Is the story of the Prodigal Son for believers or unbelievers?

Last updated on May 10, 2021


Jesus told the series of ‘lost’ parables to confront the attitude of the Pharisees and Scribes who could not stand the fact that Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son to a Jewish audience. The Jews enjoyed a covenant relationship with God, they were God’s people. And the prodigal son in the parable was after all a son to his father, albeit a wayward son. This parable teaches us so much. The father does not force his younger son to stay at home. He lets him go. But he is still waiting eagerly for his son who indulged in all manner of sins, to repent and come back! All that counts at the end is that he is alive again!

God is pleased when one of His children repents and comes back

The parable also shows the attitude of the older son. The one who is so indignant about his father’s forgiving attitude. The one who has never stepped off the right path, but who harbors a lot of anger in his heart. The father is generous towards him as well. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). Just like the father in the story was beside himself of joy when his son returned, so God is overjoyed when one of His wayward children repents and comes back.

The parable of the sheep (Luke 15:3-7) is very similar, but here the initiative lies with the Shepherd. He goes out to find the sheep that once belonged to his flock but wandered off. The sheep does nothing to return, but is found and joyfully accepted back into the flock. Again, Jesus talked about people who already were part of the Kingdom!

Covenant relationship with God

Believers have entered into a covenant relationship with God through the blood of Christ. This relationship is secure and is founded on God’s eternal plan. “… even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). This same concept of security is mentioned by Jesus when He says: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. And no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

Every believer receives the Holy Spirit in his or her heart. As a seal and guarantee that he or she is in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). But even though this is all true, believers can wander off and get themselves in trouble. Praise God, Jesus makes clear that God is waiting with wide open arms to welcome them back!

Tasting the truth and rejecting it

There are a few verses in the Bible about people who have come so very close to knowing God and have yet turned their backs on Him. Hebrews 6:4-6 says about those people: It is impossible to restore them to repentance. Hebrews 10:26, 27, 29 laments the end of people who knew about the blood of Jesus and have yet trampled it in contempt. All they can do is to wait for God’s judgment on them. No sacrifice is left over to take away their sins. Because they have knowingly rejected the one and only sacrifice there is!

These people have never come to the point of truly knowing Jesus, but they have tasted the truth and rejected it. This is different than people who are truly God’s children but have wandered off temporarily. For the latter, restoration is possible. But for the former not, because they have chosen to reject holy sacrifice of the Son of God – and God has not forced them to accept it.

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