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Prodigals IV: Becoming a Prodigal

For all the efforts of the world, the flesh, and the devil, it’s only when you respond to sin sinfully that you become a prodigal. People and temptations and circumstances around you cannot make you a prodigal without your help! You do not sin just because you’re given the option, or even because you don’t think you have any other options. You sin because you want to sin, because you are a sinner down to your core. A prodigal becomes a prodigal by choosing to sin.

Sin outside you is not enough to make you a prodigal. Our Lord Jesus was surrounded by sin and temptation, yet He never sinned. He always chose to obey His Father, even when it cost Him His life. For Jesus, dying is better than sinning. You become a prodigal when you stop believing that.

Because prodigals become prodigals by choosing in their hearts to sin, God gives our hearts a stern warning in Hebrews 3:12: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” Prodigals fall away from God through evil, unbelieving hearts, and so in v.13, God graciously gives a preventative remedy – “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” If someone is not being softened every day by hearing gospel truth, they are being hardened every day by listening to sin’s lies. And so if you see your brother hardening, you know what to do: exhort them every day to hold fast in faith to the living God!

But what does this hardening look like? In his book Apostasy from the Gospel, the Puritan writer John Owen teaches us to look at the categories of doctrine, lifestyle, and worship, which correspond to the head, hand, and heart prodigals from several weeks ago. Does the person in question embrace Christian truth, or do they find it boring? Do they chafe under the restrictions of the Christian life, or do they love God’s law? Do they delight in Christian worship, both on Sunday and in their own homes? These are external indicators that reveal an evil, unbelieving heart full of pride, sloth, and worldliness.

And because prodigals become prodigals by means of an evil, unbelieving heart, they are not primarily victims, they are sinners. The painful consequences of the sins they choose to engage in may have several causes, some internal, some external, but because you cannot become a prodigal without a prodigal heart, prodigals are not innocent victims. They are sinners, and the sin of prodigals frequently shows itself in common ways. Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert highlight four of them: personal irresponsibility, victim-centeredness, a declaration of independence, and the threat of flight. 1 In other words, folly, selfishness, pride, and isolation. The way you become a prodigal is by watering these weeds when they are small, instead of pulling them up. You forge an evil, unbelieving heart through little daily decisions that reinforce folly, selfishness, pride, and isolation.

So listen again to God’s counterattack, and hear how it addresses these sins: “Take care, brothers” – taking care is the opposite of folly. Folly doesn’t seek out God’s word as a guide, or seek counsel from other Christians, but taking care does. “Lest there be in any one of you” and “Exhort one another” – to obey these instructions, you need to think of others, and concern for others is the opposite of selfishness. Pride is undermined by implication – being on the giving end of an exhortation addresses selfishness; being on the receiving end addresses pride. When we all exhort one another, we all end up being exhorted, which humbles us. Isolation happens when sin deceives you into thinking that no one understands you, and so you stop listening to anyone but yourself. Your enemy knows that if God’s people have a chance to exhort you with God’s Word, then his deceptions will be exposed, and so he isolates you. But God exhorts you to encourage one another to hold fast to Jesus every day!

So take care to practice these things! Exhort one another daily, and work together to fight the deceitfulness of sin. And when someone exhorts you, receive it gladly. Don’t get defensive and act like you don’t have a problem with sin. Becoming a prodigal happens when you stop listening to God and godly exhortation and start listening to the deceitful lies that rise up from within your own heart. So as you hear God speak today, do not harden your hearts, but receive His Word with a true and living faith.

1 Letting Go, Dave Harvey and Paul Gilbert, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 37-39.

Posted on Thursday, October 05, 2017 by CJ Bowen