The parable of the prodigal son is a picture of God’s love for his children. Every parent hopes and prays that his or her children avoid the temptations and pitfalls of the world, but many times, that isn’t the case. In the prodigal son parable, there was a happy ending: a father and son reunited, with the son turning from his wicked ways to follow the path of righteousness. But not every story ends like that. The best parents can hope for with a prodigal is to trust in God’s guidance in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
When an adult child walks away from church, parents often internalize that child’s decision and start blaming themselves. How did they fail, or why didn’t God stop their son or daughter from departing from the faith?
This question came up on a recent Core Christianity radio program, when a caller asked, “How do we understand God’s promises in light of children who seem to leave the faith?” Mike Horton answered this question head-on:
As Paul reminds us in Romans 9:15, quoting Exodus. “Salvation is not in our hands. And I think Christian parents can feel guilty when a child strays: “but I guess we didn’t do X enough.” Or they could become angry with God, “I did do X, but hey, God, you didn’t do Y.” But this is a sort of works-righteousness, as if we could save our kids by our works. Just invoke Proverbs 22:6 and God’s obligated, or we’re obligated and we didn’t do it. No, you’ve got to leave the results to God, train them up in the way they should go. Leave the results to Him.
Ordinarily, raising our kids as children of the Lord in Christ, exposing them to the means of grace (preaching, baptism and the [Lord’s] supper), will be the means God uses so that when they’re old, they will not depart from it. But not always. We can’t play God here. We can only trust in God’s mercy, make use of the means of grace and pray that the Lord will lead his own sheep back to his sheepfold when they stray.
If you would like to read Mike’s complete answer or even listen to that specific broadcast, click here.
Mike Horton and Adriel Sanchez spend a half-hour each weekday getting to the “core” questions people have about Christianity. To learn more, click here.