Some would say that the most comprehensive passage in the Bible that describes God’s heart for lost people would be Luke chapter 15. In this chapter we see three concurrent parables of things that are lost, valuable, and worth risking everything for. In the first parable there is a lost coin, in the second parable there is a lost sheep, and in the third parable we see two lost sons. The most important thing we can learn from this parable is the nature of God as Father - God loves both sons, and never stops inviting them back home (I would encourage you to listen to the sermon “God is Father” from 6.19.16 for a more in depth treatment of this subject matter). The second most important thing we can learn is that there is not just one way to be lost from the love of the Father - there are two.
V1-3: This parable was addressed to a pair of audiences. Each son represents one of the respective audiences, and therefore one of the two ways to be spiritually lost.
“LOST” 1: The older brother / moralistic approach – If I am going to find God, the way to salvation is by obeying his law. Those who subscribe to this type of thinking typically believe that they can only find God by living up to his standards.
“LOST” 2: The younger brother / relativistic or individualistic approach – You have to follow your heart, not the rules. Those who subscribe to this type of thinking typically believe that ‘salvation’ is not submitting one’s desires to moral standards but instead by being true to yourself.
Both versions of lost help us to see the deepest reaches of sin. Sin – at its deepest level – is trying to be your own Savior and Lord rather than looking to God to be your Savior and Lord.
Signs of younger brother sin:
- Longs for “freedom” from rules of Father
- Acts on impulses with only the short-term picture in mind (v13)
- Tries to avoid the reality of pain (v14)
Signs of older brother sin:
- When life doesn’t go as they want, they don’t just become unhappy but deeply angry (v28)
- Joyless, mechanical obedience (v29)
- Coldness towards younger brother types (v30)
- Lack of assurance of the father’s love (v29)
Responding to God in worship:
- We need the initiating love of the father. (v20, 28)
- We must repent of both our sin and the sin under the sin
- We must be melted and moved to the depths by what it cost to bring you home (v31)
Summary: Creating an authentic evangelism culture requires that we are hospitable to both younger brother types and older brother types. This invites significant tension, since older brother types tend to look down upon younger prodigal types, and younger prodigal types rebel against the boxed-in religion that they sense in older prodigal types. Great care must be taken to cultivate a Spirit-led atmosphere that values the unique journey of both.