I love the story of the prodigal son recorded in Luke 15:11-32. I can relate to the prodigal, having left my heavenly Father behind for so many years of my life. I am thankful that, like the prodigal, I came to my senses and returned to God, seeking the grace of my Savior. I know that my sins are forgiven; I know that “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalms 103:12.
The apostle Paul wrote: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23. Because of Christ, we do not have to suffer the ultimate spiritual consequences of our sin.
So then, should one just go ahead and sin in their youth, knowing that they can later repent and be spared spiritual death and an eternity separated from God? Should one sow their wild oats and then on their deathbed say they believe in Jesus and choose to trust in His saving grace? I suppose one could, and if they were sincere in their trust God would be faithful to save them.
Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about one who believes but builds nothing of value on the foundation of Christ. What is built on that foundation will be tested by God on the judgment day. “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:15. The one who repents on his deathbed will be saved, “but only as one escaping through the flames.” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the best way to go to me.
There is another problem with being like the prodigal son, with being one who leaves God behind and lives a sinful life apart from God for a time. Even if we are saved from the spiritual consequences of our sin, we still suffer the natural consequences of that sin throughout our lives. Sin has a way of changing us, of forever coloring the way we look at ourselves and others. It provides a little crack in our armor where Satan, being fully aware of how we have sinned, can get a little toehold if we are not careful. And a toehold can turn into a stronghold in our thoughts, and even our actions, if we let our guard down for even a moment. Those wild oats we might sow when we are young can sprout years later, even after we have returned to our Lord, and when sprouted without notice they can grow.
In the story of the prodigal son, the “good son” is angry because of how much love is lavished on his wayward little brother. I can sort of understand how he feels, but not really. If you are a prodigal, you must always keep your guard up, always, every minute of every day. If you are the good son who grew up in God’s grace and never really left it, you don’t have to deal with the natural consequences of a sinful life. For that, all you good sons ought to be thankful. Take it from a prodigal — if our heavenly Father didn’t make such a big deal about our return we would remain lost in the consequences of our own sin. It is only because He is so adamant about how happy He is that we have returned that we can believe it to be true. If you know a prodigal son (or daughter), take a moment to encourage him or her today. They need the strength to stay that you had all along.
If you want to know how the prodigal feels, watch this video of the East to West by Casting Crowns: