The Prodigal God is Keller’s analysis of the story of the Good Samaritan as told in Luke 15. He gives us some in-depth thinking on the intentions of Jesus as he was telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. The younger brother represents those who are sinners in the world – those who know they are sinners and freely admit it. He also compares the role of the older brother to the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. Those who hold themselves to be morally above the “sinner” (younger brother figure), who, whether they realize it or not, think they don’t need a savior because they are good enough on their own. Their moral and upright living has earned them the right to have “favored status” with God.
In Chapter 9 of The Grace of God, Andy Stanley shares a similar comparison in the story of Matthew. Matthew, at least in the eyes of the other disciples, did not deserve to be used by God in the same manner as one who had lived a moral and upstanding life. One who had been faithful to his Jewish heritage and the Law. Yet Matthew, as he writes his gospel, from the very first chapter, is eager to call attention to the fact God uses a lot of “sinners” to fulfill his master plan. (Judah, Tamar, David, Bathseba, Rahab, etc) And He changes their lives along the way!
As one who was raised in the church from birth, I have seen both sides of this picture and many times struggle regarding what side I am on… am I the older brother or the younger brother…the “self-righteous or the self –exiled?”
Andy Stanley closes Chapter 9 of the Grace of God with these few paragraphs:
The tension between the self-righteous and the self-exiled did not end with the coming of Jesus. It is a tension that exists to this very day. So maybe this would be a good time to stop and ask yourself, “To which side of the aisle do I lean?” If you had been invited to Matthew’s party [with “sinners”], would you have been conflicted? Would your first inclination be to stand on the outside and wonder? Would you wonder why Jesus would fellowship with sinners before confronting their sin? Would you be concerned that by not addressing their sin Jesus was in some way condoning it?
Or would you lean the other way? Are there things about your current lifestyle or perhaps your past that would give you pause before walking into the presence of Jesus? Would a cloud of shame form overhead? Would you be tempted to stand outside in the hopes of catching a glimpse while avoiding eye contact? After all, you know who you are and who you pretend to be. To bring all of that into the presence of pure righteousness? You would be crazy not to pause. Or would you?
Chances are, there’s a bit of both in all of us. We are judgmental of certain types of people or behaviors and then we can turn around and put ourselves in time out – self-inflicted exile from the presence of God. But in either case we step onto the well-worn path of graceless religion. Either way you choose you find yourself further from the grace of God. After all, the flip side of “I’m not worthy” is “But with enough time and effort I could be.”
Here’s what I think Matthew would tell us after watching Jesus: there’s a third way. The way of grace. The way of grace is offered; it is not earned. It is offered to all people, regardless of who they are. So when you catch yourself bouncing back and forth between judging others and condemning yourself, pause.
Pause and remember: you can’t be good enough; you don’t even have to be. That is the way of grace.
— Andy Stanley, The Grace of God, pp. 142-143