In 1996, Barna Research Group released a report entitled “Christianity Has a Strong Positive Image Despite Fewer Active Participants.” At the time, the perception of 85% of outsiders (atheists, agnostics, persons who’s faith is different than Christianity or unchurched) was favorable toward Christianity. One decade later everything has changed. 38% of young people outside of Christianity claim to have a “bad impression of present-day Christianity.” Their experiences have led them to see Christians as having an “us-versus-them” mentality.
“Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look or what they believe. They feel minimized – or worse, demonized – by those who love Jesus.” (David Kinnaman, unChristian, 27)
Common Perceptions of Christianity; Non-believers see Christians as:
85 % Hypocritical
75% Too Political
72% Out of Touch with Reality
78% Old Fashioned
70% Insensitive to Others
“We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” (David Kinnaman, unChristian, 26)
As I read through these stats, I felt two things. One is heartbroken about the current reality. The other is excitement about the challenge ahead of us and what God could do if we understood what it meant to be a part of God’s kingdom. What an incredible time to be a follower of Jesus. What a great opportunity to be awesome movie trailers displaying God’s kingdom for others to catch a glimpse (pre-view) of the goodness of God and His eternal purpose.
In years past, you could easily live comfortably in a Christian culture. You could do little and say less. That time has come and gone; it’s time for Christians to give proper pre-views of God’s kingdom! So we begin by asking some questions:
What moves you? Who moves you? What are you living for? Food, video games, sex, parties, your friends, great worship, compelling messages, missions trips? Some of these are bad and some are good, but none of them should be what moves you.
Acts 17:28 says, “In Him, we live and move (kineo) and have our being.”
God moves His people. If He is not moving you, then you either do not know Him or you are dried up and your wick is faintly burning. My intention tonight is to give a broad stroke of the foundation of God’s gospel, so that the Holy Spirit may begin to stir your heart and regenerate your heart, or fan into flame the fire that he ignited when He saved you.
What is this gospel? The gospel is our salvation, but it is so much more! It is the lens in which we look at everything in our lives through. It is the true story of life. If you don’t live according to God’s story, then you are living your life to another one, which is not the true story. All untrue stories come to an end. God’s story, (the true story of life) will never end and is the only story that offers life. Which story are you living in?
The gospel is what transforms us as we live here on this earth and is the way we should live to bring about change in other people’s lives. It is the gateway for our salvation and sanctification; and others’ salvation and sanctification. So to help unpack the gospel better, we are going to turn to Luke 15:11-32.
But before we do that, we need to take note of the two people who Jesus is speaking to in this parable. Vv. 1-2 says there are tax collectors, sinners there; as well as Pharisees and the scribes. These two groups are always around when Jesus is teaching or dealing with people in the gospels; and they portray two different stories that are untrue stories and false ways to live and do not lead to life.
Read Luke 15:11-32 (remember, a parable is a small story with a big idea; and when Jesus gave parables, they were always to teach us about God’s Kingdom).
This is not primarily a parable of grace meant for you to understand God’s unconditional love for the prodigal son as much as it is showing us two kinds of lostness. Let’s unpack this idea further. God does loves us, but the bigger story is this:
The Big Idea: We are lost and there are two kinds of lostness, and only 1 way home.
So, the world is broken up into two world views (two ways to reject Jesus), and both will not stand in eternity. Here is a breakdown of the two kinds of lostness Jesus alludes to in this parable.
The younger brother in this parable portrays (initially) the relativistic person – This person says “You have to follow your heart, not the rules. If there is a God, you have to follow your heart and you will find God.” They think they deserve God since He is a “good” God. They feel loved and valued by God, but there is no talk about their behavior and how God feels about their sin. The younger brother says: “This is a great arrangement. God enjoys forgiving sin and I enjoy committing it.” This person is free-spirited and open-minded, and they hate and oppose the other side: the judgmental and bigoted)
The older brother in this parable portrays the moralistic person – They believe that they find God by obeying His law. They believe that God owes them for their obedience. They say, “I better perform or God is going to get me!” The older brother says: “I know I’m in God’s will because I’m miserable.” They repent out of fear/anxiety of being found out or looked at as a “sinner”. This person is outwardly moral and believes that they are “good” people, and they are against the “bad” people, or the “sinners”.
Both brothers (ways to live your life) divide the world in two groups. One we despise and one we favor. We find our identity in one of these, and then we oppress the other, the one that’s not you! This is how we know that there’s something cool about us; or how we get our worth.
Let’s see how Jesus dismantles both world views and shows us that both are not gonna lead you home; rather, they will both leave you lost…
The two lost sons are both alienated from the father. They are living in their own story. The father had to go out to both of the sons. The crazy thing is, the younger brother in this parable is the one who enters the kingdom (party) after realizing that he tried to live in his own story and it didn’t work. The older brother does not enter the kingdom (party), rather he stays out in the field and remains angry that the Father let the younger brother in to the family.
The older brother is lost because of his goodness; or we can say, his righteousness. He says to the father, “I have slaved for you…and I haven’t even been given even a goat to celebrate with my friends!” His righteousness was based on his own goodness. The stumbling block for the older brother is his thinking that he is good in and of himself… obedience is his way of controlling the father.
How could it be that your “righteousness” could be a bigger barrier than your sin? The younger brother knows he is alienated from God. The older brother doesn’t know, so he’s actually farther away even though he is sitting on the front row at church, never misses a week and serves communion. He is as lost as can be and won’t hear it from anyone.
