Two Ways to Reject God
Read: Luke 15:11-32
At first glance, we think the villain of the story is the younger brother who squanders his life away, and the hero is the older brother who keeps his nose clean. But in the end, it’s the younger brother who is at home in his father’s loving embrace, and it’s the older brother standing outside, obstinately refusing his father’s invitation. Jesus is showing us there are actually two ways to reject God.
The first way to reject God is by being very bad. This is the path the younger brother takes. It’s the path of irreligion. He takes his life and all the good gifts his father gave him, and spends them on himself. He squanders his life away and ends up in the gutter. When we think of people who reject God, this is the picture we often imagine. It’s someone who stiff-arms God and goes off to find themselves, living life their own way and ending up in a world of misery. And the good news is that when we “come to ourselves,” repent, and come home, the Father is waiting with open arms, ready to forgive and grace us with a welcome home party we can’t even imagine!
But there’s a second way to reject God, and it’s by being very good. It’s the path of religion. Even though the older brother never left home, at the end of the story we realize his heart has been far from home the whole time. He’s not been living as a son, but as a slave. He doesn’t have a loving relationship with the father. He’s bitter, angry, and entitled. He’s self-righteous to the core. He’s like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They tried to be good enough to earn God’s favor, and fooled themselves into thinking they’d done it. But no one is good enough: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10–11).
The only way to a relationship with our Heavenly Father is by grace. We need to be rescued! Older brothers reject God by holding on to their goodness to avoid the humiliation of being rescued. Religion like that is a self-salvation project and it breeds a heart of self-righteous pride. Older brothers must learn to repent of the self-righteous pride that lies beneath all their goodness and realize they too need the mercy, forgiveness, and grace of their Heavenly Father. The good news is that the Father pursues older brothers, and stands ready to forgive and extend grace with a welcome home party we can’t even imagine!
The younger brother teaches us that all the badness in the world can’t keep us from the grace and love of our Father. The older brother shows us that all the goodness in the world will never open the door to our Father’s house. And the earthly father shows us the heart of God whose grace relentlessly pursues His children, longing to welcome us back home.
Your Journey Reflection Questions:
- Which son’s journey connects most closely with your own?
- Which is harder to repent of: sin or self-righteousness?
- What is your own experience of “coming home” to the Father?
- In light of what you’ve learned today, what is your next step?