This is the last of the 4G’s, truths that we can hold on to when we’re faced with our sin. If you missed some of the others go back and take a look at how God is Great, God is Glorious, and God is Good.
God is Gracious – So I Don’t Have to Prove Myself
It’s easy to think that we have to prove ourselves to other people, and even fall into the trap of thinking that we need to prove ourselves to God. This typically isn’t something I deal with too much, but it hit me hard recently.
A week ago when I was with my son at an FLL (First Lego League) competition, and I’ve had this experience before, I saw these teams from a bigger church/school ministry. I have briefly chatted with some of the coaches from this school at past competitions. Each time though, I had this feeling well up in me that I wanted to throw around that I’m a pastor and that we’re planting a church in Wylie and all that stuff. I never did. I always stopped myself from doing it. But I had that urge at least to somehow “prove” myself and throw my title and weight around a little bit. Maybe it was their flashy displays, or that they had three teams there, or that the coach was taller than me…I don’t know why exactly I felt that way, but I did.
When we look at the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), we see God’s amazing picture of grace. I want to look kind of briefly at the lost son, but really examine the older son for a change. God’s picture of grace is great with the younger son. But the struggles with having to prove ourselves is prevalent in the older son.
The Younger Son
Take a look at this table below. What we see here is an amazing picture of God (the Father in the story) when the younger son takes a gift and throws it away.
It’s amazing isn’t it? God as our Father is truly gracious to us. He gives us what we don’t deserve and there’s nothing we can do to merit what He gives.
The Older Son
But when we take a look at the older son we start to see some symptoms that really creep up in how we try to prove ourselves. Again, I’m taking a lot of this from Tim Chester and his book, “You Can Change,” so I want to make sure that he gets the credit for a lot of these thoughts here.
“But he was angry and refused to go in.” Luke 15:28
It seems that this son should have every right to be angry. He was always with the father and worked hard for the father. All of the work of this older son didn’t seem to count for anything. If you could take your inheritance before the father dies and throw it all away just to be welcomed back and have a party thrown for you, then what good is it to stick around and work for the father?
However, this righteous anger is evidence of the son’s trying to prove himself. He feels vindicated by his own work and worth. In his eyes, it’s because of what he’s done that makes him good or right.
“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” – Luke 15:29
All of the time that the older son was with his father he worked day and night but lacked one big thing: love. He was working out of obligation. He again felt as if he needed to prove himself to his father in order to earn his inheritance. Where the younger son took it for granted, the older son thought it was up to him to make a name for himself. But somewhere in there the older son lost himself and his heart. He especially lost sight of what the father had done for him all along. After all, as the father reminds him later, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (15:31).
“I never disobeyed your command…” – Luke 15:29
This is from “You Can Change.”
”There are people trying to perform day after day – Christian leaders trying to preach a wonderful sermon every week, parents trying to produce lovely children, workers putting in long hours at work, all in a desperate attempt to prove themselves. And some weeks they may feel as if they’ve pulled it off. Other weeks it all seems so fragile, as if it might shatter. And so they live in a constant state of stress and busyness, always striving to put in another great performance, always worried that the charade might crumble. We can’t justify ourselves, and we don’t have to! God is gracious: he throws his arms around us.”
“But when this son of your came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him!” – Luke 15:30
This is the final nail in the coffin. When we compare ourselves just to make us look better or feel better, something’s out of whack. It’s a way of trying to justify ourselves again. We try to pick someone who is lower in status than us so that we come out on top. But who is that standard? It changes I’m sure, especially if we start to fall or mess up. Maybe it changes from an embezzler to a murderer to a socio-path to a war criminal like Hitler. “At least I’m not like ___________.”
God is Gracious
But when Jesus is our standard, His righteousness never changes, His standard doesn’t go up or down. So, in our eyes and by our efforts we’ll always fall short. However, in God’s eyes and by His efforts we are declared righteous. His work is on our behalf and given to us. He takes our sin. He gives us His righteousness.
The good news is that we aren’t left to ourself. We don’t need to prove ourself to others or to God. Even through all the older son’s efforts, the Father came out to him and said, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (15:31) The grace God has isn’t just for the ones who squander everything that God has for them, but it’s for all of us who try to make ourselves right in our own eyes. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves.