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Before doing this Bible study, please read the 1-minute introduction 5 Things the Prodigal Understood.
The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 5:11-19 is an excellent tool for explaining what happens in a human heart before that person is ready to come "home" to Christ.
1. The prodigal took responsibility for himself.
After foolishly squandering his father's inheritance, something he'd never earned, the prodigal realized he needed to get a job.
Luke 15:14-15: After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
People often blame heredity or environment for their sins, but before we can be saved, we need to take responsibility for our sins.
James 1:13-15: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
unsaved man thinks he's already good enough for heaven, or he thinks
he's capable of earning his way. He must come to the end of himself,
realize his spiritual poverty, and believe in the goodness of the Lord.
4. He realized he'd sinned against God and against his father.
Luke 15:21: The son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you."
This understanding is essential for our salvation:
Acts 3:19: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
5. He admitted he was unworthy to be his father's son.
Luke 15:21: "I am no longer worthy to be called your son."
Coming to Christ requires a humble understanding of our unworthiness before a holy God.
Romans 3:12: All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Romans 3:23: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When we come before God admitting we can't earn our salvation, admitting we are a sinner unworthy of salvation, and admitting that God is good, that is when we find mercy. God gives us what we don't deserve and cannot earn:
Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Meaning of prodigal: Even though most folks use the word "prodigal" to mean a wayward person or a person returning from a bad life, prodigal actually means spending wastefully or extravagantly.
If you have questions about salvation or if you would like to share more about salvation with an unbeliever, I've written two evangelistic posts that might be helpful:
Can a Simple Misunderstanding Keep You From Heaven?
This is about an incident I experienced on a hospital visit.
Are There Many Ways to Heaven?
This incorporates some of my own confusion about salvation.
copyright 2013, Gail Burton Purath, BiteSizeBibleStudy.com, edited and updated in 2022