The Lost Son – Part III : Difference between Law and Grace


Let’s read the verses about the older son in Luke chapter 15.

[Lukr 15:25-32]
25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 29 And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

We may easily think that the older son is not a troublemaker as he never left home and he well followed his father’s orders. So, we simply guess that the older son gave vent to his anger one time when he had seen his father making a feast for the younger son. If we understand the older son in this way, we will only take such lessen from this passage as that we should not do like the older son, but forgiving our brothers generously.

However, the parable does not aim at giving such a simple moral lesson, as all other passages of scriptures do. The older son is the man belonging to the genealogy of Cain who is the first murderer in the human history, and the Pharisees and the scribes who have Jesus crucified belong to him.

If we cannot understand this, we are missing the point of the parable. Because we believe in God in the same pattern as the older son, we fail to find the serious problem the older son has.

Jesus compares the younger son who is justified through grace and the older son who tries to be justified for himself by obeying the law. He clarifies the righteousness of God and the self-righteousness by comparing the two sons.

Paul the apostle describes the Pharisees and the scribes who are keen about setting up self-righteousness as the older son was as follows:

[Romans 10:2-3]
2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.

The older son did not leave home and obeyed his father’s orders for many years. This is what is written in Romans as ‘they are zealous for God’. Nevertheless, he was ignorant of father’s righteousness.’

As a result, the older son produced miserable results because he stuck to such self-righteousness. The miserable results mean the failure of joining the father’s celebration, which will now be described.

Angry Older Son

The older son, on his way back after a hard work in the field, heard music and dancing and then became angry, because his father celebrated with a feast when his younger brother turned up. His younger brother had wasted the substance whereas the father did not give him so much as a young goat even though he had worked home.

We are inclined to consider ‘getting angry’ as evil. But, the natural emotions God gave to us include getting angry, and hence, getting angry itself is not an evil thing. As we can read and find in the scriptures, Jesus expressed in an angry tone the Pharisees and scribes as ‘generation of vipers’, ‘your father is the devil’, and/or graves which do not appear’, and Paul the apostle also expressed ‘their throat is an open sepulcher by quoting from the scripture.

These expressions are uttered by angry men. We cannot say that Jesus or Paul is evil as they got angry, because they are ‘righteous’ man. Thus, the anger can be esteemed either good or evil depending on the man who gets angry.

It is not the main issue here that the older son got angry. The main issue is that he does not understand his father’s decision but he gets angry at it. He should not be angry, not by act but by nature, at the decision of his father. If he does get angry, he cannot stay together with his father in the house. Here we can see that because he got angry at his father’s decision, he had to stand outside the house by his own will in spite of his father’s plea. 

All the problems occurred since he had a different view towards his brother from his father. In other word, he should have same mind with his father, and then he would be happy about what his father happy and angry over what his father angry. In this case, he can share the same view with his father towards the younger brother. And he can gladly join the feast, not staying outside of the house. 

He must have one mind with his father to stay together with his father in the house. So it is not the fundamental solution for him to control his anger this case, but to have mind of the father ultimately. Unless otherwise, he may tolerate this case, but he cannot do so in the repetitive cases.

The Older Son, Pharisees, and Us

We do not deeply think of the older son. As to our understanding about him, we generally think that we should control our temper as Christians even if we get angry. We think our deed of controlling our anger is the faith and obedience, saying “As I am the older son, I will try to understand my father celebrating when my younger brother is back. Of course, I will…”

We think we will be rewarded in heaven later for our controlling the temper here or will get blessed someday. This is, however, the self-righteousness that the Bible warns so seriously, and which is the useless attempt to become righteous through the work of law.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that we should be angry without controlling, but whilst we are controlling our anger, we should realize that in that manner we could not control the anger at all.

Not knowing and not even trying to know the fact, we are only focused to do something according to what was said by Jesus in a manner of pledging loyalty, in order to have blessings.

After all these work, we will finally say to God boastfully as follows: “I attended every church service according to the Lord’s commandments.” “I gave a tenth and offering to God, I worked for Him, I fasted, and I donated to poor people.”

Is not this saying familiar? Yes, the older son has already said in that manner:  All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders…” Also, the Pharisees having the same nature as the older son confess as follows:

[Luke 18:11-12]
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

The reason why people continue doing these attempts is that they who have never lived the life of the lost son or one lost sheep.

In summary, the older son and the Pharisees come to God while they are having the self-righteousness of “I did something for God.”  It is the faith according to the law. Then, a certain man will ask in turn, “Is it OK if I don’t give a tenth and offering, don’t donate and fast, and don’t attend morning service, and even if I rob other men, do something bad, and commit adultery?”

This kind of asking proves that he has the same faith as the older son and the Pharisees have. Since he stays in the same position where the older son stays spiritually, the above-noted works become a question to him. Therefore, if he gives a tenth, it becomes self-righteousness to him, and if he does not give a tenth, he is no longer a Christian and his basis that he is a Christian disappears, and hence, he cannot avoid giving a tenth.

Consequently, he is in trouble regardless of whether he gives a tenth or not. Blessed is he who understands that he has the same faith of the older son. Then, he will be eager for coming out of his current position by Jesus.

