One of my professors at Regent College, Prof. Darrell W. Johnson, called Jesus’ familiar story in Luke 15:11-32 the “Gospel in the Gospel.” He saw within this text a distillation of the entire Gospel story – the story of heartbroken father longing for the return of his children and running out to meet them.
People such as myself who have grown up in the church and have held on to the faith all through life often think of ourselves as the older brother (who’s just as lost as his younger brother, by the way, but more about that later). We’ve stayed with the father, close to home. We think we’re like the “good” older brother.
I submit that regardless of our story, we (also) need to humbly identify with the younger brother. Regardless of how good we’ve been (or how good we’ve convinced others we are), our sin nevertheless equals rebellion against God. Because we are fallen, even our best, purest thoughts and deeds are tainted with sin. And any sin – no matter how slight – is repugnant to God and puts me at a great distance from Him.
I need to beware of thinking of myself as “a good Christian.” It tempts me to think that I’m a little better than that no-good, runaway younger brother.
But I need the Father’s grace just as much as he does.
“The Prodigal Son” by Robert Barnum; watercolour, 1998. From the “Prodigal Son Collection” at the Calvin College Center Art Gallery. The younger son looks to be in pretty rough shape!