TABLE OF CONTENTS
- The Prodigal Son
- Parable of the Prodigal Son
- The Prodigal Son Meaning
- God The Father
- The Older Brother
- Parable of the Prodigal Son vs “Once Saved Always Saved”
The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son is a parable told by the Lord Jesus Christ and is one of His most famous ones. The Parable of the Prodigal Son has been echoed through Christian history by many men and preachers and appears in Luke 15:11-32 as the Lord Jesus Christ shares it with his disciples and others including the Pharisees.
Briefly, in the parable of the prodigal son, a father has two sons where the younger son asks for his inheritance. He goes to a distant land and wastes his whole fortune and becomes completely destitute. After he repents in his heart, he decides to return home knowing that he doesn’t deserve to be called a son anymore and with the intention of begging his father to only be made one of his servants.
The father unexpectedly and happily welcomes him back as he runs to him and embraces him as a son and celebrates his return. The other side of the parable is focused on the older son who is angry with his father and refuses to participate in the celebration because he thought the father was unfair. The father reminds the elder son that one day he will inherit all the father’s belongings and that it is right to celebrate because the younger brother was lost and is now found.
Parable of the Prodigal Son
In this article, I want to lay out the parable again with some personal comments. The objective of this post is to look at the parable with an open mind and see what we can understand from it through the eyes and ears of the Spirit. Then I want to look at it from a salvation perspective and specifically in a relative way to the doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved”.
Let’s look at this parable of the prodigal son in its context in chapter 15 of the gospel of Luke:
Luke 15:11-32 (KJV)
11 And he said, A certain man had two sons:
12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. (both sons were in the father’s house but the younger son wanted to leave. Notice the father did not prevent him from leaving)
13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. (the younger son after wasting his inheritance hits rock bottom in the far country. Apart from the father, nobody really cared for his state)
17 And when he came to himself (the younger son realizes the truth of his state and realizes that even as a servant he was at least fed by his father. This shows that even as a servant, the father would treat him better than being a “free” man in a far country), he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, (notice the repentant heart of the younger son)
19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. (notice also his humility)
20 And he arose, and came to his father (the younger decides to go back to his father. This is clear of true repentance because the son not only thought of going back, he did, he went back). But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. (before he even got there, the father already saw him and had compasion, this is suggestive that God will meet us as as we turn toward Him with a serious repentant heart even when we are far from being perfect)
21 And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. (repentance lived: sin is professed)
22 But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: (the father celebrates the younger son’s return)
24 For this my son was dead, and is alive AGAIN (I had to capitalize this, please remember this when we talk about the doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved” later); he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
25 Now his elder son was in the field (notice this implies the older son was working in the field): and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
28 And he was angry, and would not go in (Why was the older son angry? Why didn’t he want to go in?): therefore came his father out, and intreated him. (Notice the father still came out to implore him but he did not force him in)
29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. (Here is why he was angry? The older son thought the father was unfair. Why? because he had more right to the father’s inheritance and should earn the father’s favor because of his work and years of labor, because of his following of the father’s laws)
31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. (The father corrects the older son and tells him that all he has is already his)
32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. (It is right to celebrate because the younger son was dead and he is alive again)
The Prodigal Son Meaning
In this section, I just want to go over the parable of the prodigal son meaning. Of course, everything is the scriptures is a matter of translation and interpretation. However, the more we look into a passage without biases of learned doctrine, the more we can read the central intended message OUT of the passage instead of reading into it what we want it to say.
So what did the Lord Jesus mean by this parable of the prodigal son?
It is very important to see that this parable comes in the context of repentance at the beginning of chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. In fact, we only have to look at the verse right before the whole parable:
Luke 15:10 – Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
It is therefore clear that the parable of the prodigal son is speaking about repentance as Jesus introduces the whole parable with verse 10. Many Christians focus only on the father’s attitude in the parable and mention how merciful and loving He is. And that is COMPLETELY true! However, most Christians don’t see what the younger son did in order that the father welcomed him back. That is a part that is usually jumped over very quickly and ignored. The reality of the matter is that the younger son had a change of heart, he realized his condition apart from his father, he realized that no one cared for his state as much as his father did and finally he realized that even as a servant, he would be better treated than away from the father.
Verse Luke 15:17 says that the younger son “came to himself”, which in Jesus’ words, means he realized the truth, he realized that the father loved him and took care of him. He also realized his filthy state without the father’s care, he was begging for the husks of the swine. That is how much nobody cared for him. This should be a reminder to anyone who thinks they can have it their way in this life if they are not in our Father’s care. We need God’s care, we need to be part of His house, that is the only way we are properly fed.
Verses in Luke 15:18-19 show also the serious and internal change of heart, the repentance and humility in the heart of the younger son. He not only knew his state without the father, he wanted to go back to him and ask him if he can only come back as a servant. He knew he didn’t deserve to be his son anymore even though he was one.
