We often read the bible looking for validation. We want to feel good about ourselves and be accepted by God and our friends. But God, which is a nice phrase we often see in the Bible, is after a lot more than how we feel about ourselves. This is illustrated in the parable we call “The Prodigal Son”. In this story we get to see how God looks at each of us, and how His grace is provided for us. We can find this great story in Luke 15:11-32.
In short, a well-to-do man has two sons. The older stays with his father and faithfully works for him, while the younger takes his share of his father’s money, leaves, and wastes it on sinful and selfish pleasures. When the younger brother is out of money, he comes to his senses, repents, and returns to his father’s house. Then the story of God’s dealing with us begins. Make no mistake about it; God is speaking to us all here, using both brothers as examples for us to learn from.
There has been a lot made of how God ran to meet his son as his son retuned home. And there is truth in that. But, if we keep reading with our minds open to hear God, the truth of just how powerful God’s grace is emerges.
First, He forgives the younger son and welcomes him back into His house. This is a very clear illustration of how we are saved by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2.3-9). The father was doing the forgiving and providing a place for the sinful son. The younger son was welcomed back, washed, fed, and clothed. His filthy old clothes were taken off him and discarded. He was once again a full-fledged member of his father’s household. But this is not the end of the story!
The older, faithful son has the same problems as the younger; they just look different to us. But not to their father. The older son is now angry and jealous. He has stayed and done all the work; why is his younger brother’s return being celebrated? His father’s response shows us just how much grace God has for us. His Father tells him that he will always be with him; that he too is welcome in his household. But he must repent of the sin of not forgiving his brother. His place in his father’s house is not guaranteed by his works, as good as they are. Rather, he is welcomed in his father’s house by his father, and what his father does and who he is. His father is loving, forgiving, and welcoming. He is also uncompromising. He will change nothing in his house to welcome his son. It is they who must change.
Neither brother is rejected by God. The sinful, wasteful brother can be accepted back into the household, as well as the unforgiving, good works doing brother. For both brothers, their actions do not determine how welcome they are, but their welcome is provided by their father. However, both must repent if they want to stay. We are all called to repent of our sin.
What is the message? We cannot point at someone else’s sin and say to God “I am not as bad as that one”. When we say things like “love the sinner but hate the sin”, we are tiptoeing up to the line of what God wants, and ignoring our own sin, just like the older brother.
In each brother, we can see God’s grace in action. They are welcomed based on their father’s love for them. But he will not force either to change. They must choose to refuse sin if they want to be part of the household their father provides.
We all need to repent of our sin, and we all need to rely on God’s grace. So, remember, there are two brothers, and God is speaking to us in each one.