Jesus’ Life of Love

Jesus Tells the Story of the Lost Son: Lesson Three

Luke 15:1132


One day I was reading Sheila Walsh’s little book, Outrageous Love, when her words made me stop. “God’s love doesn’t play by the rules…. It offers unconditional love to the one who knows [he]she is guilty and the one who thinks [he]she is innocent.”

How true! God’s love doesn’t play by the rules. It doesn’t fit with the way our Adam nature is programmed to think. God loves us unconditionally, regardless of what we have or haven’t done. Yes, He wants us to be good and do right, but He doesn’t love us more if we do good things or less if we do bad things.

Even as Christians, after we accept Jesus by faith and are born again into Spirit-to-spirit relationship with God, our soul oftentimes still keeps looking for “good” things we can do to earn God’s favor and love. We easily fall back into the trap of being led, not by the Spirit, but by the independent soul—with a New Testament version of “good” rules to be followed. Under this way of thinking, we either know we are guilty because of our obvious sin or feel we are innocent because of our self-righteousness. Obvious sin causes us to feel guilty and undeserving of love so that we reject God’s forgiveness and compassion. On the other hand, self-righteousness and pride stand in the way of us receiving the love God offers us as a free gift. Deep inside, many of us still think like the Pharisees—like the hard-working, older brother. We try in our own strength to be “good” by church standards. And in doing so, we think we are better than others and have somehow earned God’s favor, blessing … and love.

But Jesus did not come to bring us a new set of laws to be obeyed. In the New Covenant, we don’t work and strive to be obedient in order to be loved and accepted. Rather, we live our lives from a position of knowing and believing the love God has for us. We are of infinite worth to Him. When we see Him as He really is—full of love for us—we will run repeatedly into His welcoming arms … until we learn to abide in His embrace.

In the text for this lesson, Jesus tells the parable of the lost son and his older brother to help us understand our Father. Both of the sons think of themselves as deserving or undeserving based on their behaviors—according to their obedience to the law. But the father only has love for both of his sons.

Read Luke 15:11–32:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“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. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“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! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20So 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.

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

22“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. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But 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. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”



1. While away in the distant country, how did the younger son think his father would respond to him when he returned home? Why do you think the son might have thought this way?

2. Have you ever rejected your heavenly Father’s love because you felt undeserving? If so, what was that like?

3. Describe the father’s actions upon his younger son’s return. What do these actions say to you about the father and how he felt about his younger son?

4. Compare and contrast the way you think the younger son saw his father before and after his return?

5. If possible, share a time when someone treated you with compassion and forgiveness after you had sinned. How did that make you feel toward the forgiving individual? About yourself?

6. How did the older brother feel he deserved to be treated? Why did he feel this way?

7. In verse 30, the older brother points out to his father the sins of his younger brother. Have you ever felt the need to point out the sins of another? If so, describe that time. Why did you feel this need?

8. In verse 31, what do the father’s words tell you about how he felt about his hard-working son?

9. It is not clear from this story whether or not the older son chose to join his father at the party. What do you think it would have taken for the hard-working brother to decide to join the celebration?

10. What was the father in this story like?

11. In what ways have you personally been like the younger son? In what ways have you personally been like the older son?

12. What does this parable say to you personally about God, your heavenly Father?



Scripture tells us that “We all, like sheep, have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). This includes straying like the younger son (who was aware of his sins) and straying like the older brother (who did not recognize his sins). Acknowledging that we have gone astray is the first step toward reconciliation.

Reread verses 11–24 of Luke 15, putting yourself in the story as the lost son. Perhaps a specific sinful or self-righteous action or thought comes to mind. Now you are ready to share that with your Father. Now you are returning home.

In your mind see your Father coming to welcome you … tell Him everything … and receive His joyful welcome.