Charles Stanley - When Plans Turn to Ashes
God's will for us has always the very best in mind. Now sometimes, He offers us more than we expect and anticipate. And sometimes maybe we don't get exactly what we were thinking about or what we thought we ought to have. And yet, you look around and oftentimes people who don't seem to have very much seem to be happy and contented and enjoying life. And you look around and you'll notice other folks who seem to have it all. They got plenty, more than enough, they're unhappy, they're discontent. And somehow, life just doesn't seem to be going right with them.
So, ask yourself the question, what does it take to satisfy you? If you know you're living in the will of God and doing what God wants you to do, isn't there a sense of contentment and joy and happiness and all that? But if you find yourself hungry to have more, aching to have more, pursuing something that you know possibly or at least tempted to pursue something that you know is not the will of God. You know that's not really going to satisfy you deep down inside. And yet people do it anyway. What happens is, when you pursue things that are outside the will of God, you get disappointed. You get disillusioned. And before long, you find yourself being very discouraged with life. Because you see, God has fixed it so that if you and I will seek His will and His way and trust what He gives us is the right thing, the best thing, the right amount; then what'll happen is, we'll understand what peace and contentment and joy is all about.
Well, Jesus gave us some wonderful lessons by telling us some parables. And one of these is what I want us to look at in the Scripture today. Because here is a story of tragedy and on the other side there is triumph. Here is disaster and then, all of a sudden, here's deliverance. He tells us a story that most of us have heard many times before. And probably one of the reasons that it's a familiar story is because so many of us could probably find ourselves somewhere in this parable. So, I want you to turn if you will to Luke chapter fifteen. And I want us to look at this principle and that's this, that is, whatever we acquire outside the will of God will ultimately turn to ashes.
So, look at this fifteenth chapter beginning in the verse eleven. "And He said, 'A man had two sons.' The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.'" That is, give me what's coming to me. "So, he divided his wealth among them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I'm no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men".' So, he got up and came to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion on him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I've sinned against heaven and in your sight; I'm not worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fatted calf, kill it, and let us be eat and celebrate; For this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and he's been found.' And they began to celebrate".
Now here is a perfect example of reaching out beyond what the will of God is for a person's life. Reaching out where we do not need to reach out where we should not be reaching out. Reaching out beyond the will of God to acquire something and it all began to turn to ashes. So, I want us to look at this passage. And one of the things I want us to notice here is this, it's very evident according to what Jesus said here and that's this, that God will allow you and me to acquire things that are outside His will. He will allow it. Could He stop it? Yes, He could. Does He allow it? Yes, He does. Why does He allow it?
Well, for example, if God did not give you and me the freedom of choice; if He created Adam and Eve without a freedom of choice, they would have been like robots. That is, living or amidst a Garden of Eden and just doing one thing, one way not because they wanted to. Not because they love Him or not love Him. Because they would be almost emotionless. That is, no choice. It was a gift of God that He gave to them a choice even though He knew they were going to make the wrong decision. God will give you the privilege to making choices even when He knows you're going to make a wrong choice. The second thing that's evident here is this and that is, God will allow us to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. And the one thing about sin is this, sin usually offers the appeal, you can have it right now. You don't have to wait. This is what gets people out of the will of God for example. I've got to have it now. And so, what he wanted was he wanted what was coming to him. He wanted it right then and there. He had already decided in his mind what he was going to do with what he had.
Now, it's interesting what in the book of Hebrews and chapter eleven. It's interesting what the Scripture says about Moses. Listen to this in the twenty fourth verse. He says, "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, Choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God," the Hebrews, "than to enjoy," listen, "than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin". "The passing pleasures of sin". Anything you and I acquire outside the will of God is going to turn to ashes. You see if sin had no pleasure, there'd be no appeal. It's the pleasures that we find in sin that make the appeal.
Now, what we don't stop to think is this, what are the consequences? But that's never the issue. In other words, when a person's really being tempted they don't want to think about consequences. They want to think about what's in this for me right now? And if you'll think about it when Adam and Eve were in the Garden. And think about this, they had everything they could possibly have wanted. Everything was just perfect. Well, why did Satan tempt them? And what was his temptation? His temptation was this, you see all this vast host that God has given you? What I want you to do is I want you to narrow your focus down to that little tree over there that He said, You can have everything that you can see and feel and touch. But there's one little tree over here in the midst of all this awesome beauty. And there's a fruit on that. In the day that you eat of it you will surely die. That is, your life will turn to ashes the day you eat of it.
