Key Verse: 24
“’For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Today, we are studying the third in a series of six lectures based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-32. These studies come from Tim Keller’s series, “Finding Your Place at the Table.” We are studying this parable in detail because it best expresses the gospel and gives us insights into how the grace of God affects our relationships with God and each other. So each lecture focuses on a different aspect of the gospel. In the first lecture, Tim focused on the true beauty of God. In the second lecture, Rhoel focused on the topic of repentance. Today, we will focus on what it means to be adopted by God. Specifically, we’ll be thinking about the character, practice, and results of being adopted by God.
First, God adopts us as his children
Let’s read verses 21-24 together, “21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate.” As we learned, the younger son in the story demanded his share of his father’s inheritance before his father had even died. The son squandered all of his inheritance on wild living. Finally, when he ran out of inheritance money he ended up in the pig pen. In this passage, when the Father said, “my son was dead”, he did not mean physically dead, but dead to the relationship with his father. In our fallen world, many people have suffered from broken relationships. Many know the alienation and isolation caused by divorce, abuse, death, rivalry, and so on. But alienation from God is the worst. We always feel that we have to prove ourselves. We always feel that we have to measure up to someone’s unattainable standards. We are always looking for a place where we can belong.
When the son said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” it meant more than grieving his broken relationship. In the ancient world, to be a son was a status; it was much more important than it is today. To us, a name is just a way to be identified. The better sounding or the more popular the name, the more we like it. My ancestor was probably a cook, but I can’t cook at all, so for me the name doesn’t mean much. But in ancient culture, the family name stood for one’s values and beliefs. It was the son’s job to uphold this name for the integrity and good reputation of the family. It was also the son’s job to carry on the family business. From this description, it is obvious that the younger son in the parable was not at all worthy of the privilege of sonship. Not only did he break his relationship with the father, he also spoiled the family’s good reputation. But then the father did something amazing! The father adopted him back into the family by pure grace. In the parable, the son represents all Christians. Like the younger son, we have all loved something else more than God. And like him, we have all ended up in a broken relationship with God, but through repentance we can come back to God and received God’s grace of forgiveness and restoration. It is shocking when we read Galatians 3:26,28 which says, “26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We learned that it is God’s record, not our record that makes us children of God. If you are a believer in Christ, you are a child of God. In other cultures, people see their relationship with God as one of king and subject or employer and employee. But according to the Bible, we have a father and child relationship with God, and all believers in Christ are heirs of God.
Second, God gives us security, intimacy, and hope
What does it mean in our lives that we’re adopted by God? Practically it means three things: that we have security, intimacy, and hope. Firstly, we receive deep security. Adoption is not gradual change, but a sudden change in status. We are like the younger son in the parable, who after squandering the family inheritance said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” He wanted to try to earn the father’s approval. But the father said, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” In one moment, the father adopted him. The robe was a royal robe, and the ring was a family signet ring. It was a free gift; it was not earned. When we first come to God, we think that we need to do many good works to earn God’s approval. But when we believe in Christ, God adopts us as his children. He gives us full rights as heirs. It is a secure position. It cannot be lost by wrongdoing. In fact, sometimes our wrongdoing leads us to God’s love faster than our right-doing. Our status with God is not dependant on what we do but on what God does, because we are not hired servants but adopted sons. When we believe in Christ, we can have the deep comfort of knowing that God is not going to torture us when we slip up, but like the father in the parable, he is running with open arms to forgive us and restore us. One pastor asked a member in his congregation, “Are you a child of God?” The person replied, “Well, I’m trying”, then the pastor knew they didn’t understand what it meant to be a Christian. They didn’t understand the deep security of adoption as God’s gift.
Secondly, we gain intimate access to God. Galatians 4:6-7 says, “6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” When someone calls me, my first concern is “Oh no! What are they going to ask me to do? Can’t they just do it themselves?” But when my children ask me to do something for them, it is my joy to invest hours to provide what they need and want. A child has access that no one else does. Imagine the access if your father is a king or president. How much more God’s children have access to the creator of the universe, not only to his provision and support, but also his dear love and fatherly compassion.
