In the last post, we discussed the reality of brokenness in our lives. Even when we want to do good things, we fall short and often into a cycle of sin. We can’t just try to be better people; instead, we must rely on God to intervene in our lives. Thankfully, God has already intervened in history through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Knowing Jesus means we do not stay in our brokenness. Our identity is changed by his forgiveness and we have freedom from the guilt and the power of sin.
Our freedom does not come free or through our own effort, but is bought at a costly price. Timothy Keller observes:
At every point in the Bible, the writers are at pains to stress that God’s grace and forgiveness, while free to the recipient, are always costly for the giver. From the earliest parts of the Bible, it was understood that God could not forgive without sacrifice. No one who is wronged can “just forgive” the perpetrator. If you have been robbed of money, opportunity, or happiness, you can either make the wrongdoer pay you back or you can forgive. But when you forgive, that means you absorb the loss and the debt. You bear it yourself. All forgiveness, then, is costly.
(Counterfeit Gods, 89, emphasis ours)
The Younger Brother
The story of the Prodigal Son shows two different responses to forgiveness. In Luke 15:11-32, the younger son rebelled against his father and lived his life exactly how he wanted to. He spent all his inheritance on himself. He hit an all-time low and felt regret, but was afraid he had gone too far for his father to ever receive him back into the family. He made plans to return to his dad, assuming he would be a servant. But his dad responds in a surprising way and accepts him back as a son!
Grace acts differently than we expect. Our sin can cause us to feel that we are completely unworthy of God’s love. Often we struggle with a form of “low pride,” in which we think our wrongdoing is bigger than God’s ability or desire to forgive. We’re wrong. The good news is that God’s love is bigger than our sin.
“The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.”
The Older Son
In a different way, a false identity of self-sufficiency can also lead us to miss God’s forgiveness. A version of “high pride” exists, where we feel that we don’t need help because we’re okay without God or that we’ve already earned his favor. This viewpoint leads to a reliance on our own strength.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the older son thought he deserved his father’s respect because he had served him well. When the father receives the rebellious son back with a great celebration, the older son is working in the field. He hears the celebration and does not respond well.
The older son could not comprehend the celebration and was immediately seized with anger and jealousy. He thought he had earned his father’s love and respect by staying with him all these years. He could not understand how his father could love and even honor the younger son after everything he had done. It’s often missed, but Jesus tells this story in the context of religious leaders who are upset that he’s associating with “sinners.” The older brother is like the Pharisees who can’t celebrate God’s “unfair,” rich grace.
Whether we struggle to receive God’s grace or struggle to see our need for his forgiveness, he meets us in that place. Redemption doesn’t always make sense to us. We are sinful people, capable of incredible evil, and blind to our own faults. But because of God’s great love for us, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This week as you look into God’s promise of redemption, try to look with fresh eyes. Not only does he redeem us, but he helps us walk in our new identity.
This summer and fall, we are posting sections of our Life Group studies on Identity and Witness (full studies available in links). In the fall of 2019, our Life Groups will focus on the theme of Wisdom.