Prodigals II: Making a Prodigal 1

Where do prodigals come from? Some people are quick to say “It’s all my fault!”, while others say, “There’s nothing I could have done!” Prodigals are seen as the automatic product of sinful influences outside of them, or as the mysterious losers of the bad heart lottery. But you can’t turn someone into a prodigal automatically, and they don’t just happen for no reason. Prodigals are sinners surrounded by sinners, and so going prodigal is what happens when sinful influences operate on a sinful heart. Sin from the outside combines with sin on the inside to produce a prodigal, unless and until that sin is overcome by the grace of God.

Because prodigals are sinners surrounded by sinners, God addresses the sins of those who make prodigals as well as the sins of those who become prodigals. Recognizing the fact that the sins of others make a prodigal does not excuse the prodigal’s own sin, but the point is that sins committed against a prodigal need to be repented of just as much as sins committed by a prodigal.

As Mark 9:42 teaches, you can sin in such a way as to cause others to sin. You are not at fault for their sins, because you didn’t commit them, but you are responsible, because to some extent you caused them. Jesus says that the weight of that responsibility is such that you would be better off being drowned in concrete boots than facing the judgment of God for having led another Christian into sin. To the extent that your sin against someone leads them to sin, you need to repent just as much as they do.

Prodigals are made by the world, by the church, and by the home. This is a painful reality to face up to, but some of you need to realize that you have made a prodigal by sinning against them, sometimes corporately through your participation in the ways of the world or by going along with the folly of an unfaithful church, and other times personally by your own sinful actions as a spouse, a parent, or a friend.

The world makes prodigals through temptation, inviting them to fulfill their desires regardless of what God has said. On the flip side, the world uses persecution, threats of violence or harm against those who follow God. And though it’s less obviously persecution, the world loves to use shame and scorn to manipulate people into becoming so embarrassed about Jesus, the Bible, or the Church that they leave the faith.

The Church is meant to strengthen her little ones against the assaults of the world, but when she sins, she joins forces with the world. The Church makes prodigals by replacing God’s authority and commandments with her own, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. She is also prone to make the opposite error, ignoring God and His Word and tolerating sin, which ends up erasing the line between Church and world, turning us all into prodigals. But the most pernicious way the Church makes prodigals is by redefining God, so that many people don’t even know that they’re actually following an idol. The chief way this is happening today is when Christianity is seen as a program of living better in order to feel better, rather than a call to bow the knee to Christ the Lord and receive His forgiveness through the cross.

When this happens, people leave to become prodigals when following Jesus doesn’t make them feel better. This reveals that feelings were their true lord, and Jesus was the servant of their feelings. The sad thing is that these prodigals are actually walking away from a false gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ is not that you’ll be happier if you live a good, hardworking, moral life. The good news is that Jesus defeated sin and death, and if you bow to Him as Lord, you can share in His victory forever.

The Church makes prodigals by not being clear about the gospel, so in order not to lead little ones astray, let’s make one thing clear to everyone: Jesus is Lord of all. No temptation can change that fact. No persecution can make it untrue. No amount of mockery and shame can put Him back in the tomb. Does the Church sometimes clutter the faith with man-made laws? Yes. But Jesus is still Lord. Does the Church sometimes ignore or tolerate sin? Yes. But Jesus is still Lord. Does the Church sometimes act as if feelings were Lord instead of Jesus? Yes. But none of that changes the truth of the gospel: Jesus is Lord, and He offers forgiveness to prodigals and to prodigal-makers, to everyone who believes in Him and confesses that He is Lord.

Posted on Thursday, September 21, 2017 by CJ Bowen