One of the most beloved and detailed parables which Jesus shared with us is that of the Prodigal Son. You can read the account here in Luke 15:11-32. I have many times heard this parable shared with people in the church as a means of encouragement when they suffer guilt over some failure. Praise to God that He does in fact forgive us when we sin as we know from 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1; and other places in scripture.
One of the errors we can make as believers is to hold to a passage of scripture that doesn’t truly speak to the situation we find ourselves in. I think for many people this is the case with the parable of the Prodigal Son. A person reads it and comes away with the notion that the parable speaks to a believer who goes off and lives sinfully and then is embraced when he decides to return. The conclusion is subtly understood as being that believers are secure (which they are) and so they can live in sin and decide latter to turn back and all is well because God will embrace them. But is that what this parable is saying? Read on and let’s see.
I want to propose that the parable is not spoken to show how God restores believers who fall away; it’s written to show how God embraces and rejoices over one sinner who comes to Him. Now how can I say that given that the text, which you may have just read, says that this man was a ‘son’? Let me answer that, as we always must, by looking at scripture to interpret scripture. We know believers in Jesus Christ are called sons and unbelievers are called sons of the devil so the question is in what way are they sons? It should be obvious that being sons of God is spiritual for believers, but there is a certain sense of sonship that applies to all men by way of the created order. We see this spoken of in Malachi 2:10; Romans 3:29 and 1 Timothy 4:10 and so we must conclude that it could be in this sense that he is represented as being a son–not representing a regenerated (born again) believer, but a sinner. Now look at v.32 of the text where it says: But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. He was dead, did you get that? No believer is ever spoken of as being dead in this sense, but all unbelievers are considered dead in trespasses and sins.