COMING TO ONSELF
1 am speaking today on an expression Jesus uttered irs Luke 15:17 which says, “When he came to himself.” He was speaking of a young man who has been immortalized as the prodigal son. In one of the greatest stories Jesus ever told, he described the kind of life the prodigal had been living. However, his compassionate nature is seen in not giving the actual details. He leaves it for the elder brother to do that. We have the picture of a young man wasting his time and money, and what is worse than that, wasting his life, Like most young men and women who think to live that way, they find plenty of both sexes as comrades in life-wrecking.
Before the change came in his life which is described as “Corning to himself,” there are three different stages in the man&'s history. There is, first, the phase in which the young man sought independence of his father. This was his first mistake, but it is a mistake that most all young men and women make. He felt he was too tied to his mother's apron—string and desired freedom from the restraints of home. He was temp[ted, like Eve, to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil which was good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and it increased his knowledge of the world which had been kept from him at home. Very soon, however, the young man entered upon another quite different stage of his life. With great delicacy Jesus called the second period of his life “riotous living”, without going into the lurid details. He had a lot of money to spend, and no one to tell him how to spend it. In the far country and free from the establishment, he spent it freely on wine, women and song. He had a ball for a time, but the pleasures of sin are dangerous joys that last only for a season. Before long there comes a third period in his life, and it is well summed up in two words, “spent all.” He spent it all and came to want, hunger, embarrassment and degradation. What is true of that young man is true of us all, We all have only a certain amount of spending money after all. He who has money without limit, yet often has not health without limit. If health does not tail him in his carefree life, yet desire fails and he becomes satiated and burned out on so much pleasure. Solomon sought this way of seeking happiness, and as a result became utterly disgusted with life This is the point the prodigal son had reached when my text says that he carrie to himself.
My first remark is that this expression, “When he came to himself” has had a great influence on human thought. When a man does what this man did, most of us are ready to write him of f as a hopeless case, and the feeling is that he has made his own bed and let him sleep in it. But this was not the attitude of Jesus. After telling us the sad story of this young spendthrift, Jesus suddenly says something that arrests our attention and causes us to suspend judgment on the foolish young man. The Lord said, “When he came to himself,” When he became himself; what an unusual statement! During those years of raucous living when he was messing up his life, Jesus said that he was not his true self. What a kind allowance for the young man's waywardnessl The young man was beside himself and beneath himself. It was not the prodigal who was the real man; the real man was the penitent. He was never himself until his broken heart overcame his pride and the memories of home filled his heart. Then he said, “1 will arise and go to my father, and say to him, Father, I have sinned.” One thing you should remember about our text is that we have made these words of Jesus our own. They have become household words, and all society uses them. This parable has not only influenced our thought, it has also affected our language. When we want to make kindly allowances for a mistake that some one has made, we use the words of Jesus. When someone we love is cross or irritable, we say of him, “He is not himself today.” When one whom we have known for years does something unworthy, we say, “Oh, that is not himself at all. That is not his true character.” Jesus first presented this thought in the parable of the prodigal son, and society has adopted it.
We all agree with what Jesus said about this young man, for we all have said the same thing many times. Jesus said he had not come to himself when he lived in a bad way. And what is that but our instinctive certainty that a man or woman is far more than their vices or failures. We cannot fully measure people by their vices. If you really want to know a person as he is, you must take him at the level of his best. This is the way Jesus always judged humanity. He was a magnificent optimist. However, he never made light of sin and never condoned it. To him it was always tragic, terrible and punishable. Nevertheless it is still true that people who live unreligiously and immorally are not their real selves. Sin is a bondage, a tyranny, a kind of madness, and it is only when this tyranny of sin is broken that men and women come to be their true selves. As we think about this young man in the story, it is ironic that his one object in leaving home was just to find himself. When he arrived in the far country he imagined that he had found himself, when as a matter of fact he lost himself. Life was intolerable on that lonely farm. He felt that he was only young once, and he must have his day and his fun. He makes the mistake that about every young man and woman make. We make mistakes about all—important matters. We reckon the short time of mortal life to be worth all our thoughts, and we put eternity far into the background. This young man thought it possible to be at enmity with God, or indifferent to him, and yet be happy. He fancied that he knew better what is right for him than the law of God declared. Isn't this the mistake that people, young and old, are making over and over again?
The portrait of this young man is just as up-to—date and relevant as anything you can read about in today]s newspaper. When he was living riotously, he thought he had come to his own in the whole range of manhood. He thought he had grown up. And then with exquisite irony of truth, Jesus shows him empty, disappointed, broken in spirit, disillusioned in mind and in complete despair. Then Jesus tells us that it was only then, when he was dead, that he came to his true self. To be determined at all costs to have our way and enjoy ourselves in life is a most tragic mistake. The essence of selfishness is to face life, or any human relationship, with the main intent of seeing what can be gotten out of it for oneself. We come to ourselves when we deny ourselves, when life has room for sacrifice and service, arid when we turn our eyes to heaven and the love that is flowing down towards us, and we set our hearts on the will of God. That is what this story is all about. What a comfort this story is to mothers and fathers whose children, at this very moment, are living riotously in the far country, far away from home and God! Don't ever give up on them; don't write them off They can and may come to themselves; let that be your hope. Then do all you can to bring it about. One of the curses of our day is cynicism, a contemptuous disbelief in human goodness, in the dignity of the human personality and the value of living. An example of this is seen in the attitude of society regarding wayward high school students. Their sexual promiscuity and drug abuse has caused a sociological problem of epidemic proportions. Society has responded from the highest level of government, and their conclusion is that these young people cannot be rehabilitated or stopped from sexual activity or drug use. From a moral viewpoint they are thought to be beyond help. In fact any effort to restore them to moral stability is banned by law from the schoolroom. This is cynicism at its very worst. What an awful slam and insult to the dignity and personality value of teen age boys and girls who are made in the image of God.