When he comes out of the older son’s position and stands on the younger son’s, then whether to give a tenth, offerings, donation, and services no longer troubles him. He will do it if he wants to do it, and he will not do it if he does not want to. However, the older son cannot stay in the younger son’s position by doing the younger son’s deeds. He is to be the younger son himself.

Who Is the Pharisee?

Some Christians have a faith following the manner in which they had done something that can be rewarded from God. Not some, as a matter of fact, most of Christians have that kind of faith. This kind of faith is the faith of the Pharisee.

The Pharisee in the Bible is not a proper noun that indicates a group of Jews who had lived in the time of Jesus. The proper nouns in the Bible are common nouns that indicate all the persons who substantially do the same deeds. Therefore, any persons who believe in Jesus as the Pharisees did in this age are the Pharisees.

The older son in the parable of the lost son represents those who have the faith of the Pharisees. All the works the older son does were troublesome and heavy burdens since he did not go through the younger son’s experience, which is said here as “true repentance.”

Anyhow, it was natural for him to long for the reward for the hard works that he has done so far according to the commandments. He was living day by day eagerly waiting for the judgment day to come to receive the reward for his works done. Finally the day has come. The day was the day when the younger son came home. In that day, totally contrary to this expectation, the older son had to walk back and forth outside the house.

[Amos 5:18]
Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light.

He was driven out of the house because of the self-righteousness he was so eager to earn. This is the principle of God’s judgment day. We will eventually follow the older son’s way if we continue to believe in Jesus without true repentance.

However, most of us do not realize that we believe in God in the fashion of older son, because we think we confessed already Jesus as our Lord when we first came to the church, we were born again at that time, and we will definitely go to the kingdom of heaven when we die. The pastors have said so and many neighbor Christians have agreed to it.

So we do our best and show our loyalty to Jesus by keeping His commandments. In this way, we think quite naturally that deserve to be for Jesus side and what is left before us is to get a reward in the kingdom of heaven or in the last day or in the day of second coming of Jesus.

Unfortunately, that is what the older son thought about. Jesus spoke this parable to us so that we may see ourselves as we are, since we believe in God as the older son does. We should read and understand the parable accurately.

The Older Son who Refuses to Go Into the House

In general, we think that God leads those who did ‘good’ to God to the kingdom of heaven and those who did ‘evil’ pushes into the unquenchable fire. However, God does not restrict the number and qualification of those who will enter the kingdom of heaven nor does he push by force a specific man into the hell fire. God will let each person goes to the place where he wishes to go.

For example, I like the songs that I used to listen when I was young. I feel comfortable with the songs at that time, but I do not like the today’s popular singers that much.

Therefore, I go to the concerts of the singers of my age, not to those of young singers because the young singers are not my style. In the same way, the fans who like the old songs will go to the old song concerts, and those who like the new songs will go to the new singers’ concerts.
The kingdom of heaven and the hell are divided according to this principle.

Now, the father asks with all his heart the older son to join the feast. However, he dislikes entering the house. He cannot stand for his father’s cherishing his younger son. It’s a hard work for him to be in the house. So, he cannot go into the house because it’s easier for him to stay outside.

As we all know, the father symbolizes God. In the kingdom of heaven, God abides and we are to stay together with Him. The kingdom of heaven is open to anyone of us so that each of us may enter if we want. In fact, God invites all of us, be it sinners or righteous men, to enter the kingdom of heaven, eat, drink, and be glad together.

However, the sinners dislike God. They prefer staying outside the kingdom of heaven into the darkness even if God pleads with them many times, as the older son did. We must think deep in this stage. If the kingdom of heaven suits his nature, he will enter it, and if the hell agrees with his nature, he will go there.

When anyone who dislikes God is forced to enter the kingdom of heaven, it could be a hell to him because his nature is against the kingdom of heaven. Here, in the parable, if older son repressed his anger to go in and joined the feast, it would be a torment in his heart for him to be there.

The Older Son is to Born Again As the Younger Son

What, then, is the solution? The fundamental problem the older son has is that he has never left the house. In this state, even though he follows and keeps his father’s commandments, he does not understand the father’s mind, and gets angry at His decisions. If he will stay with his father forever, he must set off for a far country, live his own life, repent, and come back as the younger son.

This is the only way. He will then understand his father who has accepted the younger son. He would not necessarily be angry, but very much pleased about the case like this. He will no longer be against his father in his house.

The older son represents us who believe in Jesus according to the law. The meaning that the older son should set off for a far country represents that we should realize that our Christian life has been the life in the far country, far from God. In other words, we should understand that we misguidedly believed in Jesus even though we thought our Christian life had been brilliant the past. Under this true cognizance, God can then heal us.

Also, each of us is the younger son having left God and living in the far country. When we truly repent, we will see Jesus and stay in the house of father, that is, the kingdom of heaven forever. Therefore, anyone who desires to come into the kingdom of heaven must repent now.

In the parable of the lost son, the older son symbolizes the believer who is under the law, and the younger son symbolizes the believer who in under grace. The two sons clearly show us what it the law and what is grace. Our faith in the church will start from the older son, then to the younger son when born again through Jesus.

(Taken from “Fresh Eyes to Read the Bible I with Added Illustrations – Biblical Steps for Growing in Faith”)

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