Question & Answer Forum: Eternal Security

Does the Parable of the Prodigal Son teach that a child of God can be lost?

A primary means of interpreting a Bible passage is its context. The first two verses of Luke 15 establish the context of the three stories that follow. The proud Pharisees spoke disparagingly of the Lord because He was interested in the spiritual welfare of the despised publicans and sinners (v 2). The Lord clearly paints these two groups into the story of the prodigal. The younger son is like the publicans. The elder brother is like the Pharisees. This story is not about believers, but about unbelievers who are either self-righteous (Pharisees) or openly sinful.

The two sons, therefore, do not represent sons of the Father in heaven. The relationship of a son to a father illustrates how greatly sin offends the heart of God. That relationship also adds weight to the welcome of the sinful prodigal. The joy of a father receiving his long-lost son reflects God’s joy in receiving a repentant sinner. As a father would long to share his joy with both his boys, so God longs to bless both the self-righteous and the sinful.

The prodigal had been lost and dead, a description of every sinner (Isa 53:6; Eph 2:1). The focus of the stories in the passage is not the sheep with the flock or the coin among the others or the son in the family home. The focus is on their lost condition. The publicans and sinners were lost. The elder son saw himself as different from the “lost son.” Although externally different from the prodigal, he was the same internally. Thinking they didn’t need to repent (Luke 15:7), the scribes and Pharisees were externally different from the publicans and sinners, but the same by nature. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (13:3, 5) was true for both classes. The passage is not about believers becoming lost; it is about the lost repenting and receiving a welcome from God.

D. Oliver

Had quarreling believers become enemies of God (James 4:1-4)?

The state of relationships among believers to whom James wrote had reached an abysmal level. Their trials had affected their possessions (1:8-11). Because they placed a high value on material possessions (2:1-7), they were at war with one another (4:1). The cause of their fighting and wars was their desire for possessions (v 1b). These desires also affected their prayers and thus their relationship with God (v 3). These believers, though suffering at the hands of rich people (2:6), had adopted their thinking. The same oppressive behavior that characterized the unbelieving rich (5:1-6) characterized them (v 6 and 4:2). These believers associated themselves with the Lord Whose glory far transcended the possessions of the rich (2:1), yet they appreciated the values of the rich who opposed Christ and His people. They were being unfaithful to their Lord. James, with typical bluntness, calls this unfaithfulness spiritual adultery (4:4). He then questions, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (v 4b).

Abraham was the friend of God (2:23). Because of his faith, he gave up what was dearest to him (v 21). The world’s thinking is just the opposite; self displaces God and claims the right to anything that’s valuable. The believers to whom James writes had “becomelike them that go down into the pit” (Psa 28:1). They were thinking like the enemies of God. Despite their likeness to God’s enemies, James calls on them to repair their relationship with God (James 4:7, 8) by prayer, repentance, and mourning in humility before God (vv 8-10). This is a means of restoration for a believer, not of salvation for an unbeliever.

In the Lord’s Manifesto on the Mountain (Mat 5-7), He taught that the standard of behavior for believers must be different from the standard of the Pharisees (Mat 5:20), who were His enemies. When the Lord cites the Pharisees’ standard (5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), He distinguishes His standard from theirs (“But I say unto you”). The Pharisees’ seeming righteousness is not consistent with the righteous standard of the Lord’s coming kingdom. James now writes to believers and shows that their standard of behavior has become like the enemies of the Lord of Glory. By favoring the rich (James 2:1-3), they are judging by the standard of their oppressors (vv 4, 6). By boasting of their business plans (“Go to . . .,” 4:13-16), they were driving their business by the same standard as the wanton overlords who oppressed their laborers (“Go to …,” 5:1-5), a standard that caused the murder of Christ (v 6). By warring with one another (4:1-3), the believers’ actions expressed the standard of the enemies of God (v 4). The believers were not their oppressors (2:6). They were not the murderers of Christ (5:6). They were not the enemies of God (4:4). The problem was that, being “double-minded,” they espoused the standards of the kingdom (2:1), but expressed the standards of their oppressors, of the murderers of Christ, and of the enemies of God.

D. Oliver

Were the Laodiceans in danger of being lost when the Lord said, “I will spue thee out of My mouth”?

Once again, the context governs the interpretation of the passage. In the first three chapters of the Revelation, the Lord addresses assemblies, pictured as golden lampstands (Rev 1:12, 20 ESV), thus dealing with the testimony of each assembly. The light from each lamp must accurately reflect the majesty and character of the Son of Man (vv 13, 16). The failing devotion of the Ephesian assembly endangered its testimony. Without love for Christ, the assembly could not effectively present Him in their testimony (2:4, 5). Likeness to Christ requires devotion to Him (Phi 3:3, 8-12). If the believers did not return to their “First Love,” the Lord would remove the lampstand: the assembly would no longer testify for Him.

The message to the last of the seven assemblies has this same sad note. The Laodiceans did not realize they were spiritually “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). As individuals, they lived without enjoying fellowship with Christ (v 20). The assembly’s testimony could not continue. Christlikeness and communion with Christ cannot be separated (2Co 3:18). Without repentance, the assembly could no longer reflect Christ or speak for Him. He said to the assembly, “I will spue thee (singular) out of My mouth.”

This has nothing to do with the eternal destiny of these believers (plural). The Lord is dealing with the collective testimony of those believers as an assembly.

D. Oliver