The Prodigal God – Part 1

AUDIO (21 minutes)

Pastor Dan Borgelt:
We are starting a new series here at Kirkmont called, THE PRODIGAL GOD. It’s a 6-week series and we’re going to be taking a look at one particular passage for six weeks in a row.

Now if you’re familiar with Church, or are familiar the Bible in any way at all, that title, THE PRODIGAL GOD, might sort of ring a bell, but yet also seem just a little bit off… like maybe the author of the series just missed a word or two.

But some of you are familiar with the story known as THE PRODIGAL SON and that’s indeed the passage we’re going to be looking at a together for the next 6 weeks. It’s from the Book of Luke, chapter 15.

We’re going to be looking at this one parable for six weeks in a row… and I can’t tell you enough, I AM REALLY EXCITED TO BE LOOKING AT THIS PASSAGE TOGETHER.

There are so many layers to this passage… so many different angles to look at, so many different things to bring out, and I want to say that from the outset, so you realize that when we read the passage together this morning, you’re going to think of things that I’m not going to cover this morning but hopefully by the end of the six weeks we will have covered all the things you think of, PLUS also bring out some new insight into this passage for those of you who are familiar with it.

Here’s what we want to focus on this morning there with Luke chapter 15 in the story of the Prodigal Son … we are focusing on this idea of RELIGION vs the GOSPEL… religion vs. the Gospel.


Now if those terms are unfamiliar to you that’s okay we’re going to look at those and define them together in our time this morning, but I want to let you know from the outset that in my opinion, when it comes to religion and the Gospel, I want to make this point from the outset, that I do not believe that they are similar to each other; I do not think that they are variations of each other; but instead I want to propose this idea that religion is the exact opposite of the Gospel… that it is directly opposed to the Gospel.

Now what do we mean by religion?  By religion what we mean is, it’s a way of viewing God; it’s viewing God with a reward system; it’s the understanding that many people who are religious have — they approach God and they think that God rewards people who do good things and he punishes people who do bad things and therefore, it’s about becoming a better person, and about earning your right in your way into God’s presence both now and for all of eternity as well. That’s religion.

And if you think about it, really all we’re doing, and many people do when they develop religion is that they’re simply borrowing from the way the world works.

Almost every culture out there has some type of reward and punishment system. Just think about ours… do we give student’s “A’s” for getting the answers wrong?  No. We don’t give all students the same grade; we grade them based on how well they perform.

And religion is taking that mindset and putting in on God and saying, “He must act the same way towards us as our teachers act towards our students.


Or think of another example, when it comes to the workplace; do we give people raises at the end of the year when they haven’t done well or performed well?  No. We evaluate the performance and then we give them a pay raise, we keep their pay the same, or we might even decrease it based on how well they performed.

Religion is taking that thinking and applying it to God and saying, “He must treat us that way as well”.

And all religions… all of the major religions that I’ve ever looked at operate under a religious_based_system. I’ve not ever studied another religion and found even hints of the Gospel–the Good News, found in them at all.

But the thing is, that Christianity also has been infiltrated with religion as well.

Yeah, some denominations have a reputation for being more religious based than others, and that might even vary from one part of the country to another, but I think it’s safe to say that if you, anywhere in America were to go visit five different churches, you’d come across at least one of them that operates on a religious based system.

So maybe many of you have been exposed to a religious based system in your past; I wanted to give you a little bit of a test to see if maybe you’ve been exposed to religious based system.

top 5


#5 – You might have been in a religious based church if… you’ve ever had an usher measure the length of your shorts or skirt or had an usher offer you a jacket to put on over your attire;

#4If every month at communion they remind you that Jesus drank grape juice, not wine, you might have grown up in a religious based church;

#3 – If there was an alter call every week inviting you to come back to Jesus for the 12th time, and to be baptized for the 17th time, you might have grown up in a religious based church;

#2 – If the church had a vibrant gossip… I mean prayer ministry, you might have grown up in a religion based church;

#1 – If the pastor used the word “hell” more than the word “heaven”, you might have grown up in a religious based church.


I want to invite you to our Scripture, Luke chapter 15, religion vs the Gospel. And I want to invite you to see this passage, and I’m going to suggest that I think both brothers… not just the older one, and not just the younger one, but both of them are operating under a religious based system.

It’s a long parable; those of you who lack the ability to stay focused like me when I read, this is going to be challenging for us, but here we go.

 Luke chapter 15, it’s a wonderful passage; verse 11 through 32 

“Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

– – – – – –

Friends, as I’ve said, I want to suggest that both of these brothers are operating under a religious based system.

Now I want to ask, “Do you buy that… do you see that when you read and hear the passage?

My guess is if I was to ask you which one feels more like a religious based system, you would probably say the older brother, right?  He’s the one who seems to come from more of a legalistic mindset; he seems to have the religious based system down.

So let me show you how I believe that the younger brother also is coming from a religious based system.

