Pastor John

A Better Way

In his outstanding book Prodigal God, Tim Keller points out that there are two primary ways people pursue a purposeful life: self-discovery and moral conformity. Jesus uses the younger and older brothers in his famous story in Luke 15 to portray these two basic ways to happiness. Each approach acts as a lens coloring how you see all of life, or as a paradigm shaping your understanding of everything. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing what’s wrong with the world, and determining right from wrong.

The younger brother chose the path of self-discovery. This view holds that individuals must be free to pursue their own goals and self-realization regardless of custom or convention. In this view, the world would be a far better place if tradition, rules, hierarchical authority, and other inhibitors of personal freedom were weakened or removed entirely.

The older brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day believed that, while they were a people chosen by God, they could only maintain their place in his kingdom and receive final salvation through strict obedience to the Hebrew laws. In this view, we only attain happiness and a world made right by achieving moral purity. We may fall at times, of course, but then we will be judged by how deeply intense our regret is, thus even in our failures we must always measure up to be accepted.

Keller writes: “Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live. If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups. The moral conformists say: ‘The immoral people—the people who ‘do their own thing’—are the problem with the world, and moral people are the solution.’ The advocates of self-discovery say: ‘The bigoted people—the people who say, ‘We have the Truth’—are the problem with the world, and progressive people are the solution.’ Each side says: ‘Our way is the way the world will be put to rights, and if you are not with us, you are against us.’”

But what if both approaches to finding happiness badly miss the mark? What if what God most desires for us is found neither in shameless self-discovery nor strict moral conformity? What if there is a third way that Jesus came to show us? What if there is a radical alternative to living like the younger son or the older brother?

I believe that is exactly what Jesus is teaching us in the most famous story ever. And this way is found in the one character who never changes or needs to in Jesus’ most famous story: the reconciling father.

This week in The Prodigals sermon series, we will consider how the father reaches out to both sons and offers them what they need more than scandalous indulgence or scrupulous adherence: a loving relationship that can’t be earned, achieved nor lost. It’s what the world desperately needs right now. It’s the way of the gospel. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses” (2 Corinthians 5:19—ASV). Join us in person or online at 9:30 or 11:15AM this Sunday.

Loving the reconciling Journey,

Pastor John