The Prodigal Son or the Older Son…which one are you?

Most, if not all, professing Christians, if you asked them, would say they rejoice when a sinner comes to Christ, as they should.  After all, it’s what Christ was and is all about.  His Word says we are all sinners, saved by grace.  So, why is it that it seems like there are some people we don’t want in heaven?  It’s time to ask the tough questions and look at ourselves in the mirror.  Do we approach missions and evangelism the same way as we do a buffet….picking out what we want and leaving the rest?

Luke 15….my favorite chapter of the Bible.  The parable of the prodigal son is one that I especially relate to.  I was saved at the age of eight, but, for ten years, I never matured past that eight year old level of spiritual growth and deepening my faith in Christ.  I trusted that Christ is the Son of God and that He was resurrected from the dead after dying for my sins on the cross, but I didn’t know what it meant to me on a daily basis and how it applied to my life.  As a result, I pushed God into a corner and started living the life I wanted.  I had anger inside of me for things that I couldn’t control.  I cussed like a sailor.  I had lust like no one’s business.  When it came down to it, I didn’t really want to remember what Christ did on the cross, because I wasn’t quite ready to give Him everything.  Thank God He never let me go.  Fast forward to age 18.  Jesus pretty much hit me upside the head and told me that He was tired of His little corner.  Sure, during the six years that I really strayed from the Lord, I had my high points.  Some weeks I felt close to God, and I would “rededicate” my life to Christ.  But, as David Platt puts it, I wanted to be pardoned, not purified.  I didn’t quite understand what it meant to live out my faith.  I get to college, and I realize that I have to give up everything.  My sin, my dreams, my friends, my life for God, and let Him take control.  So, when I read about a man that was probably a teenager going and squandering everything he had on sex, booze, and “friends,” I can relate.

This son decided he didn’t want to wait until his father died to receive his inheritance.  So he demanded it before the father died.  I can’t imagine going up to my mother and “demanding” that she give me money.  One….I don’t have an “inheritance” from my mom.  My “pay” is to be able to come home to a nice house, get great food, shower, and sleep.  Two….she might decide to learn how to fire a gun if I ever talked to her like that….anyway.  The son goes and spends it on prostitutes, alcohol, and just living the high life.  The Bible says he “came to himself” and realized that his sin went deeper than just with his father….he had sinned against the God of the universe.  He longs to eat the food that pigs eat.  A week before, he thought he was on top of the world.  Now, he’s lower than the pigs that roll around in mud.  He plans to go to his father and ask forgiveness and work his way back to him, but before he gets the chance to speak, the father runs, literally runs, towards him and embraces him.  He was looking for his son.  He never gave up.

If I had to make up for all the sin I’ve committed and the wrong I’ve done, the people I’ve hurt….I would never be able to do it.  But God sent Christ for this reason…we no longer have the burden of living to the law’s standards.  Christ secured our forgiveness with His death.  He took the payment for all those nights I spent lusting after women, all the foul language that came out of my mouth, the lies and hate I showed towards friends and family, and took my punishment.  A local pastor said this past Sunday that in the new covenant of Christ that “I get all the benefits of Christ’s faithfulness, even though I am not faithful.”  God saw me while I was a long way off, and chose, by His absolutely incredible grace, to bring me back to Him and make me new.  I truly repented and made God first.  I’m not perfect, and never will be.  But thanks to God, I’m not where I used to be.  He took a lukewarm and sinful boy that called himself a Christian and brought him back to himself, and is molding me into the Godly man He wants me to be.  The father in this story doesn’t see the sin his son has committed, he only sees his son, and looks on him with love.  Because of what Christ did on the cross, this is how the Father sees us.

So, sinners are usually seen as the prodigal son.  We are rescued from our sin by faith in Christ, and God the Father welcomes us into His family with open arms.  But there’s another group that needs mention…the older son.  Otherwise known as the Pharisees….or Christians who obviously haven’t read the Word in a while.  Otherwise known as…..our churches.

We proclaim to love all people, but instead of loving on them and showing them the love of God and the gospel….we judge them and condemn them for what they do.  Like I said earlier, we treat missions like a buffet, taking what we want, what we care about, and leaving the rest.  We hear of some nice group in Africa that needs help because they don’t have water and we go and faithfully proclaim the gospel.  Hallelujah.  Amen.  Then…we hear the opportunity to witness to a homosexual community in a big city and say “God doesn’t care about those people.  They’re too far off.  We can’t help them.  They’re just sinners.”  We may not say those words, but it’s what our attitudes show.  Jesus never said to love those who you really like and identify with.  He never said to just go to the people you feel comfortable with.  The truth is…we are miserably failing.

The campus of my university has an incredibly diverse population.  I tend to disagree with a lot of what they do.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them as people.  We are all sinners.  If it wasn’t for God’s grace, none of us would be here.  Yet we act like we’re better than others because for some reason, we think being a Christian was our God-given right.  Where in the world do we, especially in the south, get this sense of entitlement?  Certainly not from Scripture!  Romans 2:1–“Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges.  For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”  This verse is skipped over way too much…and it’s beginning to become obvious.

