Amazing Grace: The Prodigal Son

I get emails —

Several times the subject has come up about instances like the prodigal son, and to their way of thinking, they cannot see where someone who is living such a sinful life could be saved if he died in that state.

The writer is part of a class studying my book The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace (now available as a free download). In that book, I argue that in cases such as the prodigal son, the penitent son was never lost. He wasn’t saved, damned, and then re-saved. He was saved, but while in sin, he was in profound jeopardy of falling away so that he could never repent and, in that case, he would be lost.

I don’t teach once saved, always saved, nor do I teach perseverance of the saints. But I do believe that falling from grace is much harder than we often assume.

Now, I wrote that book many years ago, and today, I could add all kinds of fancy theology to the argument, but I’ll keep it simple: If it was your son, would you have disowned him? Did the father in the story disown the son? Obviously not. He stood in the road anxious for his return — because he was still the father’s son. He hadn’t been written off. He hadn’t been given up on.

(Luk 15:20-23 ESV) 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  22 But 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.  23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.

Before the son confessed or said anything at all, the father ran and embraced him, because the father still considered him his son and so loved him as only a father could.

Ray Vander Laan makes a very powerful point here. In the Middle Eastern culture, it is unthinkable for a father who has been shamed by his son to run to greet him. It would violate deeply rooted concepts of family honor. Rather, the father would sit and wait for the son to come to him, prostrate himself, and beg for forgiveness. This is honor in that culture.

Therefore, the father in the parable — God — suffered humiliation and shame in order to run toward the son and celebrate his return. The son was prepared to be humiliated by becoming a servant in his father’s house, and his father preferred to be the one humiliated!

It’s not about honor or justice or merit. It’s about a father’s love.

Ask your students how many of them have had a child bring shame to them? How many have had child leave home to fall into sin? If they’re honest, many will say yes. Those who don’t will have a brother or sister that this has happened to.

Then ask them whether they disowned the child? Is their son or daughter still a son or daughter in their minds? Will their child still have an inheritance? Will they still be welcome back to their old bedroom?

Why do we imagine that God loves us less than we love our own children?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to Amazing Grace: The Prodigal Son

  1. Royce Ogle says:

    Trying to understand the historical coc doctrine of salvation… Assuming he was saved and then fell away and was lost when he returned, would he have needed to be baptized again?

  2. laymond says:

    Royce, It is not once saved always saved, but it is once baptized always baptized. I don’t know of any procedure where one can be un-baptized, or un-born. do you?
    But the bible plainly states one can fall from grace, or out of favor of God. but I believe this parable says you can regain that favor, by returning to the straight and narrow.

  3. Randall says:

    Well, if he was saved and then fell away was it even possible for him to be restored again?

  4. Ted says:

    He was saved, but while in sin, he was in profound jeopardy of falling away so that he could never repent and, in that case, he would be lost.
    Jay, I don’t get what you are saying. If his arrogant, self centered, selfish, greedy rebellion against God only put him in JEOPARDY of falling away, then what would charactize stepping on over the cliff and being lost.
    If the Prodigal had been trampled to death by the pigs and had never repented would he have been saved in his rebellion/sin?
    If I am engaged in adultery and have a heart attack and die, am I still saved in my adultery?
    This is tough theology for me.
    I get it, that we can’t be good enough to merit salvation. Salvation is in Christ Jesus alone. But life in Christ should look like something, and open rebellion is probably not the fruit that should be on that tree. I know that you believe this too, so I’m just looking for some clarification on being in jeopardy of falling, and actually falling.

    Interesting where this thinking takes us. I attended a funeral this week-end for an 81 year old man that basically had nothing to do with God. Oh, he believed in God (the demons do too) he wanted God on our money and in our pledge. He wanted the 10 commandments on the courthouse walls. He provided for his family, paid his taxes, served his country and gave to the Salvation Army at Christmas. He was a good American.
    Yet at his funeral there was all this talk about him being safe in the arms of Jesus and going to Heaven to spend eternity with God. I can’t help but wonder why we never bury a lost person.
    The gate must be wide and easy to enter.

  5. Randall says:

    So while the prodigal son was busy squandering his father’s wealth on riotous living and prostitutes he was not actually fallen away, just back slidden. This doesn’t seem to be a momentary lapse into fornication after a bit too much to drink. Perhaps I miss something as it seems to me like it was a change of lifestyle. Alternatively, perhaps I’m being too critical and he actually had to hit the bottom hard and decide he liked it there before he was truly fallen away.

    Do we sometimes define things so they fit our argument. Yes, I think we all may do that from time to time.