Luke 15:20 then says that the younger son acted on his repentant heart. He did not merely repent in his heart and think about going back, “he arose and came to his father” the verse says. In verse Luke 15:21, the son then professes his sin and his undeserving unworthiness as a son. This is TRUE repentance, a repentance lived out.
My Christian brothers, do you see the depth of the prodigal son’s behavior? If you are backslidden, if you are a sinner you now know what to do now and the Father will accept you back.
This is what the prodigal son did:
- realize your filthy state apart from the Father and that apart from Him, nobody will ever really care for your soul;
- serious change of heart: humble yourself, repent and change your mind about living in sin;
- act on your repentant heart and live out your repentance: arise, go back to God, profess your sin and undeserving unworthiness
Make sure that whenever you do that, make sure my brother that if you truly believe in Jesus’ words, if you are serious about changing, the Father WILL accept you back, He WILL forgive you. This is a promise the Father makes in His mercy and grace. But are you truly serious? Are you willing to repent of your sin? Are you willing to go back to the Father and live in His house?
Notice also the contrast between the younger and the older son. The younger son realized he was unworthy and undeserving of being called a son and came back with a servant’s heart. The older son thought that because he was following the father’s laws and working, he was worthy, he had the right to the Father’s inheritance; he deserved it and earned it.
God The Father
Looking at the parable of the prodigal son from the Father’s perspective, we can also learn a lot about how God deals with us as His children and about His Characteristics.
He Respects the Free Will of the Children
This is one point Calvinists don’t like to dwell on because of one of the “TULIP” 5 points of Calvinism called “Irresistible grace”. The idea behind this point of Calvinism is that God’s grace is irresistible and therefore no one can resist the will of God when it comes to salvation. In other words, a person has been selected for salvation before they were born. This was done not because of anything that person might do in their lives, also there is nothing that person can do to prevent themselves from being saved because God’s grace will basically force them to be saved.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the father’s behavior contradicts this point of Calvinism very clearly. In Luke 15:12, the younger son asks for his part of the inheritance so that he could leave. The father does not resist him, the verse says that he willingly divides to him his living and he lets him go.
All through the parable, when the younger son was wasting his fortune in the foreign land, the father does not go fetch him back. He does not go take him and bring him back to his house by force. He lets him live according to his will. Even when the younger son was starving apart from the father, he did not go fetch him.
The same with the older son, when he was angry and didn’t want to go in the house (Luke 15:28), the father went out to see him and pleaded with him. The father did not force the older son, he was imploring him, yes, but he was not forcing him back to His house.
So you see my friend, if you are a Calvinist, this should tell you something, God does not deal with us as robots. If we turn away from Him, He will not force us to stay. Maybe He will plead with us through His Spirit, Maybe He will call us back to His house but He will never force us. Of course, if you don’t have ears to hear, you can always say “it is only a parable” or “you are reading too much into it”.
He Runs to His Son while he was a “Great Way Off”
If the father did not go fetch the younger son while he was starving in the foreign land, that does not mean the father did not care about him. AS SOON AS the son realizes his state and as soon as he arose and started his journey back home to the father, while he was yet a “great way off“, the father sees him, runs to him, has compassion on him and kisses him (Luke 15:20).
This tells us something about when the Father accepts us, it takes that change of heart, it takes that “starting to go back”, He will meet us before we even begin to walk back, He will help us get back and He will accept us as His children again and even celebrate.
He Restores him back as a Son and He Celebrates
When the younger son repents to his father and says that he is unworthy to be called a son, the father did not treat him as a servant. He welcomed him back and restored him as a son. He even celebrates and kills the fatted calf. This goes back to Luke 15:10 where Jesus says that there is joy in heaven with the presence of angels for a repentant sinner.
The Older Brother
There are many believers who have been walking with God and following Him righteously. While they are serious in their faithfulness and loyalty to Him, they have a problem with His judgment when it comes to the mercy He shows to others who didn’t labor as much. God tells us in His Word that because of this many of the first will be last and the last first. Jesus says that prostitutes and publicans will enter heaven before the Pharisees do.
The story of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son is a clear indication of this. The older son was following the father’s orders perfectly, he was working in the field and he respected all the father’s laws down to the letter but one thing lacked: humility.
Salvation by Works
The older son also thought he deserved and earned the father’s inheritance because of his work and labor in righteousness. That is the pride of saying: “I” did it. It is that “I” that spoils righteousness. It is a sin and it is called: self-righteousness.
In his following of the laws and his labor all these many years, the older son thought the father was unfair in killing the fatted calf for the younger son. Instead of being happy to find his brother back safe and sound, he was angry, that is because his heart was not in the right place. The father pleaded with him to understand that as a son he has right to everything the father has, he wanted him to understand that it is right to celebrate because his brother was dead and he is ALIVE AGAIN.
