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Being a Child – Introduction
What does it mean to “grow up.” Ultimately, depending on who you ask, “becoming a man” or “becoming a woman” happens at various milestones. Yet Scripture paints a very different picture. In Jesus, we have the perfect model for the journey of childhood. Rather than a long, arduous journey to independence (which is how most of us view childhood), Jesus models that we are to shift our dependence from our earthly parents to our heavenly Father (think of His interaction with His parents in the temple at age 12–Luke 2:41-52). During His ministry, He tells a story that illustrates this point.
The Prodigal Son
This story contains quite possibly one of the most well-known children in the Bible: the Prodigal Son. He has an older brother, though. And the contrast is stunning when examined in light of the idea of shifting dependence because it changes our understanding of which son is actually the prodigal.
The story of the prodigal son can be found in Luke 15:11–32. It begins with a younger son telling his father that he wants his inheritance early. He attempts to force his independence at the expense of his father and older sibling. His father complies and gives him the inheritance, which he squanders on “reckless living” in a “far country” (Luke 15:13). He then ends up hiring himself out to citizens of that country to feed the pigs. His wages are minimal to nonexistent considering he finds himself longing for the pigs’ food.
Countless commentaries, sermons, and blog posts explain just how shocking this would have been to Jesus’ Jewish audience. From demanding an inheritance early (as the youngest son, no less!) to a nice Jewish boy sitting among the pigs. I will not rehash all of those societal taboos here. The point I want to emphasize is that it is not until he comes to his senses and places his dependence at the mercy of the father that he gains true freedom.
Since this is a parable, the metaphor is a bit tricky because the physical father in the story is also a representation of our spiritual Father. In the parable, the father finds a broken, contrite, and truly dependent child. A child who finally acknowledges, “I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). He has finally learned true dependence. His future generational wealth is gone. He cannot hope in it. He can hope only in the father’s love, and he must live daily in that hope.
And what does the father do? He does what (hopefully) any father would do. He embraces him and celebrates the heart change. The lesson here is crystal clear: we are to approach our heavenly Father this way. Unfortunately, our hearts are more often like the older brother’s.
We are aware of the older brother from the very first sentence of the story: “There was a man who had two sons’” (Luke 15:11), but we don’t actually meet him until the end of the story. During this time, the older brother is dutifully in the field (v. 25). He does not even receive an invite to the party that the father throws in celebration of the younger brother’s return! When the older brother learns of the party, “he [is] angry and refuse[s] to go in” (v. 28). The father pleads with the older brother to come celebrate, and he reminds the older brother that everything else that the father owns belongs to him. But the older brother has already deducted the calf and the robe from the mental balance sheet of his inheritance. He is resentful and accuses the father of being ungrateful and ungenerous. His heart is the same as the younger brother’s was at the start of the story! It just manifests itself differently.
The story ends with the father reminding the older brother that “it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (v. 32). Yet it is the older brother who is now lost. His heart is far from the father.
Being a Child – Conclusion
God created the parent-child relationship to teach us something about Himself and His relationship to us. These examples demonstrate that God wants His children’s hearts.
Dependence on Him.
Spiritual maturity, then, is contingent upon increasing our childlike faith. Depending so fully on God that all other influences are secondary.
How is your dependence on God? Are you like the Prodigal Son? Do you only come to the Father when you are at the end of your rope and have no other option? Are you like the older brother? Are you pretty self-reliant except for the big stuff? May the story of the prodigal help us rely more fully on God in our day-to-day lives.
Adapted from The Relational God