How we see our life in Christ will very much determine how we respond to this fresh wind of grace we’re seeing in the body of Christ today. And I think Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-32 can help us here.
First, it’s quite telling to me that we traditionally refer to this story as the parable of the “prodigal son.”
You see, Jesus seemed to think it was about a father who had TWO sons. And if we miss this, we miss the heart of our heavenly Father–and our own response to His heart toward us.
But before I continue, I would like to acknowledge the insights of leaders like Jack Winter, Floyd McClung, Jack Frost, Leif Hetland and many others, for giving us a better understanding of this parable in recent years. For we are finally starting to see the stunning reality of this outrageously loving Father who is relentless about bringing His orphan children home to live in His constant embrace.
For as they have pointed out for us in this story…
The prodigal son is the “rebellious” orphan
The elder brother is the “religious” orphan
An orphan is someone who lives like they have no home. They live life separated from the affections and affirmations that only come from a father, so they seek these things out in their performance–good or bad. I talked about this in “When the Father’s love touches our orphan heart.”
So, what’s revealing about this misnomer is that when we put the focus only on the “prodigal” side of the story we tend to miss the equally important view of the elder brother. One reason could be that the latter’s view resonates more with our traditional evangelical point of view.
After all, the elder brother wasn’t the one who ran off and “sinned.”
The elder brother did nothing wrong. And I’m sure he was “in church whenever the doors were open.” He was the one who kept his nose clean, right?
Of course, a demonstration of extravagant grace toward the “rebellious” always makes the elder brother angry. It’s “not fair” and he demands justice.
Nonetheless, the point of the story is that our heavenly Father wants both sons to “come home,” if you will.
And this gets to the heart of the matter. If we’re still living like orphans–on either side–we will not understand this grace revolution in its proper light. For orphans cannot handle the pure message of grace. They will either abuse it or criticize anyone who tries to walk in it. For it’s meant for fully affirmed sons living life from the Father’s embrace.
The “prodigal” response to pure grace
They will interpret the undiluted message of grace as freedom to live a self-indulgent lifestyle. For they have not been “compelled by love” to give up their carnal life (2 Cor.5:14-15).
This is because they don’t believe that ultimate pleasures and abiding joy can only be found in Him. So their life is one of running away from His love, seeking out the inferior counterfeit pleasures found in the world to satisfy the cravings of their impoverished soul.
Rebellious orphans think that God is holding out on them, that their heavenly Father doesn’t have their best interests in mind.
The “elder brother” response to pure grace
“Elder brother” Christians will scoff at the pure message of grace and call it a “cross-less gospel,” pointing to the rebellious orphan’s response to justify their claims. They will not receive the pure message of grace because they define their spirituality by following rules, by what they don’t do, and by staying inside boundaries they have devised. They don’t trust God to manage anyone.
They resist intimacy and keep Love at a distance because it requires honest, bare-naked vulnerability. They hide from God with their constant study of Him, trusting only in what they can control and only what can be managed in their own strength. It’s humanistic at its core with only a pretense of spirituality.
Like the elder brother in the story, they never avail themselves to all that the Father has (Luke 15:31), never understanding that it’s their heavenly Father’s “good pleasure to give them the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32).
The elder brother Christian sees the Father as an austere, demanding taskmaster who must be obeyed for love. Repentance is shown by putting themselves on probation, being sorry enough, sincere enough, suffering enough…rather than resting in His unconditional love.
And what’s interesting is that both the rebellious and religious orphan are the same in that they operate out of fear instead of love. So they perceive God as being separate from themselves, understanding who Christ is, but never seeming to grasp who they are–inextricably in Him.
Sadly, because of their insecurities and unhealed emotional wounds, neither will enjoy the transforming love that comes from the Father’s heart that allows one to see and love others the way He does.
I wrote about my own orphan-hearted journey as a Christian, going from being the prodigal to the elder brother in “Don’t give your life to Jesus and then lose your soul.”
So, as we navigate on this “ocean” of God in the midst of the current rising tide of this grace revolution, let’s consider where our reactions are coming from. And let us not fear the extremes on either side. Rather, centering our attention and our affections on the One who beckons us out of our “boat” onto the waters of His amazing grace–letting our orphan fears give way to His unfathomable love.
Beloved, we have nothing to fear. HE, and He alone, is faithful to complete that which He began in us. You are loved.