Grace-ism


 I wrote about the older brother in the prodigal son story a couple of months ago, but after a really good message in church from my pastor this weekend, I’m revisiting this famous story. The prodigal son may be the most telling story in the New Testament. All of us, when we first come to Christ, come as prodigals. We recognize that we are broken sinners, and the we need a savior. We recognize that savior to be Jesus Christ, accept Him into our hearts, and we get our own fattened calf party.

Then we get a little time in, read a few bible verses, get our lives cleaned up a bit (or at least clean up the outside enough to make it look better), and we become the angry older brother in the story.  



But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’  
So the party began. This is how we all come to Christ. We were lost, now we are found. We were dead, now we’ve returned to life. There is always a celebration in Heaven when a soul is saved for eternity, when that lost sheep is found. If we are doing things right here, we celebrate right along whenever another prodigal comes home. After all, isn’t that success in our great commission?



Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
Here comes the older brother, just about to hear the good news of his brothers return. There’s a party and everything, this should be a great day!  



The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.
This should be a great day, but apparently for the older brother here it is not. He is angry. Why would he be angry? Doesn’t he love his brother? Shouldn’t he be joyous over his return?



His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’  
So now we see the problem. And now we see…us. The older brother is not just angry about the party being thrown for the prodigal son’s return, he is jealous. The way he sees it, he’s been hard at work, all about his fathers business, but he hasn’t received a thing. His younger brother has made off with a large part of the family money, gone off and wasted it on partying and women, and comes home to get another party thrown in his honor.  
He says I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. That’s a big fat lie!! Of course this son has not obeyed his father perfectly. But then again, this is who we are. We “get saved” (in other words, we think we got our ticket punched. Because salvation couldn’t be about anything else. Could it?). We get that ticket punched, clean up the obvious sins of our life, and now we proclaim to the world around us that we have it all together. We are more morally pure, we don’t break any rules, we do and say all the right things. Except…well, we really just don’t. And the whole world watching knows it.

Yet when this son of yours comes back…
This is a key inside the head of the older brother. Am I my brothers keeper? He doesn’t even acknowledge his brother as his brother. He sees him as a rival, someone he’s competing with to get “his share”. Again, back to Cain vs Abel. When we don’t see our brothers as brother, but instead as rival, we get things all wrong. The world becomes all about us. Instead of loving our brother we want to kill our brother, then hide the body. When that brother comes back to life, and returns to the family, we don’t celebrate. We get angry. We get jealous. We lie to ourselves about who we are and what our motivation is. All these years I’ve slaved for you…we forget how blessed we are. We forget what a privilege it is to serve God, in whatever way He has us serving. We forget that the whole mission is to bring those prodigals home. Instead, we read our bibles, pick out a few verses, then think WE get to decide who gets to come home and who’s going to be banished out in the lake of fire.  

This is what my pastor termed Grace-ism.  We et our coming home party, then we want lines drawn in the sand to jeep everybody else, all THOSE sinners out.  We are the only ones righteous enough.  We forget who we really are – broken sinners in need of a savior.  Just like THEM.

His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!
Look, dear son!! That is who we are, dear sons and daughters! If we stay by him (and of course we will. Just ask us!!), everything He has will be ours. We have our commission – “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭28:19‬ ‭NLT‬‬. When we succeed in this commission, that’s what we are doing – bringing the dead back to life. We find the lost, and bring them home. How can we ever succeed in this commission if we are building walls instead of bridges.


We all, once we become Christians, want to see ourselves as permanent Prodigals, don’t we? We love the attention, we want to celebrate ourselves. But all too soon, we become ticked off older brothers. We get jealous when one of our brothers cones home, and for that short time it’s all about them. In the Celebrate Recovery ministry, and really all 12 step recovery programs, it’s always about the newcomer. It’s all about that new person walking in from the cold, trying, hoping to find a new way to live. We do all we can to make that person feel welcome, to make them feel loved, to celebrate their trying to make a new way of life.
Shouldn’t that be what church is like? Shouldn’t we celebrate every new believer, every saved soul that crosses that threshold?  
But instead, all too often, we would rather push them out than give them a hug.  We become grace-ists.  We already got ours, but there is no way someway who lives like that is going to heaven.  If you vote for that person, you’re going to Hell!!  If you’ve ever done that, forget about it.
I wonder sometimes if I’m being like thticked  off older brother.  I wonder if I am a Grace-ist.  If you’re reading this,  then you might know me personally. If I seem hard to approach, I don’t mean to be that way. If I come across judgmental, I’m sorry for that. I don’t have any illusions of having it all together, or being better than anyone else. I still get things wrong. I’m still a jerk much of the time. But I do try to get better each day.  
So don’t be afraid to talk to me about what I write. Don’t be afraid to approach most Christians. Most Christians are not the judgmental stereotype (at least most that I know). We all have our moments as the angry older brother, but we don’t claim perfection for ourselves. We do claim to be following Jesus, and He’s going to make us into something better. We may not always follow perfectly, but we are on the path. I am on the path. If you think I’m veering off the path, let me know. If you want to find the path yourself, let me know that too. There might be a fattened calf in it for you!   
And if you are a Christian carrying out you commission, don’t be a Grace-ist.

