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The Prodigal God (Week 5): Redefining Sin Part II

I. Jesus: Paradigm Shifter

In Act I, in the person of the younger brother, Jesus gives us a description of sin that anyone would
recognize. The young man humiliates his family and lives a self-indulgent, dissolute life. He is totally out of
control. He is alienated from his father, who represents God in the story. Anyone who lives like that would
be cut off from God, as all the listeners to the parable would have agreed.

In Act 2, however, the focus is on the elder brother. He is obedient to his father and, therefore, by analogy,
to the commands of God. He is completely under control and self-disciplined. So we have two sons, one
bad by conventional standards and one good, yet both are alienated from their father. The father has to
go out and invite each of them to come into the feast of his love. So there is not just one son lost in this
parable- there are two.

But Act 2 comes to an unthinkable conclusion. Jesus the storyteller deliberately leaves the elder brother in
his alienated state. The bad son enters the fathers feast but the good son will not. The lover of prostitutes
is saved, but the man of moral rectitude is still lost.

Why doesnt the elder brother go in? He gives himself the reason: [Because] I never transgressed your
commandment at any time (Luke 15:29). The elder brother is not losing the fathers love in spite of his
goodness, but because of it. It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, its the
pride he has in his moral record; its not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from
sharing in the feast of his father.

How could this be? The hearts of both brothers were the same. Both sons resented their fathers authority
and sought ways of getting out from under it. They each wanted to get into a position in which they could
tell the father what to do. Each one, in other words, rebelled- but one did so by being very bad and the
other by being extremely good. Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for
their self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means we can
rebel against God and be alienated from Him by either breaking His rules or by keeping all of them. Its a
shocking message: careful obedience to Gods law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against
God.

II. A Deeper Understanding of Sin

Most people think of sin as failing to keep Gods rules of conduct, but, while not less than that, Jesus
definition of sin goes beyond it.

We can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. If we do that, we feel entitled to rights. God
owes us answered prayers, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven, etc. We dont need a Savior who
pardons us by grace because we are our own Savior. This attitude is clearly that of the elder brother. He is
angry at his father because he feels he has the right to tell the father how the robes, rings, and livestock of
the family should be deployed. In the same way, many religious people commonly live very moral lives, but
their goal is to get leverage over God, to control Him. Therefore, despite being ethical and pious, they are
actually rebelling against His authority.

**If we believe that God ought to bless us and help us because we are good people, then Jesus may
be our helper, our example, even our inspiration, but He is not our Savior. We are serving as our
own Savior.

Jesus shows us that a person who has violated virtually nothing on the list of moral misbehaviors can be
every bit as spiritually lost as the most immoral person. Why? Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it
is putting ourselves in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the
authority of the father in his own life. So we see that there are two ways to be our own Savior and Lord: (1)
breaking all the rules and doing our own thing and (2) keeping all the rules and doing our duty.

III. Gospel

Jesus does not divide the world into the moral good guys and the immoral bad guys. He shows us that
everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and
control for ourselves. We are just going about it in different ways. Even though both sons are wrong, the
father cares for them and loves them. This means that Jesus message is a completely different spirituality.

**The gospel of Jesus is not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism,
conservatism or liberalism. Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles- it is
something else altogether. The gospel is distinct from the other approaches: In its view, everyone
is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this.

By contrast, both elder and younger brothers divide the world into two by saying, If you are not with us, you
are against us. But Jesus says, For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles
himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).

Although the sons are both wrong and both loved, the story does not end the same not for each. One of the
ironies of the parable is now revealed. The younger son left his father literally, physically, and morally. And
though the older son stayed at home, he was actually more distant and alienated from the father than his
brother, because he was blind to his true condition