But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’”And he arose and came to his father.
“I was raised in a good, Christian Home.”
How many testimonies have you heard that started with these words? It’s the weird, level ground that so many Christian stories seem to have in common. Testimonies that start this way interest me because it usually means somewhere along the way, the person speaking left that good, Christian home and charted a course for themselves that was anything but. These words almost always precede an “and then” around the corner that makes everything about this Stepford testimony somehow different.
I don’t usually ask questions about why they left—after all, I know why us prodigals leave home. Instead, I ask them questions about why they came back, because this always puzzles me.
For starters, I’m confused by it. For someone to walk away from Christianity and pursue whatever brand of outright rebellion they want to would usually make me think that they weren’t really a Christian to begin with. This is what perplexes me about my own story. Was I saved at 8 years old when I thought I was? Or did I meet Jesus for the first time in college? If I was a Christian the whole time, then why the rebellion? Rebellion that eventually just gets tired and settles down doesn’t make much sense to me. So, which is it? I’m not sure I have an answer.
What I do know is why I went back. When I rebelled, I was focused on what I was missing out on. I had a nagging suspicion that God was holding out on me. Providential circumstances in my life led me to a point of renewed repentance. I started to find a depth and legitimacy to my faith that was before only inches deep. I honestly think I was a Christian because of all of the moments in my life of authentic conviction and Spirit-led choices. And in the moment when my life started to spiral out of control, I came to the realization that this was not what I wanted.
I think a lot more people arrive at that destination than are willing to admit. Some stay there, or worse, go even further, but I earnestly believe that many Christians who have wandered away want to return home but don’t. The difference in their story and the story of the Prodigal son is (possibly) that they don’t feel like they have a home to return to.
One of the best ways that Christians can show love to fellow believers who are living in rebellion is to love them in their mess. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t speak strong truth to them in love, calling them on their sin. I’m saying that they should make it known that there’s always the opportunity to return. This side of heaven, repentance is always an option. The prodigal son had outrightly rejected his father in the most shameful of ways, but his story doesn’t end there because he knew he could go home.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.