““But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭15:22-32‬ ‭NLT‬‬

http://bible.com/116/luk.15.22-32.nlt

John Lewis

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20 thoughts on “Grace-ism

  1. The part that stuck out to me was: “You’ve never even given me a goat to party with my friends, but you kill the fattened calf for my brother!”
    Sometimes as older brothers, we’ve put sin behind us and get used to living righteously that we think we deserve something for missing out on all those opportunities to sin. The younger brother had been sinning like crazy – and he gets the honor of the fattened calf! So the other brother is saying: “I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked and not once stepped out of line and you’ve never done anything for me. Your son (and no brother of mine) has gone and wasted every bit of his inheritance on feasting and prostitutes! You’re rewarding his sinfulness and you’re letting him get away with it!”
    With the whole inheritance law, the older brother is supposed to get a double portion as it’s his responsibility to take care of the widows and his sisters – he’s also in charge of his younger brother (particularly after his father dies) in the name of family honor. He probably sees himself as the epitome of honor / doing everything right and his brother is the epitome of shame / doing everything wrong. And since bad company corrupts good character – he’s sure his shameful brother is going to bring the whole house down in scandal.
    So many kids who grew up in my churches were older brothers, they’d never sinned and never had any practice at being graceful to people who weren’t like them. The ones who made one mistake were all cast out of the group for having lost their sinless reputations. Something about being a Christian for a long time tends to do that – it’s only the people who come to Christianity with a past and get how they didn’t deserve grace that are the most graceful to people who make mistakes.

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    1. Yes, the younger brothers portion of the estate would have been one-third. The thing about the whole situation is that the prodigal, in asking for his inheritance, was basically proclaiming his father “dead to me.” What he was asking for was a very serious matter in that culture.

      I feel like I missed the point with this post, and I’m a little disappointed. The point I had in mind was that we Christians tend to look out at the world in general and feel “better than”. That’s what my pastor really meant by “Grace-ism”. In writing it I got caught up in my own greater point which I often try to make. We do try to draw our lines in the sand over who gets in or who gets out, but my intended point was really the holier than thou stance we take with non believers, and the extra obstacles that in itself creates to bringing souls to Christ. The unsaved don’t even care about our lines in the sand because they are turned off by our arrogance, what I would call Grace-ism. The feeling that we are somehow “better than them” because we’ve accepted the free gift offered…

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  2. The other part of this that gets lost is that the fattened calf was most likely reserved for the older brother. The younger brother took something meant for the Older brother. The other key issues that the Older brother also doesn’t realize what the Father wants from both Sons is an authentic relationship. The older son is lost just as much as the younger son. The older son is trying to please the father by good works. That is why he is so angry. The father is not recognizing his works.

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  3. My two children behave much like the brothers in this story. A parent cannot help but welcome the misguided home…but oh the jealousy from the one who lives perfectly! The parent is in the middle and all we want is for everyone to have a good time at the feast.

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  4. I always say that “Everybody is somebody’s jerk! Including me.” No matter how many friends I have or how much my wife and kids love me, there’s always going to be someone out there who thinks I’m a jerk. Why? All I know is I do have jerk moments. Many times without even knowing it.

    That would be Big Brother’s zip code, right?

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    1. Not sure exactly what you mean by big brothers zip code. Did I mention SE DC in this post? Then yes that is big brothers aka the congress and the SCOTUS’ zip. The POTUS would be a few blocks away in NW DC.

      But also in SE DC are some terrible ghettos. I work every day all over DC (I am a sales manager for a beer distributor by trade). So I see every day the poor and homeless on the street, almost in the shadow of the Capitol building. And yes, I walk/drive right by 90+% of the time. It’s part of how I’m being worked on, I do know that.

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      1. Zip code – like saying “in the same ballpark.” Just an expression. I’ve been to DC several times, and it is a terrible thing that such conditions exist in the nation’s capital of all places! I’m sure driving through this so often can eat away at you. I lived in downtown Detroit for several years; much the same story. Prayer is the one way we CAN help all of them, even if we don’t have the time and resources to be hands on in every case.

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        1. Gotcha. Sometimes I try to be a little too precise!

          Yes, right in the shadows of the White House and the US Capitol building. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad to drive in during morning rush and out during evening rush, but I have days when I am visiting 15-18 stores, and it seems as though every time I get out of my car someone, sometimes two of three, us asking for money. And especially outside of every liquor store, they’re not even pretending what they’re asking for. On top of all the traffic intersections in between. So I know I’m not supposed to be judging or thinking about what the need is, just that the need exists.

          So yes, the lord is working on me…

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  5. John, I say your comment on Julie’s blog and thought I’d check out your blog. I agree with the challenge that we Christians have as we think we have the answers all sown up when God is even greater than our questions. Love is the answer and not judgement. When we love God the Holy Spirit will love others through us as we live our lives following the path that Christ has set before us. Thank you for this post which reminds us to welcome everyone in their imperfections with our imperfect selves.

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  6. John, Great post! This part, in particular, spoke to me: “We all, once we become Christians, want to see ourselves as permanent Prodigals, don’t we? We love the attention, we want to celebrate ourselves. But all too soon, we become ticked off older brothers. We get jealous when one of our brothers comes home, and for that short time it’s all about them.”

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