Instead of an all-out effort to restore these teenagers to moral stability and higher values, the proposed solution is sex education in the schools. These boys and girls will be taught how they can live riotously without having babies and how they can reduce the risk of getting venereal diseases and aids. Use your needles and become as sexually active as you please, they are told, but we don't want you to bring babies into the world for us to take care of, and we don't want you to get aids or spread it to others. Absolutely no moral judgments will be made on their conduct. This may indeed help diminish the birth of unwanted babies and reduce the spread of aids to some extent. At the same time it will greatly encourage the spread of immorality among these young people and encourage the practice of free love like the brute animals that roam the forest. Only time will tell the detrimental effects, socially and morally, this demoralizing program will have on society. These high school students are the future fathers and mothers of America.
I knew there was something terribly wrong about this proposal when I first heard it, but I didn't realize Just how wrong it was until I restudied the parable of the prodigal son. According to Jesus these same high school students, who are causing alarming problems, are simply not their true selves. I am sick and tired of these teen age boys and girls being treated like they are dirt, worthless and no higher than animals. They are not morally bankrupt and should not be treated like animals. What we see in them is not their better self. They are living beneath themselves. I firmly believe that there are thousands of young people in southern California who have no intention of messing up their lives by indulging in sex out of marriage and getting addicted to drugs. These stable young people are proof—positive evidence that the rest of them out there are recoverable and simply have not come to themselves. According to Jesus these same high school students, who are causing alarming problems, are simply not their true selves. What society sees is not their better self; they are living beneath themselves. They are capable of a much better life. Moreover, they have great value and can and may come to themselves. How different the attitude of Jesus from society in general! He teaches that the only problem they have is that they need to come to themselves. He was a magnificent optimist, but we are outrageous cynics.
I believe that all of these high school students who have fallen into these destructive vices would love the story of the prodigal son. I wonder what an impact this story would make on their lives, if they read it and understood it? I sincerely believe that this parable of the prodigal son should be mandatory reading in every Literature course in our High Schools. I believe it would help these young people believe in themselves when society has lost about all confidence in them. These young people don't know it, but they have not come to themselves and they are living, far below their potential. They have great value, and God Is waiting on them to come to themselves. And when they do, God is willing to receive them and says, “Come to me, and I will be your Father and you will be my sons and daughters. I will treat as though you had never done wrong in your entire life.” The troubled youth of our generation will never receive a better invitation than that.
As a final thought it is to be noted that the prodigal son made no excuses I or his sinful conduct. He didn't pass it off by saying, “You know, young men will be young men.” Neither did he say, “1 inherited this way of life; it runs in my family.” What he did say was, “Father, I have sinned and have been a good-for-nothing son.” It was then, when his worst was in his own eyes, that his best was In the eyes of Christ. A man Is not less guilty for his failures, because they do not represent his real manhood, It Is no excuse for our misconduct that we are living beneath ourselves. I never find Jesus making allowance for any person who makes allowance for himself. Just in proportion as we are stern with ourselves, Jesus will be merciful to us. I would further remark that when Jesus was on earth, one great aim of his life was to bring men to the reality of manhood and women to the reality of womanhood. He didn't come to make men and women angels, but to make them their true selves. It is the faith which Christ has in men and women which draws them to their highest and best. Because of Christ there can be a different tomorrow for any man or woman. Christ believes in you and your future, and there is a best possible for you that is higher than your dreams. And that is the reason that Christians possess freedom in the fullest sense of the word. The nearer a person is to being himself, the closer he is to true freedom. At the basis of the social freedom which we enjoy as Americans is the fact that we are ourselves. We enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to pursue our own happiness, It is the same in the deeper world of religion and morals. When we are ourselves, then we are free. Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. You shall know the truth about God, about religion, about morals and about yourself. True freedom is not the right to do just as we please in defiance of all the laws that surround us. Freedom is power to realize ourselves, and the paradox of Christianity is that this comes through obedience to Christ.
What must one do to be made free? What Is involved in this obedience to Christ? The answer is given by Paul In Ram. 6:17-18 , “God be thanked, that though you were servants of sin, yet you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became servants of righteousness.” A person becomes free from evil habits only after he obeys from the heart a certain form or pattern of teaching. That pattern of teaching is clearly stated in Rom. 6:3-5, “Do you not know that as many of us as ‘were baptized Into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk In newness of life.” We learn from this scripture that every person who becomes a Christian experiences a death, burial and resurrection, in a manner of speaking. Jesus literally died, was burled and raised. The penitent believer dies spiritually, is buried spiritually and is raised spiritually. As Jesus died for sin, the believer dies to sin in his heart. He, so to speak, crucifies his past sinful life. As Jesus was buried In a tomb, the believer is buried in the water of baptism. Do you see the correspondence? This is why scriptural baptism must be immersion; it must correspond to the burial of Christ. In baptism you tell God you are through with your old life of sin, and you want to bury it as something over and done with. In that act of baptism God forgives you, your past sins are entombed in the watery grave, and you are tree from your old jife. Finally, when you rise out of the water of baptism, you rise as a new creature, born of the water and the Spirit, cleansed and forgiven, having been made free. Henceforth you live a new life. When a person does this, he has truly
come to himself.