The Parable of the Prodigal Sheep

The Parable of the Prodigal Sheep

James R. Aist

Perhaps when you read the title of this article you thought to yourself, “Doesn’t he mean the lost sheep?” After all, that’s the way the later-added, extra-biblical headings refer to this parable. And, in my experience, this parable is commonly used to refer to God pursuing unbelievers until they have been drawn all the way to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, God does exactly that (John 6:44), but is that what this particular parable is really about? Let’s take a closer look, and find out.

Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search for the one which went astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine which never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14).

Notice that the scene opens with the man actually owning 100 sheep. If he has them, then he owns them; these sheep belong to this man. Moreover, if this man did not already own these sheep, then none of them could actually go astray, because the man would have no rightful claim to them in the first place. So, right away, we can see that this is a parable about, not a wild sheep belonging to no one, but a prodigal sheep belonging to the man.

Having this perspective, then, let’s proceed to what I believe to be the correct spiritual meaning of this parable: It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones whom the Father has given Me (John 10:29) should perish. Jesus is the man in the parable. Now we can see that the parable of the lost sheep is really about the Father pursuing a backslider that He has already saved until he is brought back into the lifestyle and fellowship of the saints who are following Jesus. And, that is exactly why He will raise all of them up on the Last Day (John 6:39), not just the ones who didn’t backslide!

Now, if you will indulge me for a few moments more, I want to make a point of comparison. If you will take a look at the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-28, you will see that it begins in a fashion similar to the parable of the lost sheep: “A man had two sons.” They were his sons throughout the parable, and when the prodigal son returned to his father, he was reinstated, not adopted, into his father’s household. Although these two parables differ in detail, there are many parallels. Perhaps now you can better understand why I chose to say “prodigal sheep” in the title of this article.

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

The Faith of Demons Won’t Help You At All!

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The Faith of Demons Won’t Help You At All!

James R. Aist

“You believe in God. Believe also in Me.” – Jesus (John 14:1b)

There seems to be some lingering confusion among some who claim to be Christians about whom one has to believe in to be a genuine, born-again Christian. For example, some say of their conversion experience, “I found God.” Others may confess their Christian faith by saying “I believe in God.” And surely one must believe in God the Father to be saved. But, does belief in only God the Father really fulfill the requirements for salvation recorded to the Bible?

According to Jesus, one must believe not only in God the Father, but also in Jesus, His only begotten Son (John 3:16, John 6:29 and John 14:1b) to fulfill God’s requirements for salvation. But its not that simple, because even the demons believe in God and that Jesus is His Son (James 2:19; Matthew 8:9), and yet they are condemned to hell. What, then, is missing from the faith of demons?

The answer lies in the fact that there are two kinds of “belief”: there is mere mental ascent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and there is mental ascent along with surrender to the lordship of the Son of God. The faith of Demons is the former kind, because Satan is their lord, whereas saving faith – the faith of true believers – is the latter kind, because Jesus is their Lord. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21), and “You believe in God. Believe also in Me” (John 14:1b). As James pointed out, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17); dead faith is the faith of demons and will not solve your sin problem.

So, if you have not yet surrendered yourself to the lordship of Jesus Christ, then you have the faith of demons, and you need to take care of that right away. Jesus is not your Savior if He is not your Lord!

(To read more of my articles on Bible topics, click HERE.)

When Grace Is Not So Amazing

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When Grace Is Not So Amazing

James R. Aist

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a life of obedience and grace, not of rebellion and compromise!

“Grace” can be defined as receiving something good that we haven’t earned. It can be given by one person to another, and it can be given by God to anyone. Most notably, it is by the grace of God that sinners are saved from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:8), which is the penalty of sin (Romans 6:23). And this is what is so amazing about grace: that the penalty for our sins was paid by God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, so that we may not perish (i.e., go to hell), but have everlasting life with God in heaven. For our part, God only requires that we believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ, in order to receive this amazing grace (John 6:28-29). This is the real and complete Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell, as summarized beautifully in John 3:16.

