Viewpoint: Repent and Return to Christ
- The prodigal son changed his life when “he came to himself.”
- Christ’s arms remain open to any who come to himself or herself and return to his or her divine home.
“If you will take the first timid step to return, you will find open arms to greet you and warm friends to make you welcome.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley
The Savior included this brief yet timelessly important phrase in His parable of the prodigal son: “And when he came to himself.”
Those familiar words found in Luke 15:17 refer to the mighty change of heart experienced by the parable’s protagonist—a selfish and reckless young man who had demanded his inheritance, abandoned a loving home, and “wasted his substance with riotous living.”
Soon the young man’s money was gone and he experienced a spiritual and physical famine. Desperate to survive, he worked a humiliating job feeding swine. He was so hungry that he ached for the husks devoured by the pigs.
Famished, utterly alone, and likely near death, “he came to himself.” In that moment of immediate insight, he realized he had left precious parents and a safe home. He regretted his awful decisions and longed for nothing more than his father’s presence.
The parable then records the young man’s humble return and how his compassionate father—who had never lost hope for his foolish child—ran from his home and, upon reaching the boy, “fell on his neck and kissed him.”
His joyous household then threw a feast to celebrate the return of a lost son.
The parable of the lost son was an answer to the Pharisees and scribes who, upon seeing Christ ministering to the dregs of society, marveled, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
As the Redeemer, Jesus desires the recovery of all who are lost. And like the parable’s long-suffering father, His arms remain open to any who come to himself or herself and return to his or her divine home.
The parable of the prodigal son remains as relevant today as in biblical days. Each of us has turned a spiritual back to the Lord. Many know the hollow guilt caused by that spiritual famine called sin. All experience the lonesome consequences of “riotous living.”
But the parable is more than a cautionary tale. It is a happy reminder that even during the darkest and most reckless days, a forgiving Father awaits. He and countless others celebrate when a prodigal daughter or prodigal son repents and returns home.
While he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Gordon B. Hinckley said that a joyous return is possible for any “who have taken your spiritual inheritance and left.”
“Note the words of the parable of the prodigal son: ‘And when he came to himself.’ Have you not also reflected on your condition and circumstances, and longed to return?
“The boy in the parable wanted only to be a servant in his father’s house, but his father, seeing him afar off, ran to meet him and kissed him, put a robe on his back, a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and had a feast prepared for him.
“So it will be with you. If you will take the first timid step to return, you will find open arms to greet you and warm friends to make you welcome.
“I think I know why some of you left. You were offended by a thoughtless individual who injured you, and you mistook his actions as representative of the Church. Or you may have moved from an area where you were known to an area where you were largely alone, and there grew up with only little knowledge of the Church.
“Or you may have been drawn to other company or habits which you felt were incompatible with association in the Church. Or you may have felt yourself wiser in the wisdom of the world than those of your Church associates and, with some air of disdain, withdrawn yourself from their company.
“I am not here to dwell on the reasons. I hope you will not. Put the past behind you” (“Everything to Gain—Nothing to Lose,” Oct. 1976 general conference).
Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah offered this redemptive promise to all who “come to themselves” and return to the Father and His Son:
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
“Learn to do well. …
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:16–19).
The author of the parable of the prodigal son was sent forth by His Father to deliver each of His children from the bondage of sin and death.
“He journeys the long distance to find and bring home the prodigal ones,” declared Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy during the 1995 October general conference. “And there He finds us weary, hungry, and downtrodden. He feeds us and gives us drink. He lives among us and shares our burdens. Then, in a final act of supreme love, the eldest Son takes of His own wealth and, one by one, He ransoms us. In order to pay the fulness of our debt, He is compelled to sacrifice His own fortune, yea, all that He has, every whit.
“There are those who refuse the proffered ransom. Chained by pride, they prefer bondage to repentance. But those who accept of His offering and forsake their errant ways receive healing at His hands and liberty as His gift. These He leads back to the Father with songs of everlasting joy” (“Redeemer of Israel”).
The parable of the prodigal son is, as Elder Porter taught, the parable of us. All have sinned and come up short. But we can learn from the prodigal son. We can “come to ourselves” and repent. The door is open. Safety and abundance await in our heavenly home.