The Gospel Call to Pharisees

Our fourth sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life helps us to see Jesus’ warning, yet tender call, to the Pharisees who are the proverbial elder sons standing outside the father’s house refusing to come into the party.

The Gospel Call to Pharisees
Luke 15:1-2, 25-32

When we study the Bible as a church and as individual Christians, it’s essential that we examine a passage within its context.  When we’ve completed our study of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it’s my hope that we’ll know with full awareness how important the surrounding context is to interpreting God’s Word with precision.  Luke’s introduction to the Prodigal Son parable gives us all the context we need to accomplish this.

Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees and scribes are furious that Jesus is receiving sinners and eating with them!  Therefore, the purpose of the Prodigal Son Parable is to give a proper response to their griping.  With this emphasis in mind, let’s look again at the fascinating main characters and images Jesus incorporates.  These characters and images are illustrations and metaphors that symbolize deeper, spiritual meanings.  We shouldn’t go to extremes and try to spiritualize every part of a parable but only the most important ones that push us toward the main point.

1)  Father:  The father represents God the Father.  And Jesus, as the Son of God, came to represent the character and purpose of God the Father (so by extension, Jesus could be said to be the father figure in the story).

2)  Younger Son:  The younger son represents rebellious sinners like the tax collectors and sinners mentioned in verse 1.  By extension, he represents all human sinners because we’ve all rebelled against God our Father.

3)  Elder Son:  The elder son represents the Pharisees and scribes mentioned in verse 2.  They were the religious elite among the Jews that considered themselves moral and righteous.  By extension, the elder son represents all human sinners because we’ve all pretended to love God the Father just to make ourselves appear righteous.

4)  Robe, Ring, Shoes, and Fattened Calf (vv.22-23):  The gifts the father gives to the younger son represent God’s salvation of lost sinners.  They are pictures of restoration to a right relation-ship with God and reception into His family.  We don’t want to go too far with this, but each gift likely symbolizes various facets of salvation.  The robe is a picture of our filthy sin-rags being replaced with Christ’s righteousness.  The ring symbolizes our new status as sons and daughters in God’s family.  The shoes speak of our new relationship with God in which we now walk with Him.  The fattened calf points to God the Father’s sacrifice for us as He slaughtered Jesus on the cross like a calf.

As we’ve concluded, the Pharisees are the self-righteous elder brothers that hate to see undeserving, riff-raff sinners repent and welcomed into God’s family.  Therefore, this parable is especially for people like most of us here—we’ve been believers for a while, and it’s easy to slip into a coldhearted attitude toward unbelievers.  Let’s put a label on the elder son’s self-righteous attitude.  Legal-ism: the belief system that says we can become righteous and earn salvation through our good works.

1.  Legalism is based on a slave-master relationship to God (v.29).  We see this in the elder son’s three complaints to the father: “ ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I have never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends’ ” (v.29).  That’s not how a son who loves his father talks to his father.  That’s slave talk.  God doesn’t need slaves to serve Him.  He’s not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts.17:25).

2.  Legalism craves recognition (v.29).  The elder son demanded his father acknowledge and appreciate him for his many years of service and obedience.  This same craving for recognition is what motivated the Pharisees.

Matthew 23:5a—“They [the Pharisees] do all their deeds to be seen by others. . .”

Craving for attention is still around today.  It’s present when you want others to see and hear about all you’re doing for the Lord in the Church, or when you complain that no one is paying you enough attention or is saying “thank you” for your “service”.

3.  Legalism harbors disgust toward sinners rather than consistent compassion.  You know you’re being an self-righteous jerk when you’re more concerned about the sin of others than your own sin.  Our disgust over other people’s sins will manifest itself in bitter words, angry outbursts, gossip, slander, and blame shifting.  The reason legalists do these things is they’re trying to earn salvation through good works.  They’re trying to make their own sin look tiny by overacting to the sin of others.

Some examples of this that stand out in the Bible include: 1) Adam blaming Eve;  2) Jonah’s anger at God for showing mercy to the Ninevites; and  3) Esau’s frothing anger toward Jacob.  The similarities between these Old Testament people and the two prodigal sons is no coincidence.  Jesus knows that the Pharisees know the Old Testament inside-out.  So, undoubtedly the Pharisees would make the connections, especially with Esau and Jacob.

4.  Legalism turns personal convictions into God’s standard for others. The elder son was right to consider the younger son’s sin to be sin, but he was wrong to withhold forgiveness from his younger brother who repentantly and humbly came home to the father.  The elder son’s personal conviction was that such sin and sinners were beyond forgiveness and restoration.  He then took this personal conviction and called it God’s law.

Too often we too are prone to elevate a personal conviction to equivalent status with God’s Word, and then we feel justified in condemning others for disobedience to our personal conviction.  This is where most of the muck hits the fan in the local church.  Most disunity will not be directly over core Bible doctrine but how we apply to living it out together, which inevitably will affect core doctrine.

Here are 10 statements that will arise on occasion that can begin as a small ripple but end up a tsunami if we don’t stay grounded in Scripture.  Each one usually begins with “I think” or “I believe”.

  • “I believe we should sing the old hymns from hymn books.”
  • “I believe we should sing new songs projected on a screen.”
  • “I believe we should use the King James Bible.”
  • “I believe we should boycott Disney movies.”
  • “I believe we shouldn’t have body piercings or tattoos.”
  • “I believe church members should stay away from alcohol.”
  • “I believe we should campaign for Republican candidates.”
  • “I believe people should participate in more church activities.”
  • “I believe we should have more things for the children.”

The problem with such statements is there is no scriptural basis for any of them.  They’re all based on personal opinions, and once you draw a line on personal opinions, you’ll have to draw more lines to keep you farther and farther away from your line.  Let me show you what I mean by using three of these same examples again:

1)  What most people mean by “old hymns” are hymns written in the 1700-1900s?  What about the hymns from 1400-1600s or the centuries before that?  Your line can be moved.

2)  You want to boycott Disney movies?  What about the other major companies that Disney owns—Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ABC, The History Channel, and ESPN?  Your line can be moved.

3) You don’t believe in body piercings?  Ladies, what about the 1 or 2 holes you have in your ear?  Is there a real difference in righteousness between 1 or 2 piercings in the ear versus 1 or 2 in the lip or 5 or 10 scattered around?  Your line can be moved.

We all have some personal convictions that we abide by in our walk with the Lord that are not equivalent with God’s Word.  And we cannot use any of them as a measure of someone else’s right standing with God.  Here is where the wisdom of organizing Christian belief and practice into three categories can be helpful for protecting us from self-righteousness toward other sinners.  The three categories are primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrine.

Primary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible in which there is no room for disagreement without departing from Christianity altogether.  Examples include: salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ alone apart from works of the law; Jesus is the eternal Son of God, without sin, He died in our place on the cross, and was raised from the dead; Heaven and Hell are for real—repentant believers go to Heaven for eternity and unrepentant unbelievers go to Hell for eternity.  Primary doctrine is essential to being a Christian.

Secondary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible rooted in primary doctrine but leaving room for some disagreement among Christians without departing from Christianity.  Examples of include: baptism of believers versus baptism of babies; pretribulation return of Jesus versus a posttribulation return; a plurality of pastors versus having a singular pastor. Secondary doctrine is non-essential to salvation.

Tertiary doctrine are those teachings of the Bible that may or may not be rooted in primary and secondary doctrine but are completely open for disagreement because they are non-essential to being a Christian.  Examples include: men’s facial hair, length of skirts for women, partaking in secular entertainments, controlled use of alcohol, and eating pork and catfish.  How we understand these issues is important, but they’re not essential to salvation itself.  The only way these become a salvation issue is if your reason for believing what you believe comes from a prodigal heart: a heart of rebellion or a heart of legalism.