Well, what made Eve partake of it? I'll tell you why. Because Satan kept talking and talking and talking and she made the mistake of listening and listening and listening. Until finally think about what she had to do. She had to forget all about all the beauty and all the abundance of everything that God had given her and to him. She had to forget all about that and focus on one little thing that made a false promise. And Satan said to her, Well, look you have all this but look what you don't have. Look what you could have. You could be like God. You could understand the things that God understands. You could see things from His perspective. You could feel what He feels. You could know what God knows. He knows something that you have never known. You can know it if you'll just take a bite.
Now think about this, you mean if I take a bite of this I'll be like God? But to do that I've got to forget everything else that God has put around us. That's exactly the way sin operates. He talks about the pleasure of the moment. He talks about the pleasure of this thing, this person, this event, this action in your life. If you could just have that. And in today's society, if you could have these things, or her or him, or that or this experience. If you could go here and yonder. In other words, it's the offer of the things that seem to have this strong, like a bullet appeal. If you can just narrow it down. If you want that then you will have really tasted life. It's the devil lie. And that's the way he operates. He always does what? He narrows our vision down to the one thing that appeals to us the most.
This is what gets people in trouble financially. It gets them in trouble morally. It gets them in trouble in their relationships. It gets them in trouble, for example, in their vocation. In every aspect of life when we begin to reach out for something that is beyond God's goodness and His will for our life, what happens is it ultimately is going to turn to ashes. The devil never talks about that. Nobody wants to talk about that. For the simple reason, we don't like to talk about consequences. But every parent should diligently teach their children, there are consequences in life for every action. Good consequences, bad consequences. And you want to do what is right. You want to live in the will of God because in the will of God it is best there.
So, as I think about this young man. What what motivated him to leave home to begin with? Well, he had heard how fantastic it was in a far country. Now somebody says, Well, where is a far country? A far country is anywhere, anytime you and I live outside the will of God. It may look fantastic but eventually it's going to crumble into ashes. So, I would ask you this simple question, are you living in the will of God as best you know how? Would you say that as best you know the will of God for your life and that's where you are? Wonderful. Would you have to say, No, I'm not living in the will of God? I'm not interested in that. Well, let me just say this to you, whether you believe the Word of God or not is not the issue because the Word of God is true. The longer you pursue and focus on any temptation and you keep focusing, you keep hearing the warnings but you pay them no mind. You keep thinking that you're going to be different and you're saying it's not going to happen to me. And you keep heading in that direction, you are walking in a direction in which you are destined to end up in ashes unless you turn around in time. It's the nature of sin.
Now, if we had to stop right there it'd be a sad story. Because I know what you're already thinking you're saying, Well, you know what? I got a bunch of ashes in my life already. Is there any hope for me? Listen to this, you have to listen to this passage because nobody could ever say it like Jesus said it. The Scripture says that in the hog pen, "he came to his senses". Nobody ever comes to God until they come to their senses. Came to his senses and he said, got to thinking, What about all those hired servants of my father? They have more than enough to eat, and all they need to wear. The Bible says that he starts home. And on his way home the Bible says when he was a great way off his father recognized him.
Now, nowhere in the Bible does it picture God like this. But what Jesus is doing in this parable before these Pharisees who were so critical of the sinners and all the rest, this father running toward his son who had wasted and ruined everything. And what does he do? The father falls on his neck and while the son is trying to say, I'm not worthy and confess and repent. I love this passage. Father, I've sinned and I'm not worthy to be called your son. And put me out in the field working. And he's saying he's so happy that he's back. And what is he doing? He's calling to his servants and said, Look what's happening. Get the best pair of sandals, a ring, the best robe, kill a fatted calf tonight, we are going to have one more big party. My son who was lost is found and he's home again.
You say, Yeah, but God wouldn't do that for me. Why do you think He put this in the Word of God? He put it in here to show us what? That God is an awesome, forgiving God no matter how much of your life at this point is in ashes. It's not all gone. And what is His response? Here's His response, that is when a person is willing to come to their senses and willing to acknowledge where they are, what they've done and repent of that. That is, to be willing to turn from that, there is forgiveness, there is acceptance, there is restoration and there is rejoicing. Now, look at that for a moment. Suppose that had been your son. Listen carefully, would you have to decide to forgive him? Or deep down in your heart was he always forgiven because he was your son?