  6. Royce Ogle says:

    One thing we all can agree on is that no one can define clearly how much sin is too much and still be safe, or saved.

    Laymond, I suppose Jay wasted a good baptism. He was baptized when a child and then again after he became a man.

    I’ll ask the question another way. If a man is saved (assuming all that entails) and for whatever reason falls away and is lost again, is he just as lost as he was before he was saved? (I don’t think there is a “sort of saved” or “kind of lost” category in the Bible.)

    Assuming he is just as lost as before would he only need to do 4 of the 5 steps to be saved again? It is confusing to me. If he could leave off baptism why couldn’t he leave off hearing, believing, confessing, repenting…like baptism, he had done all those before?

    Doesn’t make much sense to me.

  7. Royce Ogle says:

    Laymond, you said ” I don’t know of any procedure where one can be un-baptized, or un-born. do you?”

    The answer is NO. Does that mean you don’t believe Christians are born again? lol

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    The prodigal was his father’s son. He was out of the house but not out of the family. We sinners become sons based on what God has wrought in the life and work of Jesus and not based on our goodness.

    One of the pictures used to describe that son-ship is adoption. God adopts believing,repentant,obedient sinners as full grown sons. The have the rights and privileges as first born sons and can’t be denied an inheritance. The Holy Spirit is the seal and promise that God will complete what He has begun.

  9. Alabama John says:


    When you are baptized its like you have a big “C” brnded on your forehead.
    Then if you fall away in sin, when you burn in hell the only difference is others might not have the mark of a christian but you will.

    Two categories: Erring Christian and Erring non christian.

    Wonder sometimes if we wouldn’t of been better off to be in a place where we never heard the word and just worshiped the same God the best we could. Ever heard of a primitive society fuss and arguing so over religion as we Christians? They just love God as that’s all they know.

    Maybe they are the really smart ones.

    Judgment day is going to be real interesting!!!

  10. JMF says:


    1) What if you died while committing the sin of not giving enough money to the poor?

    2) Is it possible to give enough to the poor, widows, etc? And if you fall short of the giving standard (Jesus is our example, bear in mind), wouldn’t that indeed be sin?

    3) Is it possible that we are all far more sinful than we like to think and that we will only be saved by God’s good graces?

  11. Royce Ogle says:

    Alabama John and JMF, thanks for the chuckle.

    I am convinced that God is more loving and graceful than we are. I find that very, very comforting.

  12. Jay Guin says:


    Heb 6:4-6 says it’s impossible for someone who has “fallen away” to repent. And if his heart is that hard, the question of baptism doesn’t even come up. The meaning of “fall” in 6:6 can be found by considering the same Greek root in its other uses in Hebrews.

    (Heb 3:15-18 ESV) 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient

    To “fall” in the wilderness is to die before reaching the Promised Land and to suffer God’s oath to never enter God’s rest. To “fall,” therefore, is to become damned. The damnation comes from rebellion (3:16). “Disobedient” in v. 18 refers to a stubborn refusal to obey known commands, not to honest mistakes. The Israelites who fell in the desert did so because they lacked faith. Their disobedience was a product of their faithlessness.

    The author paraphrases Ps 95 —

    (Heb 3:7-11 ESV) 7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9 where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11 As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”

    This brings us to —

    (Heb 4:11 ESV) 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

    Again, this is the sort of disobedience that caused God to keep the Israelites out of the Promised Land so that they died in the desert. The next generation that entered the Promised Land was far from perfect, but they had enough faith to enter into God’s mission. They did not beg to return to Egypt.

    This is the context for Heb 6:4-6, and it’s entirely consistent with Heb 10:26ff, which speaks of being damned for deliberately continuing to sin. Not for sin and not for continuing to sin, but for deliberately rejected God’s commands as a lifestyle.

    And in Heb 6:4-6, the author concludes that for such a one, it’s “impossible ” to be restored to repentance. Not impossible for God to forgive! But impossible for someone this deep in rebellion to choose to leave the pigsty.

  13. Jay Guin says:


    I lay out my thinking in considerable detail in The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. Here’s where I’m coming from —

    1. Heb 6:4-6 tells us that those who’ve fallen away can’t be restored to repentance.
    2. Therefore, if someone is in fact restored to repentance, he hadn’t fallen away.

    One might argue that there’s an in-between falling away that not as severe as that described in Heb 6:4-6, but a close reading of Hebrews demonstrates that the falling away described in 6:4-6 is the only kind of falling away discussed in the book.

