Prodigals III: Making a Prodigal 2

Jesus says that people who give religious guidance to others can end up keeping them from entering the kingdom of heaven and make them into a child of hell. This means that not only must we look for prodigal-makers in the world or the church at large, but we also need to look for them in the mirror. How do parents make prodigals? How do spouses make prodigals? How do friends make prodigals?

Of these three categories, the greatest weight rests on parents. The entire framework of a child’s world comes from their parents. It’s not surprising that God exhorts parents to use that shaping influence to train up their children in the ways of God, and it’s also not surprising that God warns parents not to provoke their children to anger or discouragement.

Christian parents run the risk of loving principles and processes more than people. So-called Christian homes and Christian education can actually be hellish when well-intended convictions ride roughshod over character. You think that you are doing God and your child a favor, when you are actually provoking them. You don’t call it anger, you call it discipline. You aren’t being harsh; you’re being rigorous. You don’t call it fault-finding, you call it constructive criticism. In reality, you’re checking boxes and covering bases, not loving your children.

The real test is the fruit that your children bear. Are they joyful, or are they sullen? Do they want to be like you, or get as far away from you as they can? Do they love Jesus, or do they walk away from Him? Because of the powerful influence you have, you have a corresponding amount of responsibility for who your children become. This should drive you to your knees in holy fear, in gratitude for grace, and in regular repentance.

So how do spouses make prodigals of each other? The mystery of marriage is picture of the mystery of Christ and His Church, which means that the way you treat your spouse is the way they see Christ and His Church. When this picture is distorted or smashed, the reality is obscured. Women flee from a harsh husband. Men hide from nagging wives. And if that’s how they see Jesus and the Church, then they’ll leave them, too. When we corrupt God’s picture of the gospel in marriage, we risk making prodigals out of those we are called to love.

Friendships are powerful, which means that friends can lead each other astray. Many people are led into foolish practices or habits or beliefs not by themselves, but because they went along with a friend. Every sin that you commit with or in front of or against your friend pushes them further away from Christ. Don’t force them to choose between following Jesus and being your friend!

It is incredibly painful to consider that you may have made your son or daughter or wife or husband or friend a prodigal through your sin. It’s painful, so there will be a strong temptation to deny it or explain it away. But denying it doesn’t cleanse you, and it doesn’t help them.

So here’s what you need to do instead: you need to prepare your heart for the possibility that you have sinned against your prodigal. You need to listen to your prodigal. If they are willing to talk to you, ask them humbly to tell you how you have sinned against them. You need to examine yourself, too: your words, your actions, and the thoughts and intentions of your heart need to be tested according to the Word of God. In addition, get counsel by asking a trusted friend to help you see things clearly. Through it all, seek the Spirit by asking Him to convict you of your sin, and to cleanse you from secret faults.

Doing this will give you a clear-eyed sense of your role in the prodigal’s departure, which is what you need to repent effectively, rather than just feel bad. This is what repentance for prodigal makers involves: first, acknowledge the role that your sin played. Don’t sugar-coat it or exaggerate it, but own it for what it is. Second, repent of it. Confess your sins to God, put off sinful practices and attitudes, and put on Christ instead. Third, as a forgiven sinner, confess your sin to the prodigal that you’ve sinned against. Acknowledge the reality and gravity of your sin and the damage that it has done, and don’t pretend that you can fix it. Humbly ask for forgiveness, with no demand that they repent back to you in return.

Such repentance is obedience to God, but it is also evangelism. What you want more than anything else for the prodigal in your life is that they repent of their sins and return to Jesus. Since you’ve already shown them sin, now the most powerful thing you can do is show them exactly what it looks like to take full responsibility for your sin, and to trust yourself to the mercy of God in Christ, where forgiveness and freedom are found.

Posted on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 by CJ Bowen