5.  Legalism can twist freedom in Christ into a law.  Here is where things get interesting.  Did you know that being anti-legalistic can itself be a form of legalism?  If you get angry at other people because you believe they’re acting like self-righteous hypocrites, then how are your behaviors and attitudes any better than the self-righteous elder brother?  Beware of your reaction to sin and sinners being a default anger.  God’s grace softens our hearts, and our new default reaction will be compassion.

There’s enough room in God’s family for rebellious younger sons and self-righteous elder sons.  The Father runs to the rebels and brings them home; and the Father goes outside the house to the self-righteous and invites them inside!  There’s enough gospel for us all.  So, who are you begrudging in our church?  Won’t you repent of your anger today?

 

 

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The Other Prodigal Son

Our third sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life focuses on the oft-overlooked elder son and the self-righteousness with which he reacts to the father’s compassion for the younger son.  You can also download the audio version of this sermon at www.gracelifelebanon.com or find us on Sermon Audio.

The Other Prodigal Son
Luke 15:25-32

What happens when God pushes us out of our comfort zone as individual Christians and as a church family?  A man dressed in rags, wreaking of sweat and alcohol walks in and sits down next to you during the service, or maybe a wealthy lady comes in that’s a known advocate for abortion.  A person with different skin color come forward for baptism, or maybe a known criminal just released from prison shows up.

These may seem like farfetched or unreasonable situations, but are they really?  Isn’t the story of the prodigal son meant to awaken our thoughts to the incredible reality that Christ died for every kind of sinner?  The Pharisees and scribes are mad at Jesus for “eating with tax collectors and sinners” (vv.1-2).  But really, they’re mad that reprobates are repenting of their sin.  Jesus gives three parables as a witness.  All three have the same outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.

We’ve followed the prodigal on his descent into sin as he left home and pursued a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devasta-tion and destruction.  This is what it looks like to be lost.  But then we get to see what it looks like to be found by God.  God turns the prodigal around, demonstrated through the prodigal’s repentance.  We learned two aspects of repentance: repentance is a gift of God’s mercy and grace; and repentance is more than admitting you’ve done wrong—it’s a change of mind that leads to a changed way of living.

The prodigal returns home, and the father’s waiting; his posture toward him is predetermined mercy and grace before the son was even able to finish his words of repentance, even before the son had returned “to himself”.  And the father responds with joy!  This is the picture of what God the Father is really like: He predestines our repentance according to His sovereign grace, and He rejoices “over one sinner who repents” (v.7, 10).  Therefore, we ought to be happy too win sinners come home.

So, all is well again in the prodigal’s family.  The sinning son has come home.  And everyone is happy—or are they?

Luke 15:25-32—“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘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. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

At the beginning of the parable, you’re thinking this is a classic case of good versus evil, the good brother and the bad brother.  The bad brother despises his father by demanding the inheritance and abandoning his dad.  The good brother stays home working for his dad, never demanding anything, and always “respecting” his authority.

Most often, preachers emphasize the sinfulness of the younger son—and reasonably so because his sins are blatant rebellion.  And then they tack on a few superficial words about the elder son’s anger, often saying something like, “You can’t really blame him”.  And if we’re honest, we can see how the elder son would appear to be more of a sinner than a saint.  He has served his father faithfully many years.  But, if we play off the elder son’s anger this way, we’ve missed the whole reason for Jesus telling this story.

In the context of the parable, it’s obvious that the elder brother is anything but good.  In fact, Jesus uses the elder son to show us the malignant, black heart underneath the skin of sin.  Sin is more than surface behavior like we see from the younger brother.  Sin runs deep, and the elder brother’s sin is just as prevalent and malevolent.

Be assured, both sons are prodigals.  The younger pursued happiness through open rebellion and self-discovery.  The older pursued happiness through the appearance of outward moralism.  But both sons love themselves more than the father.  Therefore, both are self-righteousness.  Today, we’ll be identifying the elder brother’s core characteristics of self-righteousness.  This is important so that we can examine our own testimony as followers of Christ to be sure that our lives look more like the repentant prodigal and not his moralistic but unrepentant older brother.

