The prodigal son was no longer a son. He had sold his birthright through living a rebellious life. He left his father’s house and was ‘dead’ to his father. In the scriptures it says he is no longer worthy to be called a son (vs 19), but in fact, what he recognised when he ‘came to himself’ was that he could no longer rely on his sonship to be welcomed back by the father. He, as a son, had died to the father, he no longer had any inheritance with Him, and could no longer claim to be of his father. This is a grave issue. When the son says in the parable, he is no longer worthy, he is not just being cute. He literally understands that he is no longer a son in his father’s house, he has died and if he goes back, all he can do is cast himself on the mercy of this man and hope that at the very least he can ask to be a servant in the house. The fact that he is welcomed back by the father is not testament so much to the father’s love, but is more of a testament to the fact that the son recognised what it meant to be a son in the house of his father, and also that he wanted to reconcile with his father in humility rather than in entitlement.
He is now able to be welcomed back, because he is now ready to be the true son he should have been before. Neither son was truly a son in the father’s house, neither son was making the most of their inheritance. Both were squandering it, one in rebellious self-directed living, and the other in self-righteous proud and miserly arrogance. Neither were able to make full use of their father’s riches in the proper way, which is to be in the father’s house and rejoice with the father in the things that the father rejoices over ie, the giving of life to the one who was dead, the giving of sonship to the one who was not even living as a servant.
The son recognised that he had chosen, instead of sonship, his own rebellious ways and to be taught and directed by the dictates of his own heart. Now he wanted his father to take him back, but recognised he had no longer any rights as a son in the house of his father, and he was truly only worthy of being a servant. Our sonship is dependant, not just on being in the father’s house but upon having a relationship with him where he is able to direct and guide us, and we as sons are able to obey and submit to his leading. The older son was not a son either. He had no relationship to his father despite the fact that he did everything he was told. There was obedience, but no relationship. In fact, the older son had more in common with the servants than with true sonship. He was out in the field when his brother returned, and yet sent one of the servants to enquire what all the noise was about. He was in effect identifying with the servants over and above his family. If he was a true son, he would have been with the father rejoicing with him that his brother who was once dead is now alive.
God has shown me this morning that when we become sons in the father’s house we forfeit the right to own our own lives. We can’t just up and leave and go to a far country and squander our birthright by making decisions for ourselves as to how we will ‘spend our inheritance’. The prodigal son squandered his sonship and his inheritance by doing whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to do it with whomever he wanted to do it. True sonship is waiting on the Father to do what He wants whenever He wants us to do it and with whom He wants us to do it. This is not some terrible burden or prison sentence, to never be able to do what you want for yourself again. In fact, it is only the rebellious soul which is unable to recognise the Father’s heart. The Father’s heart is to work all things together for good, His and ours because He is unable to cause suffering and harm to come to us, it is only our own wicked hearts which convince us that if we give our souls to God that we will somehow miss out.
We have to come to a revelation of what it means to rebel against God. We convince ourselves that we are looking after ourselves better than God could ever do because only we know what is best for us. Yet it is our flesh which convinces us of this and only because the flesh doesn’t want to submit to God because it is not of God and is at enmity with God. The flesh only has one fate and that is to die. It will die, either on the cross leading to life, or in the fires of Hell. This is just as Satan was. Initially he served God in heaven, then he became convinced that he was worthy of worship and wanted to be God, and because of his insanity he fell. We have romanticised this picture far too much. It was his utter depravity which caused him to fall, his complete ‘otherness’ to God which caused him to be put out of heaven. When we follow the dictates of our own hearts instead of God’s word, we are following Satan.
Unfortunately, many ‘older sons’ have gotten hold of the word of God and turned God into an ugly tyrant who just wants us to obey and submit to Him in order that He can control our lives and make us miserable. These Pharisees have taken the word of God and, like a dog in the manger, have not been able to derive life from it themselves and have also not wanted to see others enjoy their lives with God either. Therefore they spy out our liberty, as they did with Paul, and look to see where they can load us down with false guilt and shame because we are rejoicing with the Father in our sonship in simple faith and love. These Pharisees are like the older brother because they were not able to access the inheritance they had with the father.
‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends’ (Luke 15:29)
The older son complains because he blames his father for not giving him a party, when in fact, as the father points out, all that he had belonged to his son, it was just that the son never actually asked for it, or made use of it. In truth, the older son never had anything to make merry about in the first place. He was not able to rejoice in the will of his father, he simply did it because it was required of him, not because he loved his father, and rejoiced with the father over the things his father took joy in. There was literally no like-mindedness in these two. Neither son was able to understand the father and know his ways. Yet of the two, the younger son, who finally ‘came to himself’ was able to firstly recognise his own sin and secondly able to see who his father really was, a generous, caring and compassionate man who treated others with respect and love. The older son had not had this revelation and if he had, he would have been rejoicing in his sonship much sooner.
We need once again to come to an understanding of both the gravity and depth of the truth that we are not our own and have been bought with a price, and also to understand the profound life and joy which is ours in this very relationship. We are not bought with a price so that we can go off and live our lives in whatever way we see fit. We are sons in the house of the father so that we can relate to him and do his will.
The language of the New Testament, of the whole bible in fact, can be looked at in one of two ways. It is either harsh, domineering and controlling (looked at in the flesh) or it is a reflection of God’s character. He disciplines and chastens us as sons, but he also gives us everything that he has. He is completely open and free with his own possessions, we have open access to all areas, but we must choose to live with Him and in Him in order that we can access these riches. We must wait on Him, talk to Him, ask Him for what we need, and He, as a generous and loving Father will never withhold from us.
Jesus told the disciples that he would not leave them as orphans (John 14:18), and that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them when He ascended to His Father (John 16). In fact, the disciples lived in relationship with Jesus in the Father’s house on earth, being taught, directed, guided and coached in all aspects of their lives. Jesus was with them 24/7, giving them what they needed each day. What He was saying was, that this relationship would now be continued through the Holy Spirit, who would continue His work on earth not just by being with them bodily, but by being in them bodily so that they would never be without His guidance and fathering. Some human beings have assumed that their job was to disciple others and tell them what to do in every aspect of their lives, but this is a blasphemy to the Holy Spirit. No man is able to tell another what to do in this kind of minute detail or control another’s every movement. This is bondage. God has set us free from this kind of obedience to law. This is why the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so profoundly changes our lives. We are able to live freely in obedience to the word of God as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us, individually, at the pace God sets for us as individuals and in the way and order that He dictates, not that another man dictates, nor in the way our own hearts dictate. This is true sonship. An individual, loving and very personal relationship with our heavenly Father through the salvation and freedom of Christ and in the Holy Spirit. A true union in the family of God.