Vol.XVIII No.I Pg.3
March 1981

Coming To Self

Dan S. Shipley

Some have called it the greatest short story of all times. Others have referred to it as the pearl of parables. Whether or not we agree, it is not difficult to understand why the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15) has come to be one of the best-known texts of the Bible. Its message and characters are easy to identify with. Its lessons are practical and timeless — like those we learn from the young prodigal, for instance.

From him we learn that a man must come to himself before he can come to God (v.17). This is the turning point in the story and in his life. From his pigpen perspective he can see the vanity of self-indulgence and riotous living — that man's life truly does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Lk. 12:15) or the transient pleasures they afford. Like the apostle Paul, his concept of gain and loss has been radically changed (Phil. 3;7,8). Now, he despises what he once yearned for and yearns for what he once despised. That's the way it is when men come to themselves. Some would say the prodigal had lost all. Money gone, friends gone, good-times gone, humiliated and hungry out here with the pigs and so far from home! Yet, amazingly, because he comes to himself, he comes to the threshold of a greater inheritance — one that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away (1 Pet. 1:4). What treasure to find in a pigpen!

But, in addition, the prodigal shows us that coming to self involves coming to an awareness of personal sin; "I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight..." (v.18,21). To acknowledge sinning "against heaven" implies Godly sorrow, the kind that "worketh repentance unto salvation" (2 Cor. 7:10). All sin is against God and no sin is rectified without such realization and admission. It takes a truly humble spirit to say, "I've been wrong" or, "I have sinned! Yet none come to God or return to God without it. Jesus speaks of such when He says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit... " (Matt. 5:3). They seek no alibis, no excuses, no scapegoats. Like David they confess, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight" (Ps. 51:4). Such contriteness of spirit is fundamental to righteousness. As someone has well said, "Lowliness is the beginning of holiness".

Finally, as the prodigal comes to himself and sees his sin, he is also made aware of his need. Those like the self-righteous Pharisee see themselves as whole and in no need of a physician. Others, like the prodigal and publican, see themselves as lost sinners, desperately needing mercy and forgiveness. Only as sinners see such a need do they resolve to do something about it. "I will arise and go to my Father..." (v.18). And thusly do erring sons come home to the Father and salvation.

Even now many sons, having left the Father, are blindly pursuing selfish pleasures in the land of do-as you-please. Not that they have necessarily left their hometown — or even the church pew, but their heart is far from the Lord (Matt. 15:8). Yet He waits for such sons to come to themselves and come home.