     1.  Anger is the disposition of moralistic prodigals (vv.25-28). The older son had been working in his father’s field, and “he heard music and dancing” as “he drew near to the house” (v.25).  He asks a hired servant about it ( v.26).  The servant “said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound’ ” (v.27).  A lost brother has come home alive, not in a body bag!  This is reason to celebrate!  Instead, “he was angry and refused to go in” (v.28a).

The elder brother’s refusal to go in to the party is every bit as offensive as the younger brother’s refusal to stay at home with the father.  Both are an affront to the father’s goodness and authority.  Both are a means of shaming the father.  What is the elder brother so angry about?

     2.  God’s grace angers moralistic prodigals (vv.28-30).  Listen to the oozing bitterness and seething anger from the lips of the elder son: “His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘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.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ ” (vv.28a-30).

The elder brother uses the word “never” to make himself look more mistreated.  And especially important, he brings up the “fattened calf”.  Jesus mentions the calf three times in the parable, so it must be important.  It was rare for families to eat meat in that day.  And the fattened calf was the most luxurious of all luxuries if you had one.  You would slaughter one only for the most important reasons, perhaps weddings or the birth of a baby.

The elder brother is basically blubbering, “It’s not fair!”  I agree.  It’s not fair.  But grace is never fair, at least not in the way most people use that word.  Grace is grace, it’s unmerited, unearnable, and unattainable through our best efforts.  Grace is God’s prerogative.  Only God’s vote matters.  The moralistic prodigal is angered by God’s grace.

Anger is a serious sin.  It’s not always expressed in flyoff the handle fits of rage.  Anger most often comes in the form of simple complaints that we disguise as hurt feelings or frustrations.  Anger itself is sinful, but the root underneath is even deadlier.  Little of our anger is righteous because most of it is centered on ourselves; and self-centeredness is by its very nature dissatisfaction with God and His grace.  Have you noticed we love God’s grace when we’re the ones receiving it, but when it comes to others we deem unwor-thy of His grace, how quickly resentment emerges?  Why does the elder brother hate God’s grace toward his younger brother?

     3.  Moralistic prodigals believe they have earned a right standing with God (vv.29-30).  There’s plenty of evidence from the elder son’s tirade against his father that proves he believes he has earned his place with the father.  Three phrases in particular stand out: (1) “Look, these many years I have served you” (v.29a); (2) “I have never disobeyed your command” (v.29b); (3) “You never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends” (v.29c).

Each argument is about quantity and quality, and moralistic prodigals still use these types of justifications in the Church today.  Some trust in the quantity of years they’ve been a part of the Church or the quantity of hours they’ve served in the Church or (most frequent of all) the quantity of money they’ve invested in the Church.  Be careful about declaring, “I support the Church with my offerings.”  If someone thinks the offering money they give is theirs, then they have a serious misunderstanding of God’s grace.

Moralistic prodigals not only trust in the quantity of their service but also the quality of their service.  Most don’t think they’re sinless, but they do think themselves sinless enough to be accepted by God.  And they certainly think themselves less sinful than other Christians.

     4.  Moralistic prodigals see themselves as morally superior to other sinners (v.30).  Notice how snootily the elder son talks about his brother.  “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (v.30).  The elder son refuses even to acknowledge the younger son as his brother; and he refuses to acknowledge the property the younger son squandered was his to squander.  All the while, the elder son fails to see the seriousness of his own sin, and in doing so, he fails to see the goodness of God, which is the gravest sin of all.

     5.  Moralistic prodigals see themselves as morally superior to God Himself (vv.31-32).  “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (v.31).  The father’s reminder that “you are always with me” stands in contrast to the elder son’s claims to being mistreated.  The father is the greatest treasure both sons have; and when you have the father, you have everything the father has.  Therefore, the elder son has experienced no loss at all; and by complaining to the father, he is accusing the father of sinning.