    Well, does the rest of the NT evidence some other kind of lesser falling away? If it does, I can’t find it — with one exception. I think it’s likely possible to repent of the Galatian heresy (praise, God!), because Peter is said to have become damned for teaching legalism and to have repented —

    (Gal 2:11 NRS) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;

    And that is very good news indeed, as there are many in the Churches of Christ who need to repent of the Galatian heresy!

    But for the sin of rebellion, that is, deliberately continuing to sin — forgiveness is impossible because repentance is impossible.

    Now, this leads to some difficulties. One is that you and I never really know who might one day repent. And that means we are never wise enough to give up on someone. After all, the jeopardy of falling away is real, and for many, it’s the love of faithful brothers that draws them back toward God before it’s too late.

    Of course, God knows our hearts perfectly, and he knows who hasn’t yet lost the Spirit so as to be damned. The Spirit may glow dimly indeed, but if it’s in someone at all, he remains saved (Rom 8:9-11).

    To some, this teaching appears dangerous, because it gives comfort to sinners. But the real point of the lesson is that you can so sin so that you will never repent. And no one intends to go there. You slide there one small step at a time. The jeopardy is not merely of damnation but of an irreversible damnation. It should be VASTLY scarier than the traditional view.

    Under the traditional view, you can sin, repent, and be saved again — no problem. Just wait until you’re old and about to die, confess and repent! You can sin all you want, and barring an accident, repent at your leisure. And plenty of people have figured that one out, only to never repent. You see, sin is a deceiver. It changes how our minds and hearts work. It drives out the Spirit. It can cost us our souls long before we die because it can take away the will to repent.

    And I think it’s far healthier to teach that sin is not only to be repented of but to be fled because it deceives and entraps. And I’ve not heard that preached many times at all.

    (1Ti 6:9 NIV) People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

    (2Ti 2:25-1 NIV) 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

    (2Ti 3:12-13 ESV) 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    I was baptized but once. The reader was twice baptized.

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Royce and Laymond,

    I agree that there is no procedure to be unborn. There are, however, many ways to die. The Hebrews writers compares the sin of rebellion to death, not to unbirth.

    The Israelites were “baptized” in the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:2) but died in the desert and so never reached the Promised Land. Once they died, they weren’t returned to Egypt from whence they could start over. They just stayed dead.

  16. laymond says:

    Royce said “Laymond, I suppose Jay wasted a good baptism. He was baptized when a child and then again after he became a man.”
    Answer: Royce if there was a wasted baptism, I would think it was the first, evidently Jay thought so too.

    “I’ll ask the question another way. If a man is saved (assuming all that entails) and for whatever reason falls away and is lost again, is he just as lost as he was before he was saved? (I don’t think there is a “sort of saved” or “kind of lost” category in the Bible.)”

    Royce, I know I see things a little different than you, but I don’t believe “a man” is saved or lost as long as he is breathing, and has free will. I believe there is an “if” there.
    If you continue down the road you are on you will either be saved or lost, depending on the road you are on when your time is up. I doubt that any will die sinless. That is why we depend on Jesus Christ, and the promise of God.

  17. Ted says:

    Thanks for your response. I will ponder your answers.
    Thanks for your ministry, I read what you say every day but respond very little.

  18. HistoryGuy says:

    On August 1st, 2011 at 7:46 pm you said “Not impossible for God to forgive! But impossible for someone this deep in rebellion to choose to leave the pigsty…” — I fully agree. The Hebrew writer seems to be warning of a state of which one will not return. Further, in scripture I see several kinds of faith: growing faith, weakening faith (danger-repent), temporary falleness, and full-blown apostate (faith no-more and will not return).

    My buddy Dr. Jack Cottrell believes one (even in this condition) can return and would disagree with both you and me over our view of Heb. 6. You can read his argument at

    Nevertheless, I think his argument notes that fallen ones can return (we all agree), but he misses the strength and specific warning from the Hebrew writer that there is a point of no-return.

  19. HistoryGuy says:

    To clarify-

    We (you/me) would disagree about some other passages and falling away, but I agree with you about Heb. 6:4-6.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    First, I’m delighted you’re feeling well enough to post!

    Second, I would never assume anyone agrees with me on everything. It’s a burden I’ve learned to live with … 🙂

  21. HistoryGuy says:

    I have learned to live with my medical curve ball and will try to post more often. I cannot sit for long periods like in the past. Thank you for your comment on agreement, I agree. Okay, being serious, I reposted because I misrepresented your view by the way in which I grouped us together, and then felt the need to clarify. Good night.

  22. laymond says:

    Royce asked ” Does that mean you don’t believe Christians are born again? lol”

    I do believe we are born again, other wise I would not have been baptized. Now my question what is born again, what exactly happens?

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