From the first pages of Scripture to this very moment, Christians have struggled to remain faithful to God and turn away from enticing sin. It’s just a sobering fact of living in a fallen world: the temptation to sin is ever-present.
The parable of the prodigal son tells the story of a young man who leaves his home, squanders his inheritance, lives a life of debauchery, and eventually must resort to living among swine.
And then he travels home.
No doubt the prodigal son was weary from carrying the burden of his sin, damaged from living recklessly and frivolously, and broken from strained relationships.
Yet, he felt the pull of home and the tug of the father’s love.
Can you relate to the prodigal son?
The parable shows us the picture of how our Father loves all of His prodigals (that’s you and me!), even if our checkered pasts paint ugly pictures of lives lived apart from God.
God brings home His wayward sons and daughters. Here are five ways that God loves a prodigal:
1. You Notice Consequences of Your Bad Decisions
Are you wandering in the faraway land, beginning to feel the sickening sting of your decisions? I know the questions you are asking yourself, “How did I get here? Can I ever go home? Will my heavenly Father receive me back knowing all that I have done?” I know those questions because I’ve been where you are, and I’ve asked them myself.
These very questions—the nudges, doubts, and twinges of guilt—are gifts from God. The Holy Spirit who lives in you won’t leave you alone until you repent of that sin. The result? If you’re a Christian, you no longer have the ability to enjoy sin. You might for a minute, but that grieving of the Holy Spirit won’t let you enjoy it for long.
2. You Long for Something not Available Now in This World
A Christian who is walking in unrepentant sin is the most miserable person in the world.
Because nothing that he or she chases after can meet and satisfy the deepest longings of their soul.
This is the whole point of the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon (the book’s writer) tells in Ecclesiastes 3:11 why the very best the world has to offer—wealth, status, relationships, celebrity, you name it—will never produce in us the happiness that every heart deeply longs for:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (ESV, emphasis added)
What the Bible just said is that God put eternity in your heart. What does that mean? It means that God has placed a longing inside of every one of us for the eternal.
Why did He place that eternal longing in you? So that you might turn to Him, the eternal God of the universe, and be satisfied.
That’s true of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, and it’s true of us as well. He says:
Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. (Luke 15:14)
When Jesus tells us the prodigal was impoverished, He wasn’t just talking about physical poverty but spiritual poverty as well. When the son turned his back on his father and took a trip to the faraway land of sin, he didn’t just wreck his life; he wrecked his soul.
He discovered firsthand the harsh reality that everything he thought would bring him joy actually brought him pain, misery, and guilt. But there’s a silver lining in all this young man’s suffering. His pain will be the catalyst he needed to wake him up and make him start his journey home.
3. God Will Complete the Work He Began in You
Are you stuck in a pattern of sin?
If so, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.
The good news is that God will never leave you or forsake you. You might think He has, but I promise you He hasn’t. That distance you feel from God is not evidence of His absence; it’s actually evidence of His patience—and ultimately, His love for you.
If there is sin in your life, God has not left you. He is waiting for you to come home. The promises of God are crystal clear; your sin is not more powerful than the love He has for you as His child. He’ll never give up on you. No matter what.
So the good news is that God will never leave you or forsake you, but here’s the bad news: He will never leave you, and He will never forsake you, and that ought to produce in you a healthy amount of fear and trembling.
Because if you are in a pattern of unrepentant sin, here’s His promise to you: He will move heaven and earth to make sure He completes the work He began in you until the day of Christ Jesus.
As you turn your heart back to Him, never forget that He’s waiting there for you. His eyes have never left you.
Neither has His love.
4. God Will Never Give Up on You
In the parable of the prodigal son, the father in the story represents God. And the prodigal son represents us, His sons and daughters, who have bought the lie that there is a better life for us outside of His love.
And this simple phrase, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion,” teaches us something invaluable about how God deals with us in the midst of our rebellion.
Those words teach us that this father had been betrayed in a way that is beyond comprehension. Yet, despite all the ways that his son had wounded him, he never stopped looking. He never stopped straining His eyes toward the distance, hoping against hope that one day he would look up and see his son walking over the horizon.
This one phrase shows us that the father spent his days and nights going about his everyday routine but all the while pausing, stopping, and looking down the road with the hope that his son would one day come home.
Unlike too many people in our lives, our God never reaches a point where He gives up and stops hoping, looking, and waiting for our return.
5. God Runs to You and Celebrates When You Come Home
When the prodigal son’s father sees his son finally returning, his first response was not to think to himself, Well, there he is. The loser has finally come to his senses.
No. That’s how sinful people respond to sinful people.
Jesus tells us that when the father finally saw the son, he hiked up his robes around his waist and took off on a dead sprint toward his son. Can you stop and imagine that for a second? The dad was probably pretty old at that point. It was an uncontrollable response. He threw age, dignity, and caution to the wind and took off toward his son.
This story teaches us something profound about how God thinks about us. Our separation from Him hurts Him more than our sin.
Does our sin hurt the heart of God? Yes. Of course it does. But what Jesus is trying to teach us through this picture of a running God is that there is something He longs for more than anything else. He wants you near to Him. He wants you home where you belong. And when you finally return, joy fills His heart that overwhelms anything you might have done in your past.
Next, the father turned around and shouted to his servants,“Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate” (Luke 15:22-23 ESV).
The father completely ignores the son’s request to make him a hired hand and instead instantly lavishes the son with gifts of a robe, a ring, new shoes, and a party.
This moment in this story gives us one of the most beautiful descriptions of the grace of God in all the Bible. Why? Because who gives hugs and robes and rings to rebellious sons and daughters returning from a long trip of outright rebellion?
Our God does, out of His abundant love.
The good news of the parable of the prodigal son overwhelms us with the truth that, more than anything—including His hatred of our sin—our God loves us unconditionally.
If you’re a wandering prodigal child, come home to the Father who is ready to run to you and rejoice at your return.
Matt Carter serves as the Pastor of Preaching and Vision at the Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, which has grown from a core team of 15 to over 8,000 attending each Sunday since he planted it in 2002. Matt has co-authored multiple books including a commentary on the Gospel of John in The Christ Centered Exposition Commentary series. Matt also co-authored a novel of historical fiction, Steal Away Home which tells the real life story of famed pastor Charles Spurgeon’s unlikely friendship with former slave-turned-missionary, Thomas Johnson. Matt holds an M.Div. from Southwestern Seminary and a Doctorate in Expositional Preaching from Southeastern Seminary. He and his wife Jennifer have been married for over 20 years, and they have three children, John Daniel, Annie, and Samuel.
Check out Matt’s latest book, The Long Walk Home: Discovering the Fullness of Life in the Love of the Father, available on Amazon, LifeWay.com or anywhere books are sold.
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