To illustrate His point about repentance,

Jesus told this story: “A man had two sons… “
 (Luke 15:11 NLT)

Luke tells us about two sons. The younger son forsook his father and his household for riotous living. The older son stayed home and did all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

I grew up in church and had all the perfect attendance Sunday school pins down one lapel and up the other. I made a public confession of faith and was baptized, which was expected of all young people in our church. I was known as a good boy.  I tried to do the right things, especially on Sunday mornings, yet I was not past being a little naughty during the week, especially if I thought I would not get caught. It was a performance-based relationship with God to earn my acceptance from Him.

This all continued until one day on my college campus; I attended a meeting sponsored by a Christian group. A missionary from Switzerland spoke, and he said, “God doesn’t want half of you or three-quarters of you, he wants all of you.” I felt a tug on my heart and responded to his call, and things have never been the same. The greatest evidence of a true conversion is a changed life. I went from trying to win God’s approval to being grateful for His approval that I already possessed. I realized God wanted my heart more than my deeds. At this point, I saw I had been a lot like the older brother of Luke 15.

The younger brother spent all his inheritance on wild living. Eventually, he was living among the pigs and even their food looked good to him. He finally came to his senses. (Recognizing our sin is like finally seeing the obvious.) He realizes that he no longer has the right to be called his father’s son. ( Luke 15:13-19.)

The younger brother returns home and voices to his father the contrition he has already experienced in his heart (true repentance never demands mercy). His father, being a type of Christ, treats him like he has never sinned, by clothing him with a beautiful robe and killing the fatted calf for a celebratory feast; enter the older brother. (Luke 15:21-23)

The elder sibling does not seem to be excited about his brother’s return. He is angry that his father is giving what he feels he deserves to his brother.

When our hearts are right with God, we always rejoice when a sinner repents. It appears that all the elder brother’s good works have done little to change his heart. He served his father, not out of love, but to earn what he felt he deserved—his inheritance. Spiritually speaking, we can never receive anything until we realize that we deserve nothing.

We have many older brothers, like I was, in our churches today. They feel good about keeping the rules to earn their way to heaven. Lacking a heart transformation, they never see their need. Working for our salvation always makes us feel entitled. Only the poor in spirit will know Christ.

Are you, like I was, an older brother?

Copyright © 2020 Ken Barnes, used with permission.