The Lost Son & the Benefits of the Effectual Call

Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017

WSC 32 of 107

11 And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.…

Luke 15:11-32

WSC 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life? 

A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification,1 adoption,2 and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.3  

1 Rom 8:30; 2 Eph 1:5; 3 1 Cor 1:26, 30 

We saw previously how the turning point of the wayward son in the Lord’s parable reflects the effectual call that every elect sinner experiences.  

We noted that the elect sinner could come to himself, like the lost son, only through a work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. We saw that as the lost son begins to feel keenly his sin and misery, the elect sinner is made to feel the same in his effectual calling. As the lost son remembers his father and takes steps to return to him, so the elect sinner is—at his effectually calling— made to appreciate Christ and enabled to embrace Christ freely offered in the gospel. 

Notice that in the parable, as soon as the father receives the lost son, he outfits him with a new robe, a new pair of shoes and a new ring, and then kills the fatted calf for him. Now since the Parable of the Lost Son is a story parable that has more than one point of connection with the spiritual reality it represents, a case may be made that the Lord intends these things to represent the benefits that the elect sinner receives upon their effectual calling. 

Our Shorter Catechism, question 32 asks, “What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?” 


They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification,  adoption,  and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

These benefits are taught in numerous places in the Scripture, such as Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. However, for our purpose in this study, we will take our starting point from the benefits which the lost son receives from the father. 

Consider then the four things bestowed upon the son by the Father and how they reflect the spiritual benefits bestowed by the Lord upon those who are effectually called. 

1. The Robe 

The lost son has come home filthy and stinky from feeding swine. But the father does not push him off. 

Bring forth the best robe and put it on him,” says the father (v. 22). What could the best robe represent? Surely, it is evident that if it represents anything for the elect sinner, it must represent the robe of righteousness.  

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,” says Isaiah (Isa 61:10).  

What is it to be covered with the robe of righteousness, but to be justified? Justification is essentially to be imputed with, and therefore, covered with, the righteousness of Christ so that we are accepted in the sight of God.  

Remember the Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet. Remember how the guests who are not appropriately attired are bound and cast out (Mt 22:11-15). Only those covered with the garment of righteousness can find any acceptance before God. 

I find it intriguing that the father instructs his servant to put the best robes upon his son without requiring him to be washed first. Isn’t this what justification is about? We go to Christ just as we are. And we are covered with His righteousness. The internal change that begins with the regeneration or the effectual call is a life-long process. But justification is instantaneous. The justified saint is righteous in the sight of God, though he is still a sinner in his heart. We are—to use one of Luther’s favourite Latin phrases—simul justus et peccator

Thank God for the robe of righteousness. Thank God for justification. Were it not for this great benefit bestowed upon us, which of us can have any confidence before God? But because of justification, we know that despite the remnant of corruption in us, we are accepted as righteous and pleasing in God’s sight for Christ’s sake. 

2. The Ring 

The lost son has squandered the wealth bestowed upon him by his father. He himself understands that he is no longer fit to be his father’s son. He has, after all, not only, as it were, disowned his father but has dishonoured him by riotous living. “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son,” he cries (v. 21). 

What is the father’s response? “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand” (v. 22). What is this ring? Surely it is not intended merely as an ornament or jewellery. The returning child is a son, not a daughter! The father is surely not trying to beautify him with a piece of jewellery. 

The word translated “ring” (δακτύλιος, daktulios) is a hapax legomenon. It occurs only once in the Bible. Many commentators believe it refers to a ring that usually incorporates a seal representing sonship. This is how the standard Greek Lexicon sees it (cf. BAGD sv. “δακτύλιος”). 

If this is correct, and I believe it is, then what does the ring represent for the elect sinner? Surely, it represents adoption. Adoption is another benefit of the effectual call. 

Turn to Romans 8 for a fuller look at adoption: 

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16  The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.

Rom 8:14-17

What a great privilege we have! We were once the children of God’s wrath but are now joint heirs with Christ. Once, we were not worthy to be the sons of God, and now we are still not worthy to be the sons of God. But we are given the Spirit of Adoption to be assured of God’s fatherly love. 

