my master” but she will call God “my husband.” From being a servant serving in fear, she will be a wife serving in love. This relationship will be everlasting because it will be established in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion, and in faithfulness.
God will also remove from her mind and lips the names of idols. God also promises peace to them from creatures of the earth as well as from enemies. God also tells them that even nature will respond favorably to them with grain, new wine and oil.
Finally, God tells them that He will show them love even though they were called “Not my loved one.” He will call them my people for they were formerly called “Not my people.” In response to this they will say, “You are my God.” Thus love and faithfulness will be restored to the people of Israel.
We find here a pattern emerge: First of all we see Israel like an adulterous wife moving away from God to worship and serve idols. She is threatened with punishment. God makes it difficult for her by frustrating all her efforts to continue living her sinful life.
This causes her to think about the former days that were better when she was with her husband. So she decides to go back. Then God accepts her in a new relationship. Thus she is restored to God in love and faithfulness. So we find here the pattern of Moving Away » Sinful Living » Turning Back » Restoration.
Example 2: The Younger Son (Luke 15:11 to 24)
This is a parable that Jesus told.
There was a man who had two sons. The younger son asked his father to give him his share of property. So the man divided the property to his two sons.
Sometime later, the younger son collected together everything he had and moved away to a distant country. There he wasted all his possessions in wild living. And then there came a famine in the land. Since he had wasted everything he began to be in need.
So he tried to find a job to support himself. He went and offered his services to a citizen of that country. He gave him a job which was to feed the pigs in his fields. This young man became really hungry. He became so desperate about it that he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs ate. But nobody even gave that to him.
This caused him to think. It is said that he “came to his senses.” He compared his position then with the position that the hired men in his father’s home had. He thought that even those people had food to spare whereas he being in a similar position was starving to death.
So he decided to return to his father: “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men” (Luke 15:18 NIV). Saying thus he got up and returned to his father.
Even when he was a long way from his home his father saw him coming. He was filled with compassion for him. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son told him that he had sinned against heaven and against him and that he was no longer worthy to be called his son.
The father responded very quickly. He called out to his servants to bring the best robe to put on him. He also asked them to put a ring on his fingers and sandals on his feet. He called forth to bring the fattened calf and to kill it so that they could have a feast and celebrate. This was the reason that he gave: “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24 NIV). So they began to celebrate.
We find here a similar pattern emerge: We find the younger son moving away from his father’s home. We also find that he wasted all his possessions which his father had given him. He lost everything due to his sinful living. But the famine in the land caused him to be in need and thus think about his father’s home.
So he decides to turn back and return to his father. When he reaches his father’s home he receives a welcome that he never even had expected in his wildest dreams. He was restored as a rightful child in the family. So we find here the pattern of Moving Away » Sinful Living » Turning Back » Restoration.
The Bible is very realistic. It talks about failures without polishing them up. God has spoken these two portions because He clearly knows how many times we move away from Him.
He shows us the utter depravity and misery of living away from His presence. He also tells us that the difficulties we encounter while we are away in a distant country, where we serve idols of our hearts and minds, are His agents to bring us to our senses. This is to make us think of God and the good that we enjoyed in His house before we moved away.
The greatest news that God gives us is that it is possible to return to Him. He asks no questions. He never tells us that we needed a lesson. He is simply interested in us SO MUCH that He runs to receive us, embrace us and speak tenderly to us.
As if that is not enough demonstration of His love, He restores everything in a much better way. Oh, what more need we ask than a restored relationship with God!