Some parents of prodigals have walked the hard road of a false profession of faith by their son or daughter—only to be heartbroken, realizing it was a manipulative effort to gain some advantage. Having grown up in a Christian home, prodigals are well versed in what to say and do to give their parents hope that their profession may be real.
Not wanting to thwart the work of the Spirit, and excited to think that their prayers have been answered, parents may take the profession at face value and welcome their prodigal home. Soon, the reality brings disappointment and the deep pain of betrayal.
We should regard with realism any profession of faith. Proverbs 14:15 points out that “[t]he simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” Simply put, faith professed should not be trusted until it is tested, even by the one making the profession. Only time and trials will enable us to discern if the profession reflects genuine saving faith.
Does this mean we should treat those professing faith with skepticism? The Bible would not support such an approach… however, the pattern we see in the Bible for responding to professions of faith does not address people who have previously made false professions, especially not those who have done so repeatedly. What then should be the response to a prodigal who once professed faith, turned from their profession, and now declares he has truly come to Christ?
Perhaps the earliest test of a prodigal’s newly professed faith will be whether he expects the immediate disappearance of all the consequences of his sinful choices. A truly broken soul who has come to repentance will not expect to be treated as though the past did not happen… forgiveness of past offenses does not immediately rebuild trust.
It is reasonable to expect one who has repeatedly betrayed trust to show their trustworthiness over time. True faith will weather the challenge of bearing the weight of progressive steps in restoration—and such a process will often expose a false profession.
How do we deal with the sense of betrayal that a false profession arouses? By putting ourselves in our proper place. After all, who is really offended in such situations? Is not the sting of betrayal directed against our heavenly Father? Isn’t he the one aggrieved?
Moreover, have we not ourselves, in many of life’s choices, repeatedly betrayed him as well?
The offense is actually against God. Therefore, we can leave it in his hands to address. We can push past the disappointment of our joy turning to sorrow again—but we must not allow bitterness to grow in our hearts.
Excerpted from The Painful Path of a Prodigal: Biblical Help and Hope for Those Who Love the Wayward and Rebellious by Craig K. Svensson.