What Chance Do Lost Prodigals Have?
Is there any hope for someone who, like the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–24, abandons God and the Church and instead chooses to live a life of sin year after year?
If asked, would you answer “no”?
If you and I share this view, we would never pray for our wayward, prodigal friends and family, much less pray with hope.
Alternately, you may ask, “Why should I care?” I’m immune to such a thing happening to me.
In all honesty, none of us ever decides, “Today I believe I’m going to actively rebel against God and ruin up my life.”
Sin is rarely committed in one massive act; rather, we typically sin in little increments.
What a common human response to God’s Word: “Well, I am forgiven after all, and I am not quite strong enough to obey that anyhow.”
James 2:10 points out that disobeying God even once is the same as rejecting all God has ever said.
When I consider about the mistakes I’ve made over the previous several weeks, I feel anxious.
Why do I feel so terrible? Or, to put it another way: Why do I have such a hard time accepting God’s existence? Why is it that I so often opt for doing things my way and when I want to, rather than God’s way and when He wants me to?
Why do I have a propensity for doing a wide variety of minor sins?
Not killing or having an affair today is a blessing, but it’s no great virtue when I’m just as likely to disregard God’s presence.
Is There Any Proof That Legalism Is Successful?
Unfortunately, the more I demand that other people (my loved ones, my congregation, and others) should emulate my best behavior, the more harm I will cause them.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try to set a good example for people when it comes to my faith, but you won’t find me holding out a finger and demanding that others do the same. There’s no use in speaking up if the results of my efforts aren’t convincing on their own. More of my urging, arguing, and insisting would only turn them away from the religion.
This is seen in the lives of those who came after the great English evangelical reformers. Many of their offspring quit Christianity and became agnostics or atheists after suffering great anguish over their decision to abandon the church.
Their anti-intellectualism as parents or grandparents made them unprepared for the rigorous inquiries and blatant attacks they would encounter in higher education, but the petty legalism they had grown up to despise was the greater contributing factor.
It’s a response that’s quite typical of today’s youth. As one recent grad put it:
I was raised in a culture of stained glass windows and Wednesday night prayer services, but I eventually left the church because of the rumors, criticism, and legalism I encountered there.
Many fellow Christians made me feel like I was doing something wrong. I retaliated for the disdain by cutting all ties to the church. Ironically, I had given them back the same treatment they had given me.
Return of the Prodigal Daughter: Ashley’s Experience
Soon after celebrating one of our anniversaries with my wife Renee, Renee and I met Ashley online. Ashley was surrounded by Christians due to her upbringing in the church and her job at a Christian bookshop, but she herself felt spiritually unmoved. She also had sexual relationships with various older men in search of the “perfect guy” who would finally offer her the love and companionship she craved.
Ashley wrote to me, “I hear people talk about how God has transformed their life and even though I embraced Him, I don’t see any difference and I’ve felt like God has dumped me.” She said she had longed to experience God’s love and forgiveness but had never been able to.
In my reply, I informed Ashley, “God knows about and absolutely understands your troubles. He cleanses us from all of our past wrongdoings and offers us forgiveness. I assure you, Ashley, that I am not dismissing your predicament. But you haven’t done the unpardonable sin. ” I urged her to study numerous portions of Scripture and emailed her an article about receiving God’s forgiveness.
The way Ashley responded gave me hope. Over the following several weeks, she dove deeper into God’s Word and sought a mentor to hold her responsible. “Last night I read some of the Scriptures and it felt like they were talking to me,” she said.
Then they were faced with some unforeseen difficulties. Ex-boyfriend contacted, said he wanted to get back together, but when Ashley saw him, it was clear he was only interested in having sexual relations with her. She refused him with confidence, and he abandoned her. After that, Ashley’s mom was laid off from her work, and her car was broken into.
To put it simply, finding the right words was challenging. To her, I said, “Even though it seems like your life is coming apart, keep reminding yourself of what is true: God is still God, He loves you, and He will take you through this tough time to better days and a new life filled with His love, joy, strength, and serenity. If there is anything else God wants you to learn through this trial, it will be to believe in Him, and you won’t know that until much later.
In a word, yes.
Over the following months, Renée and I both prayed for Ashley and continued to interact with her by e-mail. At the revelation of one of her answers, we gave thanks to the Lord. “I have learnt to depend exclusively on God because when I attempted to lean on people, I simply ended up hurt,” the narrator explains, “while this is still a period of emotional turmoil, I am getting lot better, and I am growing much stronger.”
To God be the glory, I am doing really well. Things moved from being so horrible to being so fantastic, it’s unreal. I’ve been praying for the storm to pass and for God’s blessings to continue to pour in as they have over the past several weeks. Everything else will be a bonus if we put seeking His kingdom first.
When we fail God, He doesn’t give up on us like Ashley’s tale shows us.
Sadly, disappointing God repeatedly is what I do best. I may not have committed adultery in the literal sense or done anything else more heinous, but I have sinned against God the Father, Renée, and my other loved ones.