February 28/March 1
MAIN TEXT: Luke 15:11-32
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran andembraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
It is possible for even the most devout church-goer, the most faithful attender, the highest contributor, the best-dressed, to completely miss the most essential piece of the message of the Gospel.
The Gospel is news.
The Gospel is not advice.
The Gospel is essentially the message that through Christ, it is finished.
Even though I grew up in a Christian home, raised on the mission field and had amazing parents, I picked up the idea that I was saved by grace but sanctified by myself. God loved me, but I was responsible for performing well enough to earn His favor. This led me to a performance-based morality instead of an identity-based morality. Even though outwardly, they may appear similar. Inwardly, they are vastly different.
This performance-based morality (do right and God will accept you) began to bear tremendous weight on my soul. One day, in my exhaustion and discouragement, I told God, “I can’t do this perfection thing anymore!” This statement I thought would upset God, but instead, in my spirit I sensed God smile at me and it was as if He said, “Dave, you finally get it. Righteousness isn’t earned. Righteousness is given.”
I discovered that according to Paul in Romans 4:3, Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. I had seen righteousness like a bank account. Every time I read my Bible, prayed, tithed, took someone to the airport, etc., I was making deposits into my ‘righteousness account’. Conversely, everytime I sinned–lied, gossiped, etc.–I was making withdrawals from my account. The rule in my mind was that as long as I was making more deposits than withdrawals, I would be okay.
But I wasn’t okay.
I was poor. In fact, I wasn’t just poor, my righteousness account was bankrupt. I had nothing to bargain with God over. As Isaiah the prophet, states, my righteousness was like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) before God.
This was the best day of my Christian walk, because one this day, I went from trying to trusting. I went from trying to maintain a works-based righteousness to trusting in Jesus to be my righteousness.
The Two Sons
In our text, Jesus told a story about two sons and a father, who represents our heavenly father. We often focus on the prodigal and use this text to teach that we shouldn’t throw our life away in wasteful living. We usually title it “The Prodigal Son” but I’m not sure that Jesus would have given the story this title. Jesus starts out by stating, “There was a man who had two sons” (Luke 15:11).
First, we see the prodigal son. He was wasteful and selfish. He saw everything through a relativistic grid, which says “you can do your thing, let me do my thing, and I won’t bother you if you won’t bother me.” For this mindset, the greatest sin is to be judgmental.
Second, we see the older brother. He was a hard worker, but had the heart not of a son but of a hireling. He saw everything through a moralistic grid, which says, “I’ll work for you, but you’d better make it worth my time. We should all get what we deserve.” For this mindset, the greatest sin is irresponsibility, sloppiness and even rewarding sloppiness.
Both sons were alienated from the father and the father had to go out to bring them both in.
According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23, when we are spiritually reborn–or “born again”–it’s not just an intellectual ascent, but rather, we actually have God living inside us. From that point, God doesn’t just tell us to live right, but rather, the Spirit of Jesus lives His righteous life through us!
This message is vastly different than many other religious messages in our world today. Many religious systems believe that if you work hard enough, you can be made right before God, or achieve enlightment, or become your own god, or transcend to a greater reality, or achieve eternal reward. The main message that comes to us through these religous systems is “do”. Do more. Try harder.
The message that comes to us through the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has done the work that you could never ever do yourself. You were dead in your sin and trespasses, but God, made you alive in Christ. Paul writes to the Ephesian church and says, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The main message of Christ is not summed up in the word “do”, but rather comes to us through the word “done.” In Christ, the work is done.
He lived the life that we could never live and he died the death that we deserved, and when we put our faith in Him, then that great exchange happens: we get his life, because he took our death.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” What does that mean? It means we got what he deserved because he took what we deserved.
good works can be deadly
So someone might ask, “What’s the big deal? So we’re following a few rules to get us closer to God. Wouldn’t you rather have a church full of hard workers than a bunch of lazy bums?”
It sounds good, but the only problem is that following rules isn’t just a “less ideal” way of getting us closer to God, it actually thwarts your chances of having a relationship with God.
The following passages help us to understand the weight of our reliance on Jesus and the danger of trying to earn our standing before God ourselves:
“Eternally condemned... under a curse... alienated from Christ...”–it’s not a subtle point Scripture is making here. Trying to become righteous by rule-abiding is counterproductive: it will suck the spiritual life out of you. So, if you’re like me, you might come to a point where you need to repent of all of that doing–all of the religious works you do in the flesh.
Repentance isn’t turning from bad works to good works; repentance is turning from works (period) to faith in Jesus Christ. The hardest thing for me to do isn’t to repent of the bad things that I do; it’s repenting of the religious works that I do in order to please my family, and my church, and my God–when God’s not in it at all–Jesus isn’t doing those things through me.
God will always get more out of people who love Him than out of people who work for Him. God gets so much more out of me now that I’m a lover than when I was a worker. Once I learned that I was secure in Christ it changed everything. Every other religion out there sees this journey as a race, and you’re trying really hard to cross the finish line. Christianity starts at the finish line. If you are in Christ, then you’ve already won.
You’re already victorious because the work is done
APPLY TO LIFE
This week, as you reflect on the message, utilize this section to help you apply what has been taught to your life. Think of friends, co-workers, neighbors, family etc., that you could meet with to have a time of mutual sharing as you open God’s Word together.
This simple acronym (BLESS, B - Bless, L - Listen, E - Eat, S - Speak, S - Sabbath) should help you to frame your life according to the great commandment “love God” (Matthew 22:37) and the expression of that commandment in loving your neighbor (John 13:34). Each time you meet, start by discussing the rhythms of your life according to B.L.E.S.S.
Intentionally bless: Christ-followers, non-believers and those different than you.
Listen to what God is saying to you, through His Word and others.
Share a meal with a Christ-follower and also a non-believer.
Talk to God through prayer and to others about Jesus through witness.
Be intentional about taking time to both rest and recreate.
DISCUSS THE MESSAGE
Read: Luke 15:11-32
When you read the story of the Prodigal Son (or rather, the two sons), which mindset do you identify with the most?
In what ways do you sometimes trust in your works to justify you before God?
When you consider the Gospel, how would you tell someone this good news?
Take a moment to reflect on ways that you preach the Gospel to yourself on a regular basis.