– – – – – – –

The first thing is, he has a conversation with God. Lets not forget that in the parable, the Father represents God; and so this person comes to God and he basically says ‘I don’t want anything to do with you, I don’t want you to have anything to do with me, for all practical purposes I wish you were dead, leave me alone I want to go off and be on my own.’

And he does exactly what many people who grew up in a religious based system do, and that is they eventually leave God; because very few people can handle the lifelong burden and responsibility and guilt that is put on people who grow up in religious based systems because they’re never good enough… always having to try I’ll be better and most of those people eventually leave.

Verse 12 we see this is exactly what the the brother does, it says, “the younger one said to his father, “Father to give me my share of the estate”… so he divided his property between them.

But then he goes off and he finally comes to his senses; and when he decides to return, listen to his mindset, listen to how he’s thinking: he’s thinking so much from a religious based system, he basically decides this: he says “okay I’m going to go back to the father, but instead when I go back to the father, because I’ve messed up, because I’ve made mistakes, then I’m going to go back to him not in the full status that I used to be… I’ll be something less than I was before… I’ll be I’ll be I hired helper, a hired servant.”

So he is so much thinking about his life and how it measures up to the character of God and what he wants; and he realizes he’s made a mistake and therefore he thinks that he now needs to be in LESS standing with God; and not only that, but by making himself a hired man, he’s implying that he’s going to do what? …he’s implying that he’s going to pay off the debt that he has incurred by living such a wild an ungodly life.

“I’ll make it up to God if I just come back as a hired hand”.

In verse 19 this is what the Scripture tells us he says… I’m no longer worthy to be called your son make me like one of your hired men.”

– – – – – –

Friends, I’m convinced there people all around us outside of the church walls: our friends, our family members, our neighbors, coworkers, people who we bump into all the time… who feel like the younger brother.

And maybe they were never apart of God in their life, and maybe they were at one time, but either way they’re still outside of the church walls because they feel like, ‘if they were to come back and they were to step into an environment like this… they will be stepping into an environment with God where they would have to be less than first class… that they would have to be second class… that they would have to somehow EARN their way and pay off debt before God, and the thought of that is overwhelming and it keeps them outside of the church.

The younger brother is operating in such a religious based system.  He’s made a mistake and he thinks now he needs to be LESS and he has to somehow EARN his way back.

But that is not the Gospel.

The older brother, it’s more obvious to see, that he operates in a religious based system… the older brother comes along and he says, “Look, I have not messed up at all”…  he basically says “Not only have I not messed up and done some the really bad things that a lot of people do, but I’ve also done a lot of really good things, and therefore he’s essentially saying, “God I deserve to be in your presence, they don’t deserve to be in your presence, I’m better than they are; reward me, not him.”

Do you see the religious based system… how obvious it is there. The Scripture tells us what he says in vs 28 through 30… here’s him saying just that:

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

– – – – – – –

Not only do I think there are people outside of the church… perhaps more importantly for our conversation this morning, I think there are people inside of the church all across America, this church included, that have both younger and older brothers in them.

I believe it’s reasonable to assume that here at Kirkmont this morning there are some younger brothers. There are some people who have messed up, and made mistakes in their life; and they feel guilt, and they feel shame about that.

And maybe they’re coming back, maybe for the very first morning this morning, for the first time in months or years; or maybe they came back months or years ago; but either way they still feel like second-class citizens in Gods eyes; like hired servants at best; not like full blessed Children of God and they are still operating under the religious based system, that they need to make their life BETTER so that they can atone for the mistakes that they made and they can get right with God that way.

But that, my friends, is not how you have to come back this morning; that is the religious based system, it is not the Gospel.

– – – – – – –

There are also older brothers in this room. Some of you who have… to be honest with you, I mean you really have never messed up in such grevious way that it keeps you up at night sometimes. And you’re really excited about that, maybe proud of that, and you serve God, you serve the Church; you’ve labored for the Kingdom of God.

You’ve done those types of things and as a result of it you feel like, GOD OUGHT TO ACCEPT YOU… you’ve been good enough to be accepted by Him, and you’re acutely aware of the fact that others around you have not lived as Godly a life and served as well as you have, and you don’t think that they all to be treated the same.

You love the idea of a pastor who will constantly tell the church about what’s wrong and what’s right and the punishment and the reward for each of those things.

Those are older brothers… but is a religious based way of thinking and it is not the Gospel.

Friends, the Gospel, the Good News is found in verse 20. It was read by Jane to our kids earlier, and here’s what the Scripture says,

“So he got up (this is the younger son) and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, (now remember he’s thinking he’s going to go, he’s going to be a hired person, he’s gonna pay back his debt to his father). “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.


Now there are some more details that we’re going to look at later in our series… were going to look at “Why does he put a robe on him and kill the fattened calf”… and what’s the ring and the sandals and all those things about the… but for now let’s just focus on the embrace… let’s just focus on the reality that this father approaches his son and he does not accept his invitation to be a hired hand; but instead he receives him as a full blown son or daughter in the Kingdom of God.