The lost son has a ring, but we have the Spirit to indwell us. In our effectual call, we are baptised by the Spirit in regeneration. Now in our adoption, we are given the spirit to dwell in us as an earnest and seal of our eternal inheritance. Blessed be the Lord! 

3. The Shoes 

The lost son is not only given the best robe and a ring of sonship, but he is also given shoes to wear. Perhaps he has come back barefooted, or it could be that his shoes are practically worn out. 

Since there is a meaning for the robe and the ring, we can expect a meaning for the shoes too. What would they represent? Well, the shoes in the armour of God represent the readiness of the gospel. “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,” says Paul (Rom 10:15).  

But the context here does not seem to have anything to do with being a witness. It suggests, instead, sufficiency. The lost son had to walk about barefoot or in worn-out shoes. But now his feet are shod with new shoes in which he can walk about as the son of the father. 

Does this not suggest that the shoe has something to do with the Christian life for the converted sinner? The converted sinner was wandering in sin in the deserts’ pathless ways, but now he is home. He has begun to walk as a beloved son, covered with the new robe. Does not the apostle Paul say, “There is therefore no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit” (Rom 8:1)? 

The parable does not say it, but the Scripture elsewhere informs us that the converted man does not stand still. Instead, he begins on a journey as a pilgrim and stranger upon the earth. He is heading towards the Celestial City, where he shall be glorified and enjoy perfect rest. There is a sense in which the sinner is home and has found rest when he is converted. But there is also a sense in which he is not yet home and is not yet enjoying everlasting rest. Thus, the son walks on in his new shoes. 

Note that this journey is not a literal one. It is a spiritual journey or growth in grace. Solomon says: “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov 4:18). 

If this is so, and the shoes are gifts for him to continue on the journey, then surely we are not far off if we say that the gift of sanctification is included in the father’s gift of new shoes for the lost son. Only by the gift of sanctification can we walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. 

What is sanctification? We will study it when we come to WSC 33, but for now, it suffices us to know that it is the work of God’s Spirit by which we are renewed in the whole man and made more and more conformable unto the image of Christ. This is a lifetime work that requires our response.  

The lost son who has returned needs not only to wear the new robe of justification and the ring of adoption, but he must also wear and use the shoes of sanctification in his day-to-day walk as a son. It is his responsibility. 

The apostle Paul is, no doubt, referring to this responsibility when he says in Philippians 2:12-13: 

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Sanctification is a work of God’s Spirit, but we must respond to what God is doing for us. Unless we use the shoes, the shoes are of no use at all. 

But finally, consider the fourth thing the lost son received from his father, namely, the fatted calf! 

4. The Fatted Calf 

The lost son had been living a life of misery and hunger. But now he is returned, and the father says, verses 23-24b: 

Bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.

In other words, “Let us celebrate!” And so, “they began to be merry” (v. 24c) 

What are we to make of this celebration? Well, clearly, the Lord intends for us to appreciate by it the joy that is in heaven over one sinner that repents (Lk 15:7). But remember that this is a story parable with more than one point of connection. If the robe, the ring and the shoes can be interpreted as specific gifts of the father for the converted sinner, surely there is ground for us to meditate a little more on the fatted calf. 

This is especially so since the parable continues with the elder son being jealous of what the younger son received, especially the fatted calf!  

Surely then, we can’t be too far wrong to think of the feast as reflecting the additional benefit enjoyed by the elect sinner at his effectual calling. The elect enjoys a feast at his effectual calling, but it is not a once for all feast. It represents, rather, the beginning of a lifetime of feasting. Just as the lost son will no longer be hungry, the converted sinner will no longer starve but enjoy a life of blessing and spiritual abundance. Does not the apostle Paul liken the Christian life to a feast in 1 Corinthians 5:8? 

What could the feast enjoyed by the lost son represent in reality? We do not want to speculate what the fatted calf could represent. It may not represent anything. But I think it is fair for us to speak of the feast as representing all the additional gifts bestowed upon the converted sinner to make his Christian life a life of joy and blessing. What are some of these things? Our Shorter Catechism speaks of “the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from” justification, adoption,  and sanctification (WSC 32). 