Thirdly, we have a future hope. When the Bible says that we are heirs, our inheritance is not something temporary such as land, money, or material possessions. Our inheritance is the new heavens and the new earth. God will perfect the world and remove every flaw. There will be no suffering, no defects, and no recessions. Paul said in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We become much less anxious about our future when we realize that enormous wealth is coming. Imagine if your father was Bill Gates, then you would not worry too much if you lost your job or your house because you would have intimate access to the richest man in the world. Well, unless Jesus comes sooner, we’ll enter our heavenly inheritance in a matter of several decades. Even the ultimate fear of death becomes like a cocoon’s transformation into a beautiful butterfly. With this in view, the condition of our bank account, our job position, or our youthful beauty is not our utmost concern. From the time I was in kindergarten, I wanted to become an architect with the hope of building myself a dream home. But when I met Jesus, I realized that God already has the best dream home waiting for me in heaven; I don’t have do be anxious about hoping to acquire the money and materials to make one which will eventually fall apart. With this hope I could also overcome despair during a time when I had to live in a slummy apartment because I knew that it was only a momentary struggle, like a wild adventure on the way to my father’s glorious house. In addition to the heavenly kingdom that we will live in, God’s inheritance includes his very nature: nobility, goodness, majesty, and grace in us. When we all get to heaven, we will be peaceful, loving, joyful and gentle like Jesus. So, in times of suffering, we should think of the hope of our future inheritance.
Third, God makes us part of a committed and real community
So far, we have been thinking about our individual relationship with God, but there is an additional result of being adopted by God; it that we become part of God’s family. Since we all have God as our Father and are all given status as his children, the Bible tells us that our Christian community will be characterized by brotherly love. The words “brotherly love” sound vague in the context of our culture. The popular philosophy of individualism that I grew up with encouraged self-centeredness. Since I was an only-child, I had no concept of what it meant to have siblings, but eventually I could learn through having my own family. Ancient people knew that brotherly love was the most radical thing you could say for several reasons. Firstly, brotherly love involves unconditional commitment. We did not choose our siblings; they just came with the family package. We might have nothing in common with other Christians or have ever chosen them as our friends, but we have a common spiritual bond in Christ our Father. We can choose which church to attend. But inside the church, we cannot choose our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must not choose who we like and don’t like among other Christians in our church, because they are all part of God’s family.
Secondly, there is transparency and honesty with brothers and sisters. Siblings cannot fool each other but see each other’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. Siblings can be honest about their struggles and help each other to be accountable.
Thirdly, brotherly love means that we share our resources. Family members have no privacy and give their property for the common good. The early Christians had this kind of brotherly love. Acts 2:44-45 says, “44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” We might ask ourselves if people see our church like this? Without brotherly love, a church is nothing but a religious organization. As members of the family of God, we need to grant life-shaping impact to those around us in our church. In order to live a transformed life, it is important for us to hang around with other Christians and help each other. In the parable, the elder brother was bitter and angry that the younger brother’s restoration would intrude on his own share of the inheritance. But our true elder brother, Jesus, came to give up his place in heaven so that we could have it. He came to lose his inheritance so that we could get full rights as children of God. Jesus models for us what it means to be a true brother. He also empowers us with his love in our hearts to share his love with others. Being together in God’s family moulds us into a genuine life-giving community.
Today we thought about what it means to be adopted by God. Just as the younger son in the parable squandered his inheritance and was not worthy to be reinstated as a son, we are all sinners who do not deserve to be in God’s family. Our efforts to try to earn God’s approval are futile. But through the grace of Jesus, God adopts us into his family and makes us his heirs. The practical implications of being adopted by God are that we become secure in our standing before God, we enter an intimate access to the creator of the universe, and we gain the hope of eternal life in heaven. The result of this adoption is that all Christians become knit together as God’s family. God’s love makes us grow as a committed and honest community. May God bless us to grow as his family when we realize the security, intimacy, and hope of being his adopted children.