Jesus speaks to this kind of person in Mark 2:15-17: 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The gospel (Jesus) says that those who think they are good, are out; and those who know they aren’t, are in. There is no other way to be saved than to know you’re badness or lostness.
But we need a better definition of our badness. Christianity has a deeper understanding of sin than most of us know. Most Christians understand sin to be (theologically) “missing the mark”, trespassing against God”, “rebellion from God’s law”; and these are all true and accurate assessments of the definition of sin, but it is only partially right. At its core, sin is running from God and avoiding Him as your savior; and you can do that by obeying all the rules or breaking all the rules.
Many people in modern Christendom avoid Jesus as savior by not sinning or by making that their main focus. If you live this way, Jesus is your role model, your friend, your comforter, but not your savior… you are your own savior by your own morality.
If I am saved by being good, then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me because I’ve paid my dues, I have my rights. Like the older brother, we say, ”I’ve slaved for you God. I’ve given this up for this many years and still nothing! I’ve been serving you for 15 years and you promote that heathen over their! What’s your deal God. I don;’t get you!” And they are right, they don’t get God’s gospel. They feel entitled to good things from God because they feel they have been righteous and obedient.
It’s very possible by being very obedient and very good (in your own eyes) to be avoiding God as savior and keeping control of your life. This is why the older brother gets mad. The younger brother wasted his inheritance, and now by him coming back, the father is tapping in to the older brother’s inheritance. The older brother thinks the father has to run everything by him because of his obedience to him.
But the older brother was obedient for himself and what he will get for it, not because he loved and honored his father. There are a lot of people in the church who are older and younger brothers, and they profess to be Christians, but are still lost. They think they are, they prayed the prayer, but they are not in it because Jesus is really their savior. They’re in it because Jesus is their forgiver when they feel guilty or they’re retirement plan when this world burns, but He is not their savior.
Identifying the sins of the younger and older brothers.We will spend most of our time identifying the older brother’s sins, because it is usually quite easy to spot the younger brother’s sin: He’s in the gutter puking. He’s in jail. He’s addicted to drugs or porn. He is divorced or commits adultery and doesn’t care. He’s apathetic toward any authority or obedience, especially to God.
The older brother sin though…his sin is easy to hide and cover up for years. This is why there are so many pastors who fail big time and everybody says, “That was so shocking, he was such a nice man”. Dateline does a great job highlighting the “picture perfect” pastor who out of nowhere kills his wife and family and then himself. The weight of being his own savior was to much, and he broke, big time. We were never meant to be our own savior. We cannot save ourselves and we can’t even bear the responsibility of thinking we can.
Older brothers are in it for themselves, and when their righteousness doesn’t cut it anymore, they either give in to Jesus and confess Him as their savior and righteousness, or they completely lose it!
Here are some signs of older brother lostness:
1) You’re always angry about how God’s organizing your life. You think God owes you because you’ve been trying and obeying so hard… you have paid your dues, etc. When God doesn’t give you what you want or what you think you’ve earned, you walk away from Him or say He probably doesn’t even exist, or if He does, He is not good).
2) You have joyless mechanical obedience. You’ve been slaving for God… but not joyfully obeying because you’re taken by God’s beauty and grace) No intimacy! You obey for yourself and what you can get or because God is useful to you if you obey, not because of God’s is your savior (carrying the stones). You pray when you’re in trouble or need something, but you don’t spend time basking in fellowship with God… God is an instrument for you to have the best life you can here.
3) You have a coldness to the “younger brother” types. This is a huge problem in the church. Every other grid says you’re oaky because you deserve it or earned it. If you believe and live this way, you get rid of the other or shun the other because they are not being like you (Democrat/Republicans). You believe you have it right and those who do not live or think like you are less human.
You say: “I’m right, you’re wrong and I love telling you about it.” You look at Sinners and say: “It would be a miracle if that person becomes a Christian.” Like you weren’t a miracle for God to save?
4) You are never sure of your acceptance before God. You sin, you know it and you aren’t sure you are living up to God’s standard and feel deep shame and insecurity because of it. You weren’t saved by your goodness…stop it!!
5) You are unforgiving and judgmental. You can’t keep a grudge against someone unless you feel that you will never do something like that. So you live your life in such a way that you feel that you must judge and not forgive Sinners because you could never be like them or would never make the decisions that they make.
What kind of church would we look like if we were a church that got this? If younger brothers were coming back to the father and repenting. And older brothers were getting rid of their self-righteous attitudes toward others and start understanding their need for Jesus and stop looking to their good works to justify them… Okay, we’ve identified the problem, the sins of the two kinds of lostness, now what’s the solution? How do we get home from these two types of lostness according to this parable?
1) We need the father to come out to us…that’s God’s job and He will do this and has done this if you are convicted today. You have to know that the father has come running for you and he is out there. Go run to him and throw yourself at his feet.
2) We have to repent not just for our sins, but of our righteousness; of being our own God. Repentance is recognizing that underneath all of your righteous deeds, what your motives really are, and then turning to Jesus to trust in Him. Don’t hide them your sins. Even if you are really good, you are not good enough. Repent of being your own God.
3) You have to see the cost of the fathers salvation and rejoice in it. It cost the father everything to bring you home and redeem you. (1/3 inheritance to the younger bro and 2/3 inheritance to the older bro). The cost of bringing in the younger bro again is on the expense of the older bro. Everything the father has is the older bros if He trust the Father. The only way the younger bro can get back in to the family is at the cost of the older bro. In the story of God that Scriptures reveal to us, the true Father in this story is God, the true older brother who acts properly, is Jesus (Phil 2).