Christianity 201

March 26, 2017

The Prodigal Son and God’s Love for the Repentant Sinner

by Russell Young

Luke relates the parable of the lost or prodigal son. (Lk 15:11─31) The story is quite well known. According to its presentation, a wealthy father had two sons and the younger wanted his inheritance even while the father lived. Having been given it, he squandered it in “riotous living” until he had nothing left. Starvation caused him to humbly return home where he was compassionately and enthusiastically greeted by his anxious father. The older son had remained home and had worked the remaining part of the estate for his father. Seeing his father’s delight in the return of the reckless son and the celebration that was taking place, the older son became upset since his faithfulness to his father had never been recognized.

This parable is often presented to show the “forgiveness” and love of the father and/or the hard-heartedness of the brother who had faithfully toiled for so long. Regardless, the revelation of God’s heart concerning the repentance of a sinner is highlighted within the parable. The verse leading to the parable (Luke 15:10) reads that “there is much rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Repentance shows humility rather than pride. It indicates that the sinner has recognized the sovereignty of God and his laws and that he or she is subject to them. God loves the repentant person who is prepared to honour him and his creation.

Perhaps writings that have attempted to apply meaning to all aspects of this parable are confusing the issue. The father’s joy at the return of his son has been made clear. He loved his son and wanted fellowship with him. Without doubt, he had misused his inheritance and had done many foolish things, but he had learned some valuable lessons. His misadventure had taught him a great deal. From the parable, it seems that he had returned ready to be a committed and faithful son. Does our heavenly Father want anything less? Could he expect anything more?

Jesus had engaged his earthly ministry to redeem a lost people and was amid a people who had rejected God’s righteous requirements for thousands of years. His sorrow for Jerusalem was expressed as follows: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Lk 13:34─35) His heart was breaking because of the bleakness that sin had brought upon God’s chosen people. In this parable he is bringing the need for repentance to the lost sons of Israel and expressing to them the joy that the Father feels when truth is finally recognized and appreciated.

The issue of repentance applies to humankind today. God’s lamentation over the state of wickedness that exists in the hearts of his created people was expressed early following the tenure of people upon the earth. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6 NIV) God loves his creation and it was for his pleasure that he had created in the first place. Hearts have become thoroughly evil in his estimation and there is no good thing in them. God wants repentance! He wants hearts committed to him and to doing good. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, the church of Christ should rejoice more exuberantly with God when a repentant sinner acknowledges hurt to humankind and to God and returns humbly to meet the heart of God.

For those who want to direct the parable to address the father’s rejoicing over the wayward “believer’s” return it needs to be appreciated that the prodigal had no inheritance and no recourse to attaining any. He had returned home having wasted it. The inheritance that belongs to the believer is the same inheritance that Christ will receive since the believer is a co-heir with Christ. (Rom 8:17) God will not be mocked, the “believer” cannot truthfully be repentant and act otherwise. Concerning the nature of his preaching, Paul told King Agrippa that his preaching to the Gentiles was that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26─27 NIV) God will not be mocked and “believers” who repent after deliberately continuing to sin will not enjoy the celebration that the prodigal received.

Those who want to find meaning in the parable through reflecting on the attitude of the elder son through his hesitancy to rejoice at the return of the lost son need to understand that the elder has been presented as having been fully obedient to his father and the father did not chastise him but conveyed his heart over the return of his lost son. He desired the son to rejoice, as well. The elder son was to get all his father’s inheritance and was to be with him always. (Lk 15:31)

This parable was an attempt to reach out to the children of Israel to encourage repentance and a return to the family and perhaps it should not be considered beyond this point. There is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner has been convinced of the pain he has brought to the heart of God and returns contritely and committed to live a life of humility and obedience. As depicted in this presentation by Christ, believers can cause rejoicing in heaven and can “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3 NIV) through encouraging repentance and a walk of righteousness by believers. The father shared his heart that you might bless him.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

December 31, 2014

Adopted into the Family

We end the year with weekly contributor Rev. Clarke Dixon. We appreciate Clarke’s contribution here over the past year, his writing and perspective is a really good fit for Christianity 201. You can read this at source by clicking the title below.

Adopted into God's FamilyHis Birth, Our Adoption

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 NRSV)

Jesus was born, so that ultimately we might receive adoption as God’s children. There are few things we can note:

  1. We cannot think of ourselves as automatically being God’s children just because we happen to exist. The Bible does not affirm that all people are God’s children, if we were, there would be no need for adoption. It does affirm that we are separated from God by sin. God therefore has no “fatherly” obligation toward us. Thankfully, it also affirms that we can become His children: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1:12 NRSV)
  2. Adoption is a result of God’s will, God’s desire. A parent who goes to an adoption agency has no prior obligation to adopt a particular child. God has no obligation to adopt us, or do anything for us. But He chooses to do so. It is His will to do something good for us, He sent His Son, that we might be adopted.
  3. Our background is not an issue for adoption. When God has chosen to adopt you, there is no “but Lord, you know that I am . . . or I have done . . .” He already knows and has gone ahead with the adoption anyway. There is repentance from those things in the past that separate us from God, but our past does not keep God from adopting.
  4. We are adopted by One who will be present to us and intimate with us: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) Though we can point to the Lamb’s Book of life, an adoption certificate is not our proof now that we are His children. His fatherly presence through His Holy Spirit is. And through His Spirit we are to call him by what is really the more familiar “Dad” rather than the formal “Father.”
  5. We are no longer enslaved. We have been enslaved to sin this side of Eden. A particular people were called through whom God would bless all, they were enslaved to the law. Through adoption we are no longer slaves to sin or the law, but we are free children of God. Being freed, our desire will be to honour the One who has freed us from slavery, and adopted us as His own.
  6. As God’s children we look forward to an inheritance. While I appreciate translations that look to being appropriately inclusive in language, these are verses where it helps to know that the word “son” is used throughout. In fact it is even found in the very word for ‘adoption’. This is important because it was written at a time when sons enjoyed the inheritance, the daughters not-so-much. So the ladies among us also look forward to a full and equal inheritance in Jesus.
  7. A familiar expression is true: “God has no grandchildren.” Perhaps some prefer to think of God as a grandfather type of figure, close enough to enjoy a relationship, but far enough to enjoy freedom from a father’s discipline. When we are adopted, we are adopted as children, not grandchildren. We can expect His wonderful presence, we can expect a wonderful inheritance, and we can also expect His discipline. This too is wonderful!

At the right time Jesus was born so that someday you might be adopted as God’s child. Have you experienced that?