The return of the wayward (prodigal) son reveals both the mercy of the Father and the lack of ability for the “stay at home” son to enjoy the gift of his father’s love. His motive for staying at home and keeping the rules was revealed in his lack of willingness to celebrate his brothers return. He was so certain that he had earned the father’s love and deserved his father’s reward by his own behavior, that he was unable to join the celebration. (Luke 15)
This story is repeated daily within our Christian culture. There are multitudes of sons (and daughters) that are watching the party through a window, judging both the younger brother and the mercyful father. Deceived by merit-badge thinking, they remain just outside the celebration of God’s Presence.
The Pharisee thanked God he was not like other men, but the tax collector cried out for mercy. In spite of the Pharisee’s loyalty he missed the point. The tax collector knew he was a sinner, openly acknowleged it and asked for mercy; strangly he is the one that Jesus declares is “right with God.” (Luke 18).
These two stories reveal the “unconditional love” of God. In both instances we realize that the mercy of God is free and undeserved. Jesus confronted the merit-badge thinking of His culture. He confronted the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and the bitterness of the stay at home brother. Jesus came into this culture of good people are rewarded and bad people are punished; and revealed the Father’s love. Today you can ask any child and he will tell you only the good little boy gets ice cream. Right? No that is the very merit-based mentality of this world. That is the “thinking” of the culture of fallen humanity.
Christ came confronting this system. However, most of Christianity has missed the point and in the end have groomed lots of Pharisees and elder brothers.
Only after we have experienced the Unmerited Merciful Father, only after we have been embraced and clothed in unconditional love are we set free from the mentality of merit-badge thinking. Only then can we begin the process of true transformation. Transformation, as Paul says, (Romans 12:2) is the fruit of a renewed mind. A mind that does not follow the ways of merit, but is swept up in the mercy of God’s Love. A mind that does not live in fear of God but by faith in His mercy and grace.
Jesus came inviting humanity home. Home to the unmerited favor of the Father. Home where our transformation would begin and our identity revealed as we continued to live in His Presence.
Over the years I have realized that it is scary to let go of one’s faith in self and to trust completely in God’s grace and guidance. It is easier to think that God rewards us on the basis of our own merit, to believe that we are not like other men. We however are all in need of his ongoing mercy.
To allow the old nature, the old man, the Pharisee within and the elder brother, die; is unnerving !
There is an authentic spirit-led Christianity that follows the inner voice of Grace into the fullness of dependency upon the Father’s love and not upon one’s own ability to prove his or her worth. To receive His daily assistance and to be shaped and formed by His love is the freedom that Christ came to bestow upon each of us.
Many others before me have written tirelessly about the death of the false self and the birth of the true self. Lately I’ve been compeled to echo those who have traveled before. Jesus came to invite us into this culture of grace and freedom. Jesus came to put to death the merit-based program of the Pharisee. Jesus came to bring us home into the Presence of the Unconditional Love of a never changing Father.
We can move out of the frustration into the celebration by simply accepting the goodness, the generosity, the gift of God’s grace on a daily basis.
Come home to His Embrace!