The Prodigal Son

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15) is often used by preachers to proclaim the Gospel. Doubtless, the salvation message is there—as we see the Father and the angels rejoicing over the lost who are found.  But is that its main purpose?

The answer is NO!  Let’s look at its context.

In v. 1 we see the religious leaders complaining about Christ having to do with sinners. Then in verse two, we read

So, He told them this parable . . .

The parable was given not primarily for evangelistic purposes, but to show that Heaven rejoiced over Christ bringing the lost to Himself—in contrast to the self-righteous attitudes of those leaders toward such people.

Moreover, note that there is only one parable—not three: “this parable.”

It has three parts.

The shepherd lost a sheep, and when he finds it, he gathers other shepherds and they all REJOICE that it has been found.  Same with the woman finding her lost coin—she gathers her female friends (the original makes clear) and they have a hen party! They too rejoice.  So, too, it is with the father—he rejoices.  But the elder brother (who represents the Pharisees) grouses instead.  He is out of sync with the others (and even with the angels!).

Thus, the parable should be used to show how God and all heaven is pleased with that evangelism among unlovely persons which redeems them—instead of how it is so often used.

When in Rome

When St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, asked Ambrose, “At Rome they fast on Saturday, but not at Milan; which practice ought to be observed?” Ambrose replied, “When in Milan, I do as they do at Milan; but when I go to Rome, I do as Rome does” (Epistle 36). It’s all too easy to follow Ambrose’s advice, isn’t it?

“But Paul did that, didn’t he? He said he’d become ‘all things to all people, that he might win some.’”

Ah! You know about his words in 1 Corinthians 9:19! But they are often misunderstood, and therefore, misapplied.

“How so? They seem plain enough.”

Yes, at first sight you might conclude so. But he also said some other things . . .”

“Like what?”

Like “Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord, and don’t touch the unclean thing.” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

“Oh! I guess he did say that too. Did he contradict himself?”

Certainly not.

“Then, how do you explain the relationship of the two verses to one another?”

The difference is this—

When Paul said he would adapt to Jews or Gentiles, he was saying he was willing to adapt—regardless of what inconveniences it might mean to him, to personally. He would even become a “slave” to them to do so! But he would not adapt his message, or any of his personal practices, in a way that would contradict what he was preaching. He would endure any disadvantages that proper adaptation would mean to him, but he would engage in nothing that could alter the message. He could take it on the chin, but the message must never do so! In 2 Corinthians 6 he is urging Christians to completely abandon heathen temple worship, and such partnership with unbelievers that would involve him in paganism of any sort.

“So, I can adapt to all kinds of disadvantages personally to witness to unbelievers, so long as that doesn’t mean participating in things that are abhorrent to God?”

“You’ve got it! For instance, you may want to win a Roman Catholic to Christ, and you may have to spend time and money in doing so, but you can’t participate in a mass with him, because Jesus was sacrificed once-for-all on the cross, and doesn’t need to be sacrificed (in what Romanists call an “unbloody sacrifice”) again in the mass. It is a travesty to have anything to do with it. Christ’s work on the cross was all-sufficient!

“So, I can take time out of a busy schedule, travel at my own expense, do whatever might inconvenience me, to win my Roman Catholic relative to Christ, but I can’t participate with him in anything that would contradict the Scripture’s teaching about the Gospel.”

Good! I couldn’t have said it any better myself!

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Believing By Searching

Luke makes it clear that the reason why more Jews in Berea believed than those in Thessalonica is because, being noble in their attitudes, instead of arguing, they searched the Scriptures daily to see whether the things that Paul said were true (Acts 17:11-12).

This is an important fact that every Christian should remember—whenever you can get people to earnestly search the Scriptures as the Bereans did to see if the message you present is true, you will probably begin to see converts .

Don’t settle for telling people about your experience; get them checking up on what you say in their Bibles. It is the through the hearing of the Word that people are saved.

Notice, they didn’t search to see where Paul was wrong, but for where he was right. That was why they were called “noble.”

My suggestion is to get them reading the Gospel of John.

“Why John?”

Because the purpose for which it was written was to bring people to faith in Christ (See John 20:30-31). God uses what He has caused to be written for the purposes He had in mind when doing so. Probably more people have been saved by understanding and believing the teachings of this simple, but profound, Gospel than from any other portion of Scripture.

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Will Anything Stop Him?

I have great respect for John the Baptist (who really was a Presbyterian, you know). But, anyway, John strikes me as a valiant fellow. No, I’m not talking about the preaching that led to his head being cut off. That, of course, has to have top priority in spinal preaching.

