The Prodigal Identity
What exactly is a prodigal? Well, when one wants to know how to use a word, the first place we usually look is in the dictionary. The Webster, 1913 edition, which I personally like, tells us that the definition is a person who is extravagant in a careless way. It goes on to describe the prodigal as a person who is wasteful and not frugal. The prodigal spends on that which is not necessary.
I’ve been thinking about the term, prodigal child now for several days. In Luke 15 there is a model of a prodigal son who demanded his inheritance before the death of his father, and then spent the money foolishly on careless living. It is in this context that Believers tend to describe a person as being prodigal. A wayward child is often branded as a prodigal.
Books have been written on the subject and I suspect that Christian counseling centers deal with this issue more frequently than we suspect. My question is this: must a child leave home to become a prodigal? Since the brand seems to indicate money and careless living, I would guess that the child does not need to leave home. In fact, a prodigal does not need a fat bank account either.
Children who live carelessly in the home are on the way to becoming prodigal and yet exhibiting a nature that is fairly obedient. Most of the time the child is consistent with family policy. Inwardly, however, the child is in constant battle with submitting to authority. Kindness does not prevail. Sloth overtakes them when the alarm clock sounds in the morning. A clean room? Never. These are just a few symptoms.
I know this. I was one of them. Selfishness and pride kept me from peace and contentment. But, I never left home with outward bad feelings about my parents. I did not spend money lavishly; in fact, I was frugal almost to a fault. I never talked back or argued. If my parents saw this inner rebellion, they did not address it. I had a quiet spirit but it was sullen. Slowly God worked His loving kindness on me and oh so slowly one by one my fingers were pried off of myself to see the needs of others. Philippians 1:21 played a part. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Physical death has no fright for me but living apart from the power of the gospel is terrifying!
All I have to do to identify a prodigal is to look in the mirror.
Don’t let pride keep you from looking. Romans 12 will answer your introspection.