Luke 15 is the great repentance chapter. It has three parables related to repentance: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.
I regularly speak on the parable of the prodigal son. I suggest that he represents a believer who strays away from God and then comes to his senses and returns to fellowship with the Father.
The lesson, I suggest, is that fellowship with the Father is better than anything this world has to offer. The world provides famine, want, and nobody giving you anything. This is what the prodigal son experienced. The Father provides a feast, plenty, and no want.
Recently I received a manuscript of a sermon on the prodigal son. The speaker, who is not identified in the manuscript, says that the lost son was an unbeliever. He had not yet been regenerated.
I was fascinated to see how he explained Jesus calling him a son when he was in fact not yet a son. “The fact that the lost son is called a “son” applies to his position as a future heir of the Kingdom. This shows the sovereignty of God and His purposes in that though the elect have not yet received salvation they are still called “sons,” even though they are not as yet heirs of the Kingdom. They are guarded and protected even before they have believed.”
Here are a few flaws in this view. First, to call an unbeliever a son of God is a lie. This would be akin to calling someone who has not yet believed in Jesus a believer.
Second, if these parables are about regeneration, why is it that Jesus never mentions faith in the entire chapter? Elsewhere He taught clearly the condition of regeneration is faith in Him (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27).
Third, when the son returns to the Father, why is it that the Father says, “This your brother was dead and is alive again.” Note the word again. That certainly doesn’t support the Reformed explanation given by this pastor. Either it teaches the loss and then regaining of eternal life, which is impossible (John 6:35; 11:26), or it teaches the loss and restoration of fellowship with the Father, where death and life here are used figuratively and refer to lack of or to fellowship with God.
Finally, the natural reading of verse 7 is that sheep which were in the fold were regenerate, were in fellowship with God, did not need to repent, and were indeed righteous in their experience. The same would be true, of course, of the other two parables as well. Before the one coin is lost, all ten coins represent believers in fellowship with God. Before the younger son goes off to the spiritual far country, both sons represent believers in fellowship with God.
Fellowship with God is better than anything this world has to offer. If we remember that, we are not likely to stray. In a sense we have to spiritually be out of our minds to stray from fellowship with God. Only a fool prefers the famine the world offers to the feast God provides to His children who love Him.
For more information about the three parables in Luke 15, see disc 5 of the Tough Texts series, available from our bookstore.