We can liken the feast to the benefits accompanying or flowing from the initial benefits of justification, adoption and sanctification. What are these benefits? In WSC 36, we are taught that they include assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace and perseverance therein to the end. 

Beloved brethren and children, do you realise what a great blessing you have enjoyed ever since the Lord called you effectually into His kingdom?  

Are you assured of God’s love for you? It is a gift of God for you.  

Do you have peace of conscience? It is, likewise, God’s gift to you. The father of the lost son does not make him feel bad because of his sin or his smell. Instead, he makes him feel forgiven, accepted, and welcomed. So it is with us. By knowing justification and adoption, we are assured of God’s love and have peace of conscience.  

Again do you have joy? Oh, how shall we not rejoice when the Holy Spirit is not only working in our hearts, but reminding us of the bountiful grace and mercy we are enjoying from the hand of God despite our unworthiness! 

Again, are you using the means of grace so that you grow in grace? From the day he returns, the lost son will put back on the lost weight and strength. The feast is the first of many consistent meals to come. You, too, have the privilege of increase in grace. Are you availing yourself to the sumptuous fare in your father’s house? 

Again the feast of the lost son celebrates his homecoming. He was dead and is now alive. He will never go away again, for he has spent his inheritance. He has nothing by himself anymore. He will live on under his father’s care henceforth. And so it is for the elect sinner! With effectual calling, he receives many things. He receives justification, adoption and sanctification, and with them, he also receives perseverance unto the end. He will never be totally lost again. Therefore, there is a reason not only for heaven to rejoice but also for the redeemed sinner to rejoice. Praise the Lord! 


What an incredible parable. 

What extraordinary privileges we enjoy as God’s people who have been effectually called by the Spirit of God! 

You have been clothed with a robe of righteousness! Your sins have been forgiven you. You are accepted by the Father despite your sins, past, present and future. You are accepted not because of anything you have done or will do. You are accepted because of Christ! 

Let not the devil or anyone rob you of joy in Christ by condemning you for being a failure. If you hear or feel the condemnation, be ready to respond: I am indeed a failure. I squandered my Father’s wealth. I sinned against Him. But He has received me and has even given me a new robe. It does not matter what others think of me. It is enough that my Father has received me for Christ, my elder brother’s sake. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus! 

Again, beloved brethren and children, you who have been effectually called have been given a ring of sonship. The Spirit of Adoption dwells in your heart. You have all the privileges of being a child in God’s family. When difficulties happen in your life, remember that your heavenly Father is in control and that He is chastising you out of love. Never doubt His love. Never allow yourself to become overtly discouraged. Never take things into your own hands, but always trust Him. 

Again, you have been given the shoes of sanctification. Remember to walk by the Spirit by working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Despise not the means of grace that the Father has appointed for you: both public and private. Serve Him gratefully not as a servant, but as a son. Like the lost son, you do not deserve to be a son, but you have been received as a son! Therefore, serve your heavenly Father out of love and gratitude! 

And let your heart be filled with joy and praises as you enjoy the feast of the Christian life with the assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, increase in grace, joy of the Holy Spirit and perseverance unto the end. 

But once again, if you are still wandering in the world like the lost son before he returned home, then may I urge you to consider the miserable situation that you are in. You do not need to continue feeding swine. You do not need to continue to lust after pig’s food. There is abundance in the father’s house. Listen, Christ is calling out for His sheep. Do you hear Him calling you in your heart of hearts? Do you find it in your heart to follow Him? If you turn away from your sin and believe in Him, you will find salvation. 

You are a long distance away from the Father’s home, but you do not need to walk a long distance to return to Him. You need to cry in your heart, “Lord, I have come to myself. I see what a terrible sinner I have been. Have mercy upon me, a sinner! I know I deserve your wrath and curse. But I want to wander in sin no more. Take me and make me your servant, for I am not fit to be your son!” 

If you find it in your heart so to pray, then blessed are you, for the Father will not take you as a servant, but as a son. He will give you the new robe, the ring, and the new shoes, and you will begin an exciting journey of enjoying God with all the spiritual benefits that the world does not know.  

Oh, sinner, why will you perish? Repent of your sin, turn to Christ for salvation so rich and free in Him. Amen.  

—JJ Lim