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Where's the turning point?

Where's the turning point in the parable of the two sons?  (Yes, that again).

Is it 'coming to himself' in the pig-sty?


If that's the turning point in the son's life, repentance will look like weighing things up and choosing obedience.

What's wrong with that?  Well for one it effectively makes the prodigal his own saviour. 

But aside from this.  Let's think about how this paradigm would affect our understanding of ongoing repentance. 

Basically, if repentance happens in the sty, when we sin we will think, 'Darn it, I've left the Father's house, I'm away from His love.  But now I need to clean up my act, prepare my repentance speech and return to His service.'

But is that really the turning point of the story?  I'm not talking in terms of literary devices. I'm asking the question, What is the point that determines the prodigal's fate?  What is the decisive moment for his life?  Is it 'coming to himself' in the sty?

No.  Of course not.  He could have devised the greatest repentance plan known to man and still been rightly shunned by his father.  The true turning point was the father's embrace.




The real change in the prodigal - both his change of status and of heart - truly happens in the arms of the father.  That's where repentance occurs.

Imagine yourself in those arms.  You may have been sorry before, now you loathe youself.  Yet you cannot escape his love.  You had thought you stank in the sty.  Now you feel your stench to the core.  Yet you are held close.   You had composed a repentance speech.  Now your awareness of sin is overwhelming.  But you're enfolded in grace.

This is true repentance - that which occurs in the Father's embrace.  And this is where our ongoing repentance occurs. 

When we sin, do we consider ourselves to be in the pig sty - the long journey back home stretches ahead of us?  Or do we consider ourselves to be already in the Father's arms?  There's a big difference.

I remember speaking with a Christian man about his extra-marital affair from years earlier.  As he spoke about the pain of those memories I said to him "You realise that in the midst of the very worst of that, Jesus was rejoicing over you as a Bridegroom rejoices over His bride."  He paused for a long time and said "That makes it a hundred times worse!"  I said "Yes it does.  A thousand times worse."  We think that we manage to sin away in a corner somewhere.  No, no, no.  Just read 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 to see that we are very much united to Christ in our sin! 

We stink of pig in the Father's arms.  That's a thousand times worse than stinking in the sty.  But it's a million times better too. 

The point of our turning - and our life of turning and turning again to the Father - is in His unchanging embrace.  When you sin don't imagine yourself alone in the sty.  You are there in His arms - reeking and held fast.  It's a thousand times worse.  A million times better.


23 thoughts on “Where's the turning point?

  1. dave bish

    Excellent! Does this then shape our preaching - so whilst we speak of sin the key is bringing people to the Father through the Son... and then repentance really happens.

  2. glenscriv

    Fastest blogger in the west Dave!

    Yes - preach the Father's embrace and you'll also be preaching sin very powerfully. I was so struck when that guy said "That's a hundred times worse." You might think that preaching the love of God for stinkers diminishes our sense of sin. It increases it.

    God's kindness leads to repentance. Rom 2:4

  3. Matt

    Brilliant! I'm in my room shouting, "Yes!". It’s a thousand times worse! A million times better!

    It's so key that we understand that it's in the Father's arms not the sty that people become aware of not just the filth we've gotten ourselves into but more that we've broken relationship with Our Father. The stinkyness isn't a problem in the sty - it's normal and we might even get used to the smell. It is when we come before the pure and clean Father that we realise how far we've fallen, but how much and at what cost we are loved.

  4. bobby grow

    Great post, Glen!

    Interestingly, before I even read this I was contemplating my next post . . . it was going to be on diminishing the cross-work of Christ. It was going to be a different angle than yours, but the end was going to be the same conclusion. Maybe I'll still post it, and link you ;-) .

    "Sin" is truly only seen for what it is when seen with Christ's righteousness as the backdrop.

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  6. Dev

    but isn't it the knowledge of the 'Father' in the sty that causes Him to want to come back?

    I'm suggesting something like 1 John, that the knowledge of Christ is the cause of repentance and results in fear - but later love casts out fear - as one comes closer and closer to the God who is love.

    'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear & grace my fears relieved'

    So then repentance is not initiated in the embrace - but in the knowledge of Christ - and solidified, matured, made permanent in His embrace

    Fear then remains to the one who would choose to return to pig-sty ways - indeed amplified fear and shame because of that great love

  7. Matt

    Hi Dev,
    Maybe but:

    Kenneth Bailey in his book the Cross and the Prodigal argues that the son in his return has not repented but assumes that he can buy his way back into the family and community through joining the work force: I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men. He assumes the problem is the extravagant (not ‘loose’) spending and paying his father back for the lost money. The opening phrase of the prepared speech “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” comes straight from the mouth of Pharaoh (cf Exodus 10:16) and reveals the son’s heart at this point: his plan is to buy his way back and the goal of the plan is food to eat.


  8. Dan Hames

    It looks like Mr Rembrandt painted the son's left foot with six toes. Are we missing a whole nephilim angle here???

    Seriously- thanks, Glen. This is one of my favourite blog posts of yours.

