The Prodigal God: Are We Loving Others or Judging Others?

[I] am only two chapters into The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City and my immediate one-word response is: Amazing! Keller reveals the central message of Christianity: God’s prodigal grace toward both the irreligious and moralistic self-righteous.

In short order, Keller informs us that the story of The Prodigal Son should really be called, “The Story of the Two Lost Sons.”

Both the Older Brother and the Younger Brother are lost, but the target of Jesus’ story is not the “tax collectors and sinners” who Jesus eats with. No, Jesus is pointing sharp, outrageous and scandalous words at the religious leaders who sit in judgment of all those younger brother types.

If we are really serious about following Jesus, we have to ask ourselves, “What is the attitude of our heart toward people who don’t follow God?” Are we like the critical older brother who stands in judgment? Or, are we so like Jesus that others might say of us, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2 The condemning words of the religious leaders).

Keller emphasizes that both sons are lost. Both sons disgraced the father. The Older Brother through his moralistic conformity. The Younger Brother in his search for self-centered, self-discovery. Both are in need of relationship and grace from the Father, but like tipping tables in the temple, Jesus completely flips our understanding of sin, lostness, and our human tendency towards critique and judgment.

Keller points out that “He (Jesus) is on the side of neither the irreligious nor the religious, but he singles out religious moralism as a particularly deadly spiritual condition.”

I’ll end on this last idea, which challenges me in a very profound way in considering how well I love others.

If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishoners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.

Questions: In your spiritual journey, who do you identify with most: The older brother or the younger brother? How can we become more like our Prodigal God, recklessly extravagant with His love and grace?

I’d love your thoughts!

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  • Chris

    Sounds like a great book. Churches full of love are awesome churches to be in, to grow in. Sadly, few churches preach regularly on the profundity of love. Likewise, few preach on the flaws if the older son. Interesting. Keller seems to be pressing on this perspective.

    • Joey O’Connor

      Yes, it’s a wonderfully refreshing book. The problem with human nature is that when we first came to God, we came because we were sinners in need of grace and God’s love. Our hearts, if left unchecked, somehow begin to calcify and a rigidity develops in our hearts and lives. You’re right Chris, we need to hear again and again about the profundity of love. Our hearts are always thirsty for it…we need it daily.

  • Anonymous

    For several years now, I’ve better understood this parable. Both sons are not saved at the beginning. The elder son is actually the one who remains lost and unrepentant at the end–not understanding God’s love and grace shown to him because he is LOST and, therefore, angry that it is being shown to his younger brother. This is a person who has not fully understood repentance and of what he needs to be forgiven–just like the pharisees and sadducees of the day. In the light of a holy and perfect God, we are all as filthy and lost as the prodigal son. Those who fail to recognize their sin and need for repentance can never fully appreciate the love and grace of God. That is why a gospel only focused on love and grace is incomplete. We must understand the need for repentance to understand the amazing beauty of God’s grace, mercy and love. They feel they “deserve” it with their filthy rags of good works compared to those who “sin more.” Romans 3:23 dissolves that argument.

    • Joey O’Connor

      Wow, who wrote this last post…very insightful. You bring up a great point. We never find out if the older brother went into the celebration or not?? You’re absolutely right. One can only discover the richness of grace, mercy and love one repentance happens. The wayward son only discovers the depths of His Father’s prodigal (extravagant) love when he repents. Certainly not before. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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