And that’s how God is inviting you and I to come into his presence.

In the book of Romans 6:23 it says this,


… let’s pause there… “For the wages of sin is death”. Now that is a verse that religion knows. “For the wages of sin is death”… that’s right. There are consequences to your actions. And we don’t deny that part of the verse here at Kirkmont. We believe that it’s in the Bible; it is in the Bible, “For the wages of sin is death”. 

However, it’s almost like some religious based churches forget the second half…

in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s like they forget that, and we view the two as they come together beautifully. We embrace the reality that we have all sinned; and that we deserve to have… that if we operated by religious based system we would all be in deep trouble.

But we don’t; we live by, our hope is found, our joy is found in the Gospel which is GOOD NEWS that the free gift of Christ Jesus is eternal life.

Do you see why I am suggesting to you this morning that as we start looking into this parable in the next several weeks, we must realize that the Gospel and religious based systems are not different versions of each other. It’s not like, “Oh, there are other kinds… just a little bit different, but heading in the same direction.

No, as Tim Keller says, they are diametrically opposed to each other. ln complete opposition with one another… that if you embrace a religious based system and are operating and have been operating that way for years in your life because someone taught you that that’s how you are supposed to approach God, then you’ve probably never experienced the real Gospel–the Good News.

But the JOY is that if we live by, and under the power of the Gospel… then we are free from the dangers and the snares of a religious based system that is all around us.

The word …

Does anybody know what the word “prodigal” means? I had to look it up at the beginning of this series… I had heard it before, but is not a word I am familiar with.
So you can see why the passage was entitled The Prodigal Son, because that’s exactly what he does, he’s recklessly extravagant with his father’s possessions, he spends them all.

But, what would possess… what would possess Tim Keller to come along and write a book and attribute that same title PRODIGAL, not to the son, who squandered his father’s belongings, but to GOD HIMSELF.

It sounds almost like heresy doesn’t it.. until you consider the possibility… that maybe what Jesus wants us to do, is to see the character of God in this passage as being such… as recklessly extravagant… and having spent everything on us.


– – – – – – – – – – –

We invite our Praise Team to come forward and finish with that wonderful song that they introduced at the beginning of our time together.  Will you join me as we pray.

Heavenly Father there are people in this room undoubtedly, who feel like the younger son; who feel like they’ve messed up just enough in their life that the thought of coming back into your presence is intimidating as the son felt in this passage.  And they’re wondering that if they were to do that, what are they going to have to do to atone for what they’ve done.  

And maybe there are people in this room who are still trying to atone for what they’ve done. And I pray Lord, that by your Grace and Mercy that they would experience, know, and live by the Gospel of the Good News… just that image of the father embracing his child… that that would resonate on their heart and mind, as we leave this place together this morning.

And some of us to feel like the older son… feel like, we served you and maybe avoided some of life’s major pit falls, and yet at times that can lead to this thinking that were better than others; that we deserve to be in your presence, that they don’t.

For those in the room who can identify with the older brother in any way at all, we confess that to you and ask for your forgiveness; and pray for the heart of God.

We look forward to experiencing in our time together through this series about why it’s called The Prodigal God. We pray these things in Jesus’ precious and powerful name. Amen.

– – – – – – –

Pastor Dan Borgelt
Kirkmont Presbyterian Church
Beavercreek, Ohio 45385

2 thoughts on “The Prodigal God – Part 1”

  1. Thanks again for posting, Larry. I was also moved by your story on FB. This was good – I think I identify with the older brother, and I can see now where I think I’ve been “good enough” for a gift that I never had to earn, but was freely given to me. How freeing and reassuring. Also, how terrible it is of me to place any expectations on people around me, even inadvertently. Good stuff.


    1. Thanks Jessica… the first REAL post from a REAL person I know is not spamming me.. haha. If I learn how to properly ‘tag’ on here I’ll get more readers and commenters but that’s not my goal now. Now I simply do this for ME.. I get so much from hearing the message live each Sunday (often twice) I’m in the sound booth 1st service kinda working but listen to message on a headset. Then transcribing and embellishing with pics does much for me. I will do this till the day I can hear/type no more. Thanks again.

      Regarding the Prodigal God specifically.. just today as I was transcribing Week #5 another application came to me: I’m most comfortable around teenagers and children. Around adults, ESPECIALLY really smart ones I become intimidated and slow in thought and more dim-witted.. haha. I COMPARED THAT TO 1ST SON SYNDROME.. I get defensive and need to justify or explain my fau pas speaking. HOWEVER, the smart person… “may be” like the Older Bro and and become IMPATIENT with people like me who can’t ‘get it’ as quickly… thus God giving both parties the opportunity to further develop their patient mercy (either for themselves or towards the other).


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