This is an indication that, as Christians who have been following the Lord Jesus, we should never get to a point where we think we are now good and perfect. We should never get to a point where we think we are now presentable to God and therefore we deserve and we have earned eternal life. Even after we are born again and saved, we will always be saved by the grace of God and by His grace alone. We will always be undeserving kids but He will pull us through, He will clean us up and He will help us walk in the works He prepared for us before the world began.
Repentance is not “Salvation by Works”
I have had some discussions with some Christians who proposed to me that living in repentance and preserving our faith is “works based salvation”. They say that to repent is optional, because if we have to repent and live in holiness to preserve our faith and be saved, that means we are “working” to keep our salvation. Even though that sounds rational and smart, in reality, it is unbiblical.
My friends, the parable of the prodigal son goes directly against this flawed thinking that is being taught everywhere. The younger son had to come back to himself, realize his state, repent in his heart, arise and come back to the father to profess his sin and unworthiness. This is not work based salvation, this is TRUE REPENTANCE, it took that for the father to run back to his son and embrace him back. The parable speaks of this as something that the younger son did before the Father accepted him back.
If the younger son repented and came back to the Father, does that mean that now he “earned” or that he “deserves” his salvation? NO ABSOLUTELY NOT. In fact, the son in his heart KNEW he was undeserving to be called a son. It does not mean that he earned his salvation because the Father still accepted him out of His grace not only because the son repented. However, it means also that the son still had to repent and go back to the father. That is not called “works” according to this parable.
Salvation by works is clarified in the older son. It implies those believers who think that by following laws or by being a “do gooder”, that now they DESERVE salvation. They think that by their works they can earn it. That is different from repentance.
Parable of the Prodigal Son vs “Once Saved Always Saved”
In this section, I want to look fast at the parable of the prodigal son from the perspective of the false doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved”.
I want to look again at the verses below:
Luke 15:24 – For this my son was dead, and is alive AGAIN
Luke 15:32 –It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive AGAIN;
My dear brothers who believe in “Once Saved Always Saved”, do you think it is a coincidence that the word “again” is in these verses of the same parable? We all know that if it says the brother was dead and now is alive “again”, that means he was alive before. This is very simple and straight-forward, wouldn’t you say?
This not only is perfectly clear by looking at these two verses but also from the whole context of the parable of the prodigal son. The younger son was IN HIS FATHER’S HOUSE, he took his inheritance, and he left. He was not a potential son living outside the house, he was a true son in the father’s house that had an inheritance. He was saved in other words.
It is clear also that when the younger son was away from the Father, if he hadn’t repented, he would have lost his salvation completely. How do we know this? look at the verses Luke 15:24 and Luke 15:32 again. He was “dead”. How can the younger stay dead and be saved? He had to repent and go back to the Father. The Father accepted him back and became alive again.
Some have suggested to me that it is only a parable, that I am reading too much into it. My dear friend, every word that Jesus says has depth and meaning, he said about the Old Testament scriptures, “one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). What makes us think that His own words are less because they are part of the parables? There is a reason they are in parables, it is so that those who don’t want to hear won’t hear as the prophet Isaiah predicted.
Some have told me this younger son was not truly saved just because he was in the house. Are you to tell me that if the younger son has stayed in the house of the father, he would not have been saved? It was because he left the father’s house that he lost his salvation and was on the way to destruction. If he had stayed he would have never lost his salvation. This clearly is shown in verse Luke 15:31 where the Father says to the older son “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine“. Since the older never left the father’s house, he was promised all the inheritance of the father, that means he was saved. That means also that if the younger son stayed, he still would have been saved.
Do you see how this contradicts the false doctrine of “Once Saved Always Saved”?
The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most beautiful and deep parables of our Lord Jesus Christ. I hope this article blessed you as you read it as much as it blessed me writing it. It is crazy, that even when I write, I still learn about the depth of the Lord’s words. Praise the Living God, Jesus Christ!
My brothers who are falling back in sin, please brothers go back to the Lord, repent of your sins, arise and start your journey back. Make sure God will meet you as soon as you start walking back. He will give you His Spirit to help you go back, He will fill you so that you stay in His house. He will embrace you with His holiness and He will celebrate your return. Don’t keep playing in the mud and don’t wait. Don’t risk dying without Jesus Christ!
My friends who are Calvinists or who believe in Once Saved Always Saved, I love you dear brothers. That is why I write this with the utmost care not to offend but I still have to say the truth. Dear friends, you are welcome to comment below if you don’t agree but please keep this in the scope of the parable and the article so that it can be constructive.
I pray to the Lord Jesus that He opens the hearts and minds of each person through this article. May God have compassion on us all!