God Doesn’t “Take You Back” into His Family After You’ve Gone Astray
I got all fired up today after coming across a well-meaning Christian video about Justin Bieber. To be honest, I know very little about Justin Bieber, so this has absolutely nothing to do with him personally.
And I don’t mean to pick on the video , either— I really don’t. Looking at it word-for-word, there was really nothing wrong with it. But a sentence in it hit me square in the chest, because it hinted at a belief many of us Christians hold and champion. So again, it’s not the content of the video I take issue with, but the perspective it brought to mind.
It tells the story of young Justin growing up with deep Christian roots and beliefs, and how, after finding fame and fortune, he fell away from the Lord — pursuing drugs, alcohol, and women. Finally, when he had reached his rock-bottom, he realized his need for God and returned to his faith once again. The narration concluded, “And just like the prodigal son, God welcomed Justin back into his arms.”
Nothing wrong with that, unless you believe that the Father welcomed him back into the family of God, reinstating him as a son.
Because the truth is, neither Justin nor the prodigal son nor anyone else ever ceases to be a child of God, no matter how far “off the path” they wander, no matter how grievous their sin.
What gets me fired up about all of this is the notion that you’re either ‘in’ or you’re ‘out’ when it comes to the family of God.
We Christians are really good at drawing that line. Even worse, we protect and defend the line. And we don’t want anything we perceive as a threat crossing it. Rather, we’d prefer to go “out there” and tell them the good news about Jesus — but also what is required to be one of us and part of God’s family.
And I think that’s all wrong.
Look at it from the perspective of loving parents. If your kid is on a crash course to ruin, he doesn’t stop being your kid. You’re heartbroken that he doesn’t call, that the relationship is strained or non-existent, and that he is falling short of who he’s meant to be. It’s not what you want for him or for you.
But for a variety of reasons, some of our kids are not able (or willing)to receive the love we have to give. Trauma happens. Hurt feelings and disappointments cloud the truth. Maybe they don’t trust us. Maybe they’re afraid. Maybe they feel horrible about who they are. But they’re still ours.
If this can be true of us — imperfect, faulty mothers and fathers — how much more is it true of our Heavenly Father? I don’t believe he sees that line at all between His children. “Believers” and “Non-believers.” We’re all just His kids, and His desire is to have close, healthy relationships with each of us.
So, when a prodigal returns back to God, it’s his heart that has softened toward God, not the other way around. The Father maintains the love He had for him all along. It’s really the rest of “the family” that presents the biggest challenge.
And that’s you and me.
The reality is, it’s not always easy or pleasant for us to assimilate a new sibling into the family. My husband and I adopted 2 older children (siblings) when our first three kids were 13, 15, and 20. The kids were all on board with the adoption, but none of us really had any clue how hard the adjustment would really be for everyone. It’s actually the perfect illustration for what I’m talking about here.
The new kids had backgrounds, issues, and behaviors that were decidedly unlike those of the members of our existing family. Our first three kids shared a long history, memories, and their own family “culture.” I can assure you everyone did not mix well for a very long time — every day we fought the ‘us and them’ mentality. It was exhausting, frustrating, and often heartbreaking for us as parents, longing for us all to be one big happy family. But here’s the thing: do you know what makes us a family? It isn’t rules or culture or even love (in the warm fuzzy sense.)
What makes us family is the name we all share and the commitment we have made to be one.
We Christians are not Christ-like at all if we view people with different beliefs and behaviors as outsiders. They are our brothers and sisters who do not yet know (or have rejected) the love of our Father. True evangelism is not about “converting sinners” or “winning souls for Jesus” — it’s about showing people why and how they DO belong to God and His family! Jesus already died for their sins and won the battle, but nearly 100% of the time, He’s put the ball in our court to show people the love, belonging, and benefit that comes with having a relationship with the Father.
The elder brother appears in the parable of The Prodigal Son for a reason. He represents what so often happens in the family of God — jealousy, bitterness, judgement, and an unwelcoming heart for those who’ve fallen away or are living as orphans. And I’ll tell you what: I imagine that grieves God’s heart just as much as it does when his other children go astray.
We live in a sad dichotomy these days — the digital age has created incredible interconnectivity throughout the world, yet there are more divisions between us than ever, along with a growing sense of isolation. As Christians, we need to erase those dividing lines, not create or maintain them.
It’s not our job to determine who’s in and who’s out when the Day of the Lord comes — that is His job alone. “Let the wheat and the weeds grow together,” he said. Until harvest time, they may be indistinguishable from one another. We can’t be so worried about pulling up weeds to protect the wheat, that we lose a valuable part of the harvest.
God doesn’t need bouncers posted outside the House of the Lord. As our brothers and sisters (and Justin Bieber) return home, the Father indeed will welcome them with open arms and a heart full of joy.
The question is, will we?