Is it possible to be prodigal from God within the church body?
I had the opportunity to hear a wonderful sermon on the prodigal son recently and it really struck me how he was eventually left empty, alone and penniless. This is where the thoughts for this blog post came from.
There are different branches of Christianity that are for the most part quite orthodox. This means they all hold to the basics of the faith and that’s good. Where we eventually veer off is when we take those basics, lay them aside and say, “now what?” Sometimes, those “now what’s” are what draw people to the Christian faith initially. It was no accident that I said the “Christian faith” and NOT Christ. People are promised God’s best for their lives like physical healing, restoration of marriages and that sort of thing IF they placed their faith in Christ. There’s even an unofficial doctrine of TOTAL PROSPERITY in which people believe God has promised completeness in every area of your life IN THIS WORLD, whether physical, relational or emotional. These kinds of things are promised as an “also” on top of salvation. But, when life is getting you down, who doesn’t want these things. They want the “good life.” Because of that, some people become Christians in the same way the prodigal son initially comes to his father, wanting all the blessings to enjoy and relish in.
Of course, some might have truly come because of Christ’s love poured out at the cross and do follow him as Savior. Unfortunately, because of the church’s focus, the gospel gets put aside and they are given to do lists to follow and receiving God’s blessings is tacked on to those lists. It’s affirming the idea that if you really want the floodgates of Heaven to open and pour out a blessing on you, then get busy loving God and others. This is again giving people something to strive for, something to believe in for their happiness. “If I can just serve God with all that I am and preach the Gospel with all my life, man, he is going to bless me!”
In many ways some of these people will eventually become the second son, the one that remained. They become the ones that are ever faithful and diligent, which is not a bad thing by the way. But when those things that were promised don’t come to fruition, or they see others getting “blessed” they become bitter and wonder where their “party” is. It’s funny that the father of the son never says, “well, do you have unrepentant sins? Have you really submitted to me in all things?” No, he simply states the obvious and most important thing, “You are here, you never left. All I have is already yours. The greatest blessing has been given.” Unfortunately, it appeared to fall on deaf ears.
But how true is it that we have been given the greatest of all blessings, Christ himself? Despite that, we tell people there’s even more or better! My heart even hurts just to say it, but it’s true! We move from what Christ has done, to what can Christ do for you now as if anything else could ever match or exceed what he’s done on the cross. Thankfully God has a way of calling us out of that by wrecking our current understanding to something truly deeper, which oddly enough means a return to the gospel, a return to, “it is finished!”
For many in the Christian faith, we have become shipwrecked by this focus on prosperity or validation by works. Our lives haven’t changed or necessarily gotten any better no matter the level of faith we think we are displaying. In light of this struggle, the only answer we get from some churches are to evaluate your life and find out what you’re doing wrong. It’s hard for some to fathom that God may leave you in your difficulties and struggles, in harm’s way even. People will be told, “If those things are occurring, something must be wrong with you or you’re just not doing enough to get God’s attention.” When the focus is God’s blessing or life enhancement in relation to you’re admittance of sin or doing good work, it seems that it’s really all you can ask of your congregation.
Like the prodigal son’s money, eventually people run out of the kind of faith certain churches require or encourage you to have to see God “move” in your life and when that happens whether intently or not, you often find yourself alone, desolate, hungry. The friends you thought you had aren’t the friends you thought you had, because you’re not on the same page anymore. With nowhere else to turn, many walk away unfulfilled because God didn’t do the things for them the way they were told God would do it. If you know people like this, don’t give up on them. They are not walking away from the true Gospel, but a perversion that promised things that the Gospel doesn’t promise. Pray for them, love them, spend time with them and if they’ll let you, serve them and share the TRUE TRUTH OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. That Christ and him crucified is the finished work that they may rest in.
For others called by Christ and knowing the truth of the Gospel, their eyes begin to open. They had turned away and become distracted by the preaching and allure of the “now what?” But now broken and wrecked by these false promises, they see the truth for what it is, for what it has always been. It’s not doing or getting more, but resting in the one who’s done it all. Humbled and broken like the son who is returning to his father with new eyes, we turn our attention to Christ, maybe for the first time and maybe for the first time in a long while. When we do, we see the Father now, so much clearer, running towards us.
There is one important difference in this analogy. Where the father ran to the son, hugged him, clothed him, put his ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, our Father in Heaven doesn’t need to do that. He doesn’t because no matter our struggles and sins, as His children we are always clothed in His righteousness, we always wear the sandals He gives us and we already wear the ring of authority on our finger. Even more than that, though we have strayed from our first love, choosing instead to roll around in the muck and mud of the,”now what?”, we return to God, just as pristine as when we first came, because what we wear are Christ’s robe and authority, the one he gave us through faith. We struggle in this life, we sin, but if we are His, we are always clean. The laundry is always done.
I DO think it’s possible to be a Christian AND a prodigal, not lost, but misdirected by so many things that don’t matter and so many things that take our focus off of Christ. I believe that was me for a time and even now I still let myself get drawn down the rabbit holes of life, but when I crawl back out, in repentance, in faith, God is there, welcoming me as clean, as whole, as righteous, as a saint because of Christ and all he has done.
Christian, in you’re deepest sin and struggles, your clothes are already white and there is a ring already placed on your finger by Christ.
Please remember that.