Christians, again, especially in the south, are becoming like the older brother in Luke 15.  He gets angry at his father because he has served him for two years and didn’t receive anything, yet his brother comes home, his brother who was living in sin, and receives the fattened calf.  Look at opinions of Christians all over the country.  All you have to do is go read some of the comments on newspaper stories that deal with faith.  We are seen as judgmental, mean, snobby, and ignorant hypocrites.  Does that sound like the kind of people Jesus wants to carry out the Great Commission?  It may not be true of all of us, and no, we don’t seek praise from the world, but we better start caring about our image.  Not in the sense of “If I look good, I must be good,” but with missions in mind.  With the “I want people to see Christ in me so I may better advance the Kingdom and glorify God.”  There are two problems with the older brother:

1) He treats his years with his father like years of servitude.  He expects something in return so he can “celebrate with his friends.”  This is the equivalent of us going to church without wanting to experience and glorify God.  We drag ourselves to church Sunday morning and then expect God to do something for us, when we forget that the whole point of church, the whole point of life, is to bring glory to the King, and not to ourselves.

2)  He is so focused on his brother’s sin that he forgets and refuses to see him as his actual brother.  This is where I believe we are having major issues within the church.  It’s been brought to my attention this week that I myself have failed.  I have come across as judgmental…something I never expected to hear.  I know it was not my intent, but the problem is…I wasn’t intentional enough with my love and I lost my focus and became a hypocrite.   A Pharisee.  Then, Sunday God hit me with truth.  The pastor at the church I visited said “It’s not our job to convict people.  We are not the Holy Spirit.  We are to lovingly point them to the gospel.”  I had to check myself, and it stung a little bit.  I apologized and asked God to forgive me and to guide me and my ministry with love and peace, not religion and judgment.

Our churches seem to have this thing where we focus on the sin and not the sinner.  Our Christians seem to have this thing where we want to point out others sin, but not our own.  We must remember that the only difference between non-believers and Christians is that we know Christ.  And it is by God’s grace alone, nothing we do merits our salvation.  Where do we get off thinking that we are wiser than God?  Do we honestly think that we know who is “fit” for the kingdom of heaven?  Certainly not us.  No one is.  Not without Jesus.  So why do we go around believing that we are better than others?  We’re all about getting sin out of others lives, but we fail to recognize the sin in our own lives.  We’re all about fighting against abortion, fighting against homosexuality, fighting against all these things, but we forget that this world isn’t filled with issues and sin.  It’s filled with people struggling with sin.  They may not realize it, but they are.  They don’t need us coming around and beating them over the head with the law and being a moral dictator.  Show the love of Christ, show them the way to God, and pray for them.  Spend time with them, become a friend.  We are not to condone their sin, and we certainly don’t join them in it, but we don’t leave them to the world. God didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves in this dark world….why are we leaving others?

I love what my pastor says, even though I’m not sure if he actually came up with it…maybe he’ll read this and tell me: “Hate the sin…love the sinner.”  Amen.  Jesus spent more time with sinners than he did righteous people.  He loved them and showed them the way to the Father.  If the one we call King, the one we call Savior, did these things, we should jump at the opportunity to do the same.

So, are you the prodigal son?  Caught up in sin, wondering how to get back to God?  Life wears us down sometimes….but God is there.  We will struggle with sin and with life’s problems, but we have a Savior and a Conqueror in heaven who is there to pick us back up.  Come to Jesus.  Give Him everything…sin, doubt, problems, relationships, whatever it is….just lay it down.  Make Him Lord, and He’ll make you part of the family of God.

Or, maybe you’re the older son?  Quick to judge, but slow to recognize internal sin?  It’s easy to get caught up looking at the sin of others.  Believe me.  It’s especially easy where I’m at, and in college in general.  But I’ve found that as I get swept away by God’s love for me, I start to love others more easily, and it’s not just other Christians.  I’ve decided to spend more time trying to meet people that are different than me, and share the love of Christ with them.  It must be intentional.  It must be done with the guidance of the Lord and with prayer and with the gospel.  But most of all….it must be done.  Period.

One day, peoples from every tongue, every tribe, every nation will bow before the Lord.  It’s time to stop believing that it’s all about us, all about our lifestyle, all about our friends and our “morals.”  It’s time to start believing that God can and will change the hearts of every kind of sinner imaginable.  If He did it for me, He can do it for anybody.  That goes for those that are more like the prodigal son and for those that identify with the older son.

If God loves all….why don’t we?  And what are we going to do in response to this love that transcends all lifestyles, all countries, all languages, and every other barrier imaginable?  Will we sit and wait for it all to end without reaching out to those who desperately need Jesus, just as we do?  Or will we be intentional and boldly proclaim the gospel to the nations, to the ends of the earth?

God bless,

Neal

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