You know the story of the prodigal son, don’t you? When we read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15, we often feel like the story is primarily about the younger brother. However, what we miss is that both sons are lost during the story. The son who squandered his life in sin and wound up among the pigs is welcomed home by his father. However, the older son resents the younger son, and never, from what we can tell from the story, is reconciled to his father. Two sons were lost, but only one is found.
If you’re anything like me, you tend to be the older brother. I spent my entire life until I was 20 trying to earn my salvation. I felt justified by my own righteousness instead of Christ’s. Even now, I find myself judging more easily than I find myself loving.
Sometimes, we see the sins of others and think, “Thank God I’m not like those people.” What makes us think that the smug, self-righteous, unforgiving person in church is less lost than the unrepentant partier? What about the self-righteous pastor? As important as it is for the church to carry the mantle of John the Baptist in culture, we must never forget the purpose of John’s message: to prepare the way for the Lord.
John preached a message of repentance that prepared the way for Jesus Christ to come, live a perfect sinless life, and die on the cross for sinners–younger brothers and older brothers alike.
I am especially grateful for God’s grace because I am an older brother who happens to be the son of a younger brother. I spent my years away from the Lord running into my own righteousness. My dad, on the other hand, spent his running into sin. He spent years partying, involved in drugs, and even selling drugs as he ran from Christ. However, the Lord’s grace reached my dad in the same miraculous way it reached me: both of us had to die to self and embrace Christ.
Should the church warn sinners that God’s judgment is coming? Absolutely. As soon as that ceases, we have ceased to be faithful to the Word of God. However, we have another message that is more important: judgment has already come. No matter your sins, no matter your past, no matter how wild you have ever been, now matter how hard you’ve tried to save yourself, Jesus Christ became sin on your behalf so that you might become the righteousness of God through Him. Jesus suffered God’s wrath on the cross so that sinners can be forgiven, no matter what their past looks like. As my professor, Dr. Russell Moore, often said: “The next Billy Graham may be drunk right now.”
Sin cannot be tolerated: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9-10)
and yet these are precisely the kind of people who make up the church: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor 6:11)
Are you too sinful for the kingdom of Christ? Absolutely. But you might be too self-righteous also. The point is that we are all sinners in need of a savior. Apart from Christ none of us are worthy of the Kingdom of God. All of our lives, all of our weaknesses, all of our sins are laid bare before a holy God. Because of our sin we deserve His wrath. However, we can also rest assured that Jesus has suffered His wrath on our behalf. No matter how wicked you are, you too can be washed, can be sanctified, can be justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Is it something we deserve? Absolutely not. It’s grace: God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.