For the past six Monday nights I have gathered with women from my neighborhood and school communities for a book discussion of NYC pastor Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God. While I have read the book several times previously, the truths it teaches on sin, salvation and our Savior seep in deeper and deeper the more I process it.
If you are unfamiliar with Keller and his writings, I highly recommend you pick up any one of his books. But I will tell you why The Prodigal God is something we all need to grasp.
Assuming you are somewhat familiar with the parable known as The Prodigal Son in Luke 15, I will not retell it all here. But as typically taught, we learn about a younger son who ran away with his inheritance though his father was still living. After much rebellion he returned back home, repentant, to the welcoming arms of his forgiving father. We see that God is full of love and forgiveness, welcoming back sinners. While this is in fact true, this is not actually the point Jesus was making by telling the parable.
Jesus’ audience was full of Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders. The same men who would just a little later turn Jesus over to the Roman authorities to have him crucified. These men prided themselves on doing all the right things, leading moral lives and serving as the purity police to everyone in their midst. Their self-righteousness and own great works greatly disguised their need for a Savior and the sinful motivations going on in their heart.
Therefore, in Jesus telling the parable He wants them to identify themselves in the role of the elder brother. The elder brother had been perfectly obedient in serving the father, yet his motivation for doing so was to gain his father’s stuff. His own good works and moral living left him puffed up by his own “goodness”. But we see in his anger and opposition to the grace and forgiveness that the father extends to the younger brother that his heart is very distant.
Using the language of Keller, the elder brother had also “run away from home”. But the elder brother’s sin and rebellious heart is easily covered up as he knows how to act and just what to say to play the part of a “good” Christian who has it all together.
This then challenges our view of sin. It can’t simply be bad behavior, but is something much deeper! Sin at its core is living independently of God; running away from Him.
In the case of “elder brothers” it is looking to our own goodness as leverage with God. In other words, trying to control God by doing the right things with the mindset that we then deserve his blessings. Or, it may be doing good things for the wrong reasons. For instance, I may go to church or participate in Bible study so I look good to others. I may give, volunteer or serve others not out of genuine love, but out of duty so I feel better about myself. And “elder brothers” do not get or give grace. They are the first to judge and condemn others, maybe not even out loud, but in their hearts, as a way of elevating themselves to a higher prideful standing.
Ouch! Don’t read this book if you don’t want to see your sin here!
But as my husband always says growth in the Christian life is not that we sin less; it is what we do with that sin. It’s living a life of repentance. And when we see the depth of sin as it is uncovered in this book, we see how much greater our need for a Savior is. And we begin to treasure Him in a more glorious way so that now we want to seek and obey Him out of love, not out of duty or personal gain.
I am going to miss these Monday moments; it truly was a highlight of my week. After all, we were made to be connected with one another and there is nothing like studying the Word together that builds bridges that lead to transparency and unity. When this happens and the religious masks come off and elder brother tendencies begin to be identified, we not only see our great need for a Savior, but our need to be intimately intwined with other believers. And as Keller would put it “experience the foretaste of the feast to come”!
I would love to hear your comments as to how this book has ministered to you if you’ve read it. And if not, it is a must read. Better yet, read it in a small group with others.
Here is an easy link to both: The Prodigal God and The Prodigal God Discussion Guide with DVD: Finding Your Place at the Table.
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