Sadly, false teachings and damning heresies concerning grace have crept into the Christian church. Something that is absolutely essential to the Gospel – the grave consequenses of sin – is being increasingly ignored or even denied in some of today’s Christian witness concerning grace. Many contemporary teachers and preachers are leaving sin out of their message of grace, yet calling it the Gospel. What they fail to understand is that where there is no sin, there is no need for grace. In such a scenario, grace would be neither amazing nor necessary.

At this point, I believe it would be helpful for me to provide some prominent and current examples of the kinds of “gospel compromises” I have in mind:

Abortion. Abortion clinics are being dedicated to God by clergy who claim that Jesus approves of them, whereas the Bible clearly teaches otherwise (click HERE);

Fornication. Unmarried couples living together are being given positions of prominence and leadership in some churches, whereas the Bible clearly teaches that they are not qualified (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 3:8-13);

Foul language. Cursing, swearing and profanity are being practiced increasingly by some Christians, sometimes even by pastors, whereas the Bible instructs us to refrain from such misuses of the gift of language (Exodus 20:7; Matthew 12:35-37; Ephesians 5:4; James 3:10);

Homosexuality. Openly and actively homosexual people are not only being given positions of prominence and leadership in some churches, but they are conducting homosexual “weddings”, against all that the Bible says about the sanctity of biblical marriage and the sinfulness of homosexual sexual relations (click HERE).

Of course the grace of God is available for all kinds of sin, but God will not be mocked! When evil is called good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), the grace of God does not flow, and sin remains. Moreover, if we cherish sin in our heart, God will not hear us when we call out to Him (Psalm 66:18), and that is not a good place to be in! The true Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to a life of obedience and grace, not of rebellion and compromise! And if you are wondering if obedience really fits in here, remember that Samuel said to Saul, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Obedience is better than sacrifice, a listening ear than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).” And .Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The grace of God does not make obedience optional!

So, here is the fatal flaw in such perversions of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ: all have sinned and come short of the righteousness that God requires (Romans 3:23). Mankind has a “sin problem” that must be dealt with effectively before the grace of God that brings eternal life is even available. The grace of God (manifested by forgiveness) comes into play only after we have confessed our sins (i.e., we have agreed with God that what we did is a sin) and repented of that sin (i.e., solemnly resolved to not repeat it). God has offered us no other way to restore a right relationship with Himself. And when we confess our sins and repent, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrightneousness (1 John 1:9); faithful, because He promised to forgive, and just, because Jesus has already paid the price for our sins. Those who preach and teach a gospel that ignores or denies the sin problem (or specific sins) are not presenting the real Gospel of Jesus Christ, but a perverted counterfeit of it (2 Corinthians 11:4). The sad result is Christian churches that are becoming more like the secular world instead of more like Jesus.

The true Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with the bad news of our sinfulness and ends with the good news of God’s forgiveness of our sins. What many don’t realize is that it is the grace of God that brings both the bad news and the good news. The following phrases in the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace, state this truth wonderfully, “’twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fear relieved.” Moreover, Jesus gave us an example of God’s grace bringing first the bad news and then the good news to the woman at the well (John 4:4-42). The bad news was that she had 5 ex-husbands and was currently shacking up with another man out of wedlock. Once He got her attention with those Words of Wisdom concerning her sinful ways, He was able to then move on effectively to the good news that He had for her, and many were saved because of her testimony.

Before I close, I would like to share with you a vision God gave me that reveals His heart toward people who are among the “down and out” of our society. I was sitting in my car one day, waiting for my wife to finish having her hair “done.” Along came what appeared to be a homeless man. His clothing was dirty and tattered, his head was down and he had a slow, plodding gait, as one defeated by life. As I watched him pass in front of me, suddenly his form became somewhat transparent and another man’s form was superimposed upon his. This other man was clean, well-dressed and walked with his head held high. After they had taken a few steps in unison, the image of the second man disappeared, and then I saw just the homeless man as he walked out of sight. For just a few moments, God had given me a glimpse of who He saw walking in front of me: not a disheveled, defeated and hopeless man, but a happy, successful man full of hope, the kind of man God wanted him to be! Then I received the interpretetion (i.e., the message) of the vision: There, but for the grace of God, go I!

