The Parable of The Lost Son – Which Son Was Lost?

Steve Davidson speaks at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary October 8, 2009

“I challenge you to see the world differently, and to influence the culture of the church,” Steve Davidson said to students, faculty and staff of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Davidson, founder and pastor of 1500-member Clovis Hills Church in Clovis Hills, California, is also a DMin candidate of Golden Gate Seminary. 

Referring to Luke 15, verses 11-31, The Parable of the Lost Son, Davidson said, “There are two ways to be lost before God, and the two sons are examples. The younger son is a lawbreaker and the elder son is a follower of the law, but they are both lost.” Davidson shared that he learned of this perspective from Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God.”
He explained how the younger son is an example of a sinner, someone who is far away from God and who then returns. “We embrace those former sinners as the father embraced his wayward son upon his return. We welcome them into the church and nurture them to grow in their faith.” 

The elder son is an example of a saved person who has always done the right thing, but because of this, has a predilection towards righteousness, explained Davidson, noting that this son exhibits the “God owes me” mentality. 

“There are elder sons in your church,” cautioned Davidson, “those who turn off the younger sons by treating them with disdain, acting superior and judgmental.” They are like the Pharisees at the beginning of Luke 15, who muttered and grumbled that Jesus fraternized with sinners. “Be careful that you don’t obey the Bible for the wrong reasons,” he warned his listeners. “Don’t be a rule follower, with no love for those who God loves.” 

“It is possible to be alienated from God by merely keeping the rules,” he said, pointing out the elder son was full of pride in following the law, like the Pharisees. “This can be a turnoff to unbelievers. People will see us as rule followers and think that is the way to salvation,” Davidson stated. “Similar to the elder son who doesn’t see that his life is given to him through grace, people will think they have to earn their salvation.” 

It’s not easy to grow a church, Davidson concluded. “You want the younger sons to grow and become elder sons. But sometimes the elder sons repel the very people who need the message,” he said. “I believe that is the reason that Jesus told the parable, for the rule followers. Remember, in verse 1 the Pharisees criticized Him for hanging out with sinners.”
“When you are pastor of a church,” Davidson told the seminarians, “Try to have the kind of church that is for people who don’t want to go to church, the kind of church that welcomes anyone at any stage in their relationship with God. That’s my challenge to you, to influence the culture of the church and to be a loving extension of the grace of God.”