No, what I’m interested in is the fact that in spite of the prediction of Malachi that the “great and awesome day of the Lord” would come, and his sure knowledge that the woodsman would use his axe, and the farmer would toss his grain in the air and burn the chaff, he went on preaching to win as many as possible before it all went up in flames.

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Is It True?

They asked, “Is the message true?”

That, of course, is why the Bereans concluded that it was.

“What do you mean by that?”

I mean they really wanted to know.  They didn’t just consider the matter of cursory concern.

“How do you know that?”

The searched the scriptures daily to see whether what Paul and Barnabas said was true (Acts 17:11).

“Oh! And that made the difference?”

Certainly. No one becomes that intense in his study of the Bible who doesn’t. The Bible has a way of authenticating itself when it is studied regularly with the right intent.

“Do you think that many fail to believe because they simply don’t do so?”

Exactly. The next verse said, “As a result many believed.”

“Then, if I am interested in winning people to Christ, I should encourage them to study their Bibles regularly.”

Yes, as well as explaining the Gospel message to them.  Urge them to listen and then search to see if what you are telling them is so.

“I think I’ll have to give that some thought.”

Good—then, go ahead and do it.

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Witness

John’s Gospel is a book about witnessing. The word appears over 50 times in it! To testify to something as fact means you are assuring others that what you say is true; that is why it is so terrible to mislead people by claiming to have a witness that, in the end, proves to be false. All false teachers must be confronted with God’s Word that says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness!” Thank God that He has provided through John a true, dependable witness to the facts about Jesus Christ.

In this Gospel, there is a seven-fold witness as follows:

  1. The witness of God the Father: 5:31, 34, 37
  2. The witness of Christ to Himself: 8:14; 18:37
  3. The witness of the works Christ performed: 8:17; 10:25; 14:11; 15:24
  4. The witness of Scripture: 5:39, 40-46; 1:46
  5. The witness of John the Baptizer: 1:7; 5:33, 35
  6. The witness of the Disciples: 21: 24; [1 John 1:2; 4:14]
  7. The witness of the Holy Spirit: 15:26; 16:18; [1 John 5:6]

See John 5:31-40 in particular.

This manifold witness of the Book of John is one of its prominent features. The passages in which the word occurs contain some of the most significant material in his book. If you have never done so, you might want to take the time to look them up.

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Grace Alone

Paul did not labor that he might receive grace, but he received grace in order that he might labor.
                              Augustine, De gestis Pelagii xiv, 36

No distinction could be more important to our salvation.

Augustine knew what many over the years have not known—salvation is not of works; it produces good works.

He speaks of grace. Grace is something unmerited. It is an enabling power. Romans 8: 8 says that those who are “in the flesh [unsaved persons] CANNOT please God” (emphasis mine).” Yet people are always trying to do so by their own ability. The fact is that they are not able to do so: “Not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

That’s why they need the grace of God, regenerating and giving them the ability to believe the Gospel. Prior to that grace which brings spiritual life, one is dead spiritually; he cannot believe.

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What Do You Do When . . .

Yes, what do you do?

After all, it is a bit puzzling for some counselors to face the situation where one spouse is a believer and the other is not. So, when you run into this all-too-common situation, what do you do?

If you think about it for a minute or two, the puzzlement ought to disappear. What is the difficulty, anyway? Simply this—you’d like to deal with them both on the same level, wouldn’t you? That is counsel them both as believers—or even, evangelize them as two unbelievers. Then your approach could be unified—right?

But that isn’t what you have; so stop thinking about it. Start thinking realistically. Sitting before you is a believer and an unbeliever. Got it? OK. Let’s assume she is a believer; he isn’t—which is the most likely case.

Now, what do you do? To begin with you must ascertain the facts, using the PDI, the revelation that he isn’t even a church member and perhaps, and from his own admission “isn’t interested in Christianity.” Or however you come to your conclusions about the two of them.

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And Sacrificial Too

The cross, which I recently discussed as penal and substitutionary was also sacrificial. The idea of sacrifice, of course, is one aspect of substitution. The sins of the people were laid upon the head of the sacrificial animal signifying the transfer of the sins of the guilty to the innocent animal whose blood was shed (i.e., whose life was forfeited) in the place of the repentant sinners who offered it.

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Two Essential Factors

The death of Christ was, at once, the world’s greatest act of wickedness and infamy, and history’s supreme moment of grace and glory. It all depends on how you view it. And how you view it depends on whether or not you have a full-orbed view of salvation.

Among the factors discussed are the penal, substitutionary aspects of Jesus’ death. And well they might be. Apart from an understanding of these factors, you don’t have a proper grasp of what transpired on Calvary.

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