Now, watch this carefully, because you see this young man, first of all, was a member of that family. He was part of the family. So, I'm talking, first of all, to believers. You're a believer; you've messed it up bad. God forgave you one time when you trusted Him as your personal Savior. He forgave you of all your sin. Now here you come back and you say, Will You please forgive me? When Jesus went to the cross, watch this carefully now, so you don't be mistaken, He paid your sin debt in full. You are a forgiven child of God. Does that mean you won't suffer for your sin? No, it doesn't. It means, listen, you're a forgiven child of God but you will pay the price for your sin. Not the eternal price. But that is the thing, for example, you can't reclaim time. You can be forgiven for wasting it. You can't make your body healthy when you have almost totally destroyed it.
When the father saw his son coming down the road he didn't have to say, No, I got to think about this thing. He's wasted all this money. He squandered it all. He's been a prodigal in my life. I got to decide whether I want to forgive him or not. No, he didn't have to decide because I can imagine that father had been looking for him for years hoping one day he'd come home. He came home forgiven. Now, was everything the same? No, because he'd wasted years of his life and all of his inheritance. Did that mean that the father just gave all that back to him? No, it doesn't. You see, there is a penalty for sin that even forgiveness does not erase. Ask the man who's an alcoholic whose face is all wrinkled. Ask him if getting saved changed that. No. Or someone who has some liver disease because of his drinking. Does God just change all that? Not necessarily.
What I want you to see is this, when we step out of the will of God and we reach out for things that are outside His will, all of that turns to ashes and we don't have anything that's of worth. Does God forgive? Yes, He does. Does He accept us? Yes, He does. Does He restore us? Yes, He does. Have we lost something? A whole lot. Have we lost our salvation? No. Now, you may be someone who's never trusted Jesus as your Savior. And so, when you come and you ask God to forgive you, you have to ask Him to forgive you for your life of disobedience and rebellion toward Him. You accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, a one-time event in your life whereby you ask Him to save you from your sins. And that you're receiving Him as your personal Savior. In that moment you are forgiven. And the Spirit of God seals you as one of His children. And forever you're one of His children.
Will you sin again? Yes. Will you get to the place where the Prodigal was? Let's hope not. Have there been believers who have? Yes. Did God forgive them? Yes. Did they suffer for their sins? Yes. Will they suffer for eternally? No, because He paid our sin debt in full. But my actions after I am saved, I am responsible for the consequences of my sin after I'm saved. Do I lose my salvation? No. Am I forgiven? Yes, for all eternity. But do I pay a price? Yes, I do.
What I want you to see is this: There's a price to be paid by pursuing things outside the will of God. Listen to this, it may be with somebody. It may be with something. It may be with some position. Whatever it might be, there is a price. And so, wherever you are, the way you get right with God is the way he got right. He came to his senses. He began to think right. I'm in a hog pen. I don't have anything. I've wrecked and ruined my life. The only place for me to go for help is to my father and that's exactly what he did. And what Jesus was saying in all of this was simply this, it doesn't make any difference how far you've drifted away from God.
Will He forgive you? If you come to your senses and ask Him to forgive you. Because you see, when we talk about forgiveness of our sin to be saved, that's pardoned. That's God pardons us for all eternity. But daily forgiveness, I must ask Him to forgive me and to cleanse me. Does He? Yes, He does when I am sincere and I mean what I'm saying. If you've never been saved, it all begins with being pardoned from your sin debt through the cross and your faith in Him. As a believer you've got ashes in your life and what happens? I have to ask Him to forgive me and to cleanse me for these actions and this pursuit outside His will. Does He? Yes, He does. Listen to this verse, "If we confess our sins, He's faithful". That is, you can trust Him; dependable. "Faithful and just". He has a right to do so because His Son paid our sin debt in full. "Faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".
You see, when the Prodigal went back was he a son? Yes, he was. Forgiven son? Yes, he was. Was everything exactly the way it was? No, it wasn't. And I want to say that again and again. Sin does have penalties. It does leave scars. And oftentimes it does cost us some things we'll never recover. But the forgiveness of God is ours for the asking. Think about this, forgiveness, acceptance, restoration, and rejoicing. We all need it and if we come to Him, we'll receive it.
Father, how grateful we are that Your love is not dependent upon our conduct. That Your goodness and kindness and mercy, which we oftentimes turn away from, is still offered. Thank you that You saved us for all eternity. Thank you that Your love never ceases and thank you even though our life oftentimes ends up with lots of ashes, You're willing to brush them away and give us a new beginning, a new start. It won't be just like it was in the beginning, but it'll be a new start. You said, Born again. Things change. It's brand new. Thank you for a new start this morning no matter where we are in life is our prayer in Jesus' name, amen.