A Recovering Pharisee


It was such defiant grace! How could it be that a rebel son be welcomed back. He had spent all his unearned inheritance on his own pleasures and now he was given a second chance? And not only a new start, but a party as well?

The older brother was not to be a part of such foolishness. Obviously, his father had gone mad. And his father needed to hear just how wrong all of this was:

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! (Luke 15:29-30)

How can it be that the one who obeys all the rules seems to get shafted? It’s just not fair! But we need to hear the heart of the father before we jump to such a conclusion.

“My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The older son had so much. All the father had was his. But he missed out on understanding the heart of his father. He was so bent on keeping all the rules that grace never entered his worldview.

For this older son, his younger brother deserved to be vanquished. If anyone deserved a party, it was him.  According to his view, he had played by the rules all his life and had gotten nothing.

Bottom line: the grace of the father was too much for the older son. It stirred him to anger and revealed his heart of judgmentalism. Grace, to him, was an offense and as Michael Spencer writes, was “simply inexplicable, inappropriate, out of the box, out of bounds, offensive, excessive, too much, given to the wrong people and all those things.”

The older son could not see how much he needed grace for himself. And this can be a danger for many of us in our walk with Christ. When we begin to think that our relationship with Christ is defined by us keeping the rules, then we not only deny our need for grace but look down upon non-rule keepers with disdain. We become like the Pharisees!

Dane Ortlund writes that “the real question is not how to avoid becoming a Pharisee; the question is how to recover from being the Pharisees that we already are, right from the womb.”

The answer is to continually “bathe our hearts and minds in gospel grace.” By preaching the gospel of grace to ourselves daily, we encounter the grace that “defies our domesticated, play-by-the-rules morality.”

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

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