When we speak of God’s grace to someone, let’s be sure not to water it down by compromising what it really is. When sin is at issue, tell them that God’s grace brings first the conviction of sin, and then, following confession and repentance, the forgiveness of sin. Anything less than that is not really God’s grace, and it is not amazing at all. So let us always be obedient to this instruction from the Apostle Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

 

 

 

Be the One!

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Be the One!

James R. Aist

“The King will answer, ‘Truly I say to you, as you have done it for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you have done it for Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

Recently, I began to reflect on some of the instances when someone took the initiative to step up and be the one who blessed me by filling a need in my life that I couldn’t fill on my own. As a result, I felt a flush of gratitude and appreciation for these thoughtful and generous people and for what they did for me. I am writing this article to encourage you to be on the lookout for opportunities to “be the one” yourself. As you read on, keep in mind that my family had to move every 2-3 years, because Daddy was a Methodist minister. So, hold on, we’re going to move around a bit!

Let me begin by sharing with you three of the blessings that came quickly to my mind that day. The first of these happened when I was about 12 years old, we were living in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and Daddy didn’t have much time to spend with me at that time. Mr. Thomas was the Principal of the local school and a very avid and accomplished fisherman. He was firm with the students, but he also had a sweet, calming spirit about him. We knew that he had our best interests in mind. I greatly admired and respected Mr. Thomas. Well, one Friday afternoon, he approached me at school and asked if I would like to go fishing with him the next day! At first, I was taken aback that he would think of me, a 12 year old boy, as a fishing buddy. But I quickly agreed to go, and we had a great time together. He treated me as if I were his equal, at least for that one afternoon, and I learned some things about fishing from a real master.

The second blessing came to me about three years later. I had just been selected to be on the varsity basketball team at Batesville High School and was about to experience my first away game. I had some warm clothing to help keep me warm on the long, cold school bus rides from away games, but I hadn’t thought much about anything more substantial for the coldest nights. My family couldn’t afford anything warmer for me anyway. Then one day as I was passing by the old General Store in Bethesda on my way home from basketball practice, the store owner, Mr. Porter, caught my attention and asked me to come inside, because he had a surprise for me. So, I went inside, and he handed me a large, flat, cardboard box. When I opened the box, inside was a brand new, hooded, parka, perfect for long, cold bus rides late at night! He said to me, “I didn’t want you to get cold coming back from your away games, so I got you this.” Well, I was quick to thank him for the gift, and I was amazed that he would even think to do that for me, when I hadn’t even given it a thought myself until then.

The third blessing I will share with you came a couple of years later when I had made the basketball team at Springdale High School. We lived 6 miles away, in Elm Springs, I didn’t have a car, and my parents were unable to provide me a ride home after away games. So, it seemed to me that I would have to give up on playing basketball for my last two years of high school, which would be a major letdown, to say the least. So, I told  coach Sanders that I couldn’t play after all, and why, but he was not discouraged. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I will give you a ride home after the away games.” “But that’s six miles each way, it will be very late at night, and you have a family to go home to after the games!”, I countered. “Thats OK,” he said, “I want to do it.” Once again, I was amazed that he would make that kind of sacrifice for me. It hadn’t crossed my mind to ask him for a ride, and I wasn’t even his star player.

As you can see, the common element in all three of these stories is that someone saw a need in my life and just took care of it themselves. That is what “grace” looks like. Grace cannot be either earned or deserved; it can only be offered and received. And so it is with salvation: we are saved, not by works, but by the grace of God through the gift of faith in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. So, as we continue our journey through life, let’s extend grace to those around us as the opportunities arise and as we are able. Let’s us “Be the One!” In doing so, we will not only be helping someone in need (that’s a good thing), but we will also be glorifying God by modeling His grace to others.

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)