  9. glenscriv

    Guys, thanks for the positive comments and links etc. I almost wasn't going to post it cos I know I'm always banging old drums long after everyone's sick of it. Glad it's struck a chord.

    Dan, maybe the prodigal "outgrew" the family home in more ways than one!

    I think if someone finally chose the sty over the father's house I'd say they never actually knew their dad in the first place. In which case it hasn't been true knowledge of Christ that has brought them out of the sty. They've thought of Him in ways quite different to His true nature. And so, with 1 John in our thinking, shouldn't we conclude that such people 'never belonged to us.' (1 John 2:19)? That being the case we're alerted to the fact that people pick themselves up out of sties all the time but not always with a knowledge of Christ.

    And isn't that the case with the prodigal's repentance speech? As Matt points out, the motives of the prodigal were mixed to say the least! When you think about it, the younger son's proposal is eerily similar to the older brother's rebellion. The elder son won't come in precisely because he relates to the father according to a 'slaving' relationship while all the while the father speaks in familial terms. In a sense the younger son is proposing turning from a younger to an older brother. As the parable ends we realise what a mistake that is!

    So I'm not very positive about the prodigal's proposal! And I'm not sure it's helpful to see it modelling a stepping stone towards real faith. Many do indeed come to faith via this route (ie fear and service giving way to peace in the love of the Father). But this is because Christ graciously covers over not only our sins but also our self-help resolutions. The parable is not teaching us that service is a pre-requisite of sonship. The very opposite.

    In chapter 18 the tax collector beats his breast and says 'Have mercy on me, the sinner.' That's all. There's no resolutions to do better. In chapter 19 Jesus welcomes Zacchaeus and eats with him. *Then* he repents. Service is not the path to sonship. Sonship is the path to service.

    Just as I am, without one plea,
    But that Thy blood was shed for me,
    And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, and waiting not
    To rid my soul of one dark blot,
    To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

  10. timothycairns

    The speeches of the two sons are critical to a proper understanding of this parable.

    the younger makes a three part speech:

    1. I have sinned

    2. I am no longer worthy to be called your son

    3. Make me one of your hired men

    When he gets to the father he makes his speech. The father allows him to say part one and part two, but never part 3. As has already been pointed out the son thinks he can earn his way back, the father says no - I want sons not servants. So what is going on?

    In the embrace the father does the unthinkable -not only does he run toward the son taking on the shame of the son, but in the embrace the muck and dirt of the pig sty is transferred from the younger son to his father. The shame due to the younger son has passed from the younger son to the father. He has taken it all. The son thought he could buy his way to servanthood, the father was about restoration.

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  15. Sasa

    If you presume possibility that father could not receive him in spite of his wonderful plan, then we can presume that father could be dead in the time of his return. I vote for sty repentance even it is probably more complex than that, it is a process.

  16. chris oldfield

    brill. ive often thought it makes a massive difference sinning in christ and sinning in adam. repentance happens in the light of the good news, not on the way to it, right?

    perhaps this is a much bigger question about the fall, but how would you describe the gospel for someone who's dead in adam?

  17. Dev

    heh read my old post
    i think i've changed

    the son is 'convicted of sin' in the realisation

    but yes you are right - repentance happens in the embrace

    conviction of sin does not equal repentance
    a wrong fear of God ("let the rocks fall on us") also does not

    repentance equals a change of mind... and thus being...
    that change although not in the parable - presumably must happen in the embrace

  18. Glen

    Hey Sasa,
    Welcome to the blog. I think the first thing we should assume in preaching is that the father lives! And that his arms are open.

    You raise an interesting point. If we spotlight the sty, the existence and character of the father is largely irrelevant - maybe then it really doesn't matter if he's dead! God forbid!

    Hi Chris,
    Yes repentance is in light of the good news (especially when you consider that sin is *unbelief* - John 16:9).

    Great question about how to address those in Adam. Don't know how to do it in strictly Luke 15 terms but 2 Cor 5 springs to mind:

    19 In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

    I love the grammar of v20 - imperative, aorist, passive. You must *be* reconciled - and the whole context is a God who has reconciled the world to Himself. I don't know how to translate that into Luke 15 terms but there's got to be a sense in which we proclaim Christ's arms around the sty-dwellers too - while also imploring them to *be* reconciled.

    It's interesting to think of the father's words to the other son (who is also estranged) - "you are always with me and everything I have is yours."

    In being Christ's ambassador I think the preacher proclaims the reconciling work of God to the sinner. They say, "Christ's arms are not just outstretched but actually drawing you in through this word - I implore you, be reconciled to the God who *is* reconciling you, stinking sinner that you are."

    I dunno. That kind of thing? Love to hear your own thoughts.

    Hey Dev - great to see you repenting over repenting :)

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  21. Kebs

    Wow! Thanks for this Glen - it is much clearer now! I always had this "blank spot" with repentance. Though I do not grasp everything clearly, I love to see it in a God-centered way! And the way you explained it served as a "lens" for me! Thanks! Praise God! Praise God!

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