A very warm greeting once again from the Philippines, and special greetings to our
young people who are now fellowshipping at Camp Tejas. After Pentecost we all look forward
to the soon-coming fall festivals. These are God’s Sabbaths that He pronounces as a sign
between Him and His people. As God’s people, we are trying our best to overcome our
There is a question young people often ask themselves as they grow up in the church, and it even occurs to baptized members at times. The question goes basically like this:
Why can’t I go out into the world, make mistakes, and then later repent and come back to the church?
Essentially, they want to know why they cannot enjoy some sins before repenting of them. Now
be honest—have you ever asked such a question? If so, what should the answer be?
People in this frame of mind are suffering from the prodigal-son syndrome. It is just how the prodigal son thought in Christ’s parable.
Let us now look at the story in Luke 15. There may be some points you have not
“There was once a man who had two sons. The younger one said to him,
‘Father, give me my share of property now.’ So the man divided his property
between his two sons. After a few days the younger son sold his part of the
property and left home with the money. He went to a country far away, where he
wasted his money in reckless living. He spent everything he had. Then a severe
famine spread over that country, and he was left without a thing. So he went to
work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him out to his farm to take
care of the pigs. He wished he could fill himself with the bean pods the pigs ate,
but no one gave him anything to eat. At last he came to his senses and said, ‘All
my father’s hired workers have more than they can eat, and here I am about to
starve! I will get up and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against
God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son; treat me as one of
your hired workers.” So he got up and started back to his father.
“He was still a long way from home when his father saw him; his heart was filled with pity and he ran, threw his arms around his son, and kissed him. ‘Father,’ the son said, ‘I have sinned
against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.’ But the father called to
his servants. ‘Hurry!’ he said. ‘Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger
and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast!
For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.’
And so the feasting began.
“In the meantime the older son was out in the field. On his way back,
when he came close to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one
of the servants and asked him, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Your brother has come back
home,’ the servant answered, ‘and your father has killed the prize calf, because he
got him back safe and sound.’ The older brother was so angry that he would not
go into the house; so his father came out and begged him to come in. But he
spoke back to his father, ‘Look, all these years I have worked for you like a slave,
and I have never disobeyed your orders. What have you given me? Not even a
goat for me to have a feast with my friends! But this son of yours wasted all your
property on prostitutes, and when he comes back home, you kill the prize calf for
him!’ (Luke 15:11–30, Today’s English Version)
Wait a minute! Sounds like the fun-loving younger son got the better part of the deal.
Did he not get to have his cake and eat it too? Did he not get to enjoy some big mistakes, suffer
a bit for it and then return to a party given in his honor, while the obedient older brother stayed
outside sulking? Perhaps you want to be like the prodigal son. A lot of youth unknowingly
emulate him. But did the prodigal son really come out ahead in the end? What do you think?
Before we answer the question, let me tell you another story.
There was once a boy named Marito. On his thirteenth birthday, his father took him out to the backyard where there were some fine old fruit trees. There the man gave his son a new
hammer and a container of nails of all sizes. There were small finishing nails, medium sized
nails—even some large spikes. As they stood before one of the trees, the father said, “Mar, over
the next few years, every time you do something you know God does not want you to do, I want
you to come out to this tree and drive a nail into the trunk—a small nail for a small sin, and a
large nail for a large sin—and every time you correct those mistakes, asking God’s forgiveness
and making amends as best as you can, pull one of the nails out,” to which the boy replied,
Mar was true to his word. Not surprisingly, over the next few years he drove nails of all sizes into the fruit tree. He pulled some out, but for the most part, the nails and spikes were accumulating. By the spring of his junior year in high school, he noticed that the tree was not
flowering and would not produce fruit that year. The trunk of the tree was scarred, full of rusty
nails. As a result, sap was running down the trunk, and insects had infested the bark around the
damaged areas. The tree had fewer leaves than the others, and it looked like it might not survive
the next winter.
Of course, Marito had long understood that the tree was a metaphor for his life and
character. So he became determined that he would reverse his direction in a number of areas.
As he turned from wrong choices—choices that made him disobey God—he pulled more and
more nails out of the tree. Finally, on the day of his graduation from high school, he called his
father into the backyard and with the same hammer he had been given, he pulled out yet another
big, rusty spike from the tree’s trunk.
“Dad,” he said, “I did what you told me. I drove the nails in, but I have also been able
to pull some out. Lots of them.” His father replied, “Marito, you did well to set a different
course and to be able to pull out so many nails. I am really proud of you. But look at the trunk
of the tree. Scars remain even from the nails that are no longer there. There will be many years
in healing, and some damage will always remain in the wood.” Marito understood.
The point is this. You can drive all kinds of nails into the tree of your personal life, and
then turn and try to pull them out in repentance as best as you can with God’s help. And it is
very important to remember that upon true repentance, God will forgive you and begin the
healing process. Indeed, you can always look back to your heavenly Father. Sooner or later you
must, or you will forever be lost. But the scars in your life made by the nails and spikes you
have driven in will remain even after turning away from those sins. Healing can take many,
many years. In some ways, you can never get back to where you were physically before the
mistakes were made.
You see, what you do affects you—it changes you. Indeed, some choices affect your
whole life—whether for good or for ill. That is why it is always best to choose what God says
you need to do in the first place, for all His choices are good choices.
And that takes us back to the prodigal son. I did not quite finish the parable. Let us read
the last two verses as the father talked to the son who remained at home:
‘My son,’ the father answered, ‘you are always here with me, and anything I have
is yours. But we had to celebrate and be happy because your brother was dead,
but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found’ ” (vv. 31–32).
Notice that the father told the older brother, “Everything I have is yours.” The younger
brother’s inheritance was gone, and his life was irrevocably changed. There was no second
division of what remained. No flock, no property—nothing. In those days he probably would
have had to work for his older brother. And he would have had to live with the scars from his
experiences while in the foreign land. What you do changes you and your life—whether for
your harm or for your good.
Those who suffer from prodigal-son syndrome make a second mistake as well. They
assume that what God has in store for us, physically, is not really the abundant life He promises.
But in reality, the instruction God gives in His Word is a great blessing.
Peter and the other apostles were once asked by those who came to realize the enormity
of their own guilt in breaking God’s Law: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter replied:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of
sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37–38, New King James Version).
Our Father in heaven has made it possible for us to be fully forgiven and cleansed of the guilt
of our past “mistakes.” And this cleansing begins a journey of abundant life that will last
through the end of our days in the human flesh, leading ultimately to God’s Kingdom. God
gives us not only a change of life, but also a change of mind that begins a process of inward
transformation. In fact, He is forming Jesus’ own character within us.
Our Father in heaven wants to bring us to immortality as children in His Family. When
His firstborn, Jesus, said, “I am the Way,” He was not kidding. Indeed, Jesus is the only way
to life. If you do choose another way for a while, you might find your way back—but there is
no guarantee, for many fall by the wayside. And sadly, when some finally do return to God’s
way of life, they may by that time qualify as “federal disaster areas.” But letting God design
your life and character from the beginning yields continual blessings.
So choose God’s way—abundant physical life today, glorified spiritual life forevermore!
Let God design and build you even from your youth.