In the same way, beware of an angry, complaining spirit about God’s grace toward sinners you believe are unworthy of forgiveness.  Your anger is ultimately an accusation that God has sinned against you.  Rather, remember that when we have God the Father, we have it all.  And when prodigal sinners get saved, we have nothing to feel threatened about.  Instead, we must have the same attitude of the father toward his prodigal sons.  “ ‘It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.32).  What self-righteousness do we need to repent of today?

 

 

Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father

Our second sermon in our Prodigal Son series at Grace Life zooms in on the nature of sin and the character of God the Father who loves to see sinners come home.

Repentant Sinners and a Joyful Father
Luke 15:13-24

We began the prodigal son parable by looking at the context and seeing that the Pharisees and scribes are offended that Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Jesus responds to their grip-ing by giving them three parables.  All three have the same basic outline: something is lost, then found, followed by a celebration.

The prodigal son is the more detailed and intimate of the three parables.  The prodigal’s sin is evident as he demands his inheri-tance, leaves home, and pursues a lifestyle of wastefulness resulting in devastation and destruction.  This is what it looks like to be lost.

Luke 15:13-24—Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” ’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

The prodigal has hit bottom.  He’s penniless and abandoned.  But it’s at the bottom that he realizes there’s something far worse than pigs and poverty—the prodigal has abandoned his father.  “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17).

“ ‘But when he came to himself’ ” (v.17a).  That’s a colorful way of describing repentance.  Repentance is one of the missing links for most people that think they’re a Christian but really aren’t.  So, it’s important that we know what it is.

   1.  Repentance is returning to “yourself” (v.17). Sin is senseless, and sin mars the image of God in which we’ve been created.  Repentance is a return to your senses, to yourself (not to selfishness).

   2.  Repentance is confessing the foolishness of your sin (v.17).  “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b).  The pro-digal was once elevated above his father’s servants, but he renounced his privileged position as son to pursue “independence”.  The repentant person recognizes the stupidity of exchanging God as their greatest treasure for cheap reproductions.

   3.  Repentance is turning from sin to God (v.18).  “ ‘I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” ’ ” (v.18).  It’s pivotal to your salvation that you understand that true repentance isn’t merely saying, “Dear Jesus, I am sinner.  Come into my heart and save me.”  The prodigal demonstrates that words of true repentance will be followed by actions of true repentance.

True repentance is turning away from living life your way and toward living life God’s way.  True repentance includes a hatred for your sin and a love for the Father and a love for obeying Him.  True repentance is a lifestyle.  Martin Luther writes, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt.4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

   4.  Repentance is a sovereign gift of God’s mercy and grace (vv.19-23). “ ‘ “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” ’ ” (v.19).  This is the consistent testimony of the true convert.  Christians know they’re “unworthy to be called” sons and daughters of God.  Therefore, they’re con-tent with serving in the humblest positions in the Church with or without recognition as long as they can be in good relations with God the Father.

Jesus says the prodigal “arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v.20).  Typically, father’s in that culture didn’t run like this.  It was undignified.  And fathers didn’t forgive such sins of a son in that culture.  It was disgraceful.  But this father is different.  He runs to the son and slobbers him with kisses.

This is an illustration of what our Father God is really like.  He isn’t the angry deity that unbelievers imagine.  God is angry with sinners every day and there is an eternal judgment for persistent rebels, but God doesn’t need anger management classes.  He’s slow to anger and quick to show mercy, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here right now.

This is why I can’t overstress the weight of the phrase “while he was still a long way off” (v.20a) because it highlights the supernatural reality of repentance.  Jesus is making the point that the father already had a predetermined plan to extend mercy and grace to the son prior to his actual repentance.  Mercy is receiving undeserved forgiveness from God.  Grace is receiving undeserved life and righteousness from God through Jesus Christ.  The idea that God the Father plans to forgive and save specific sinners even before they repent corresponds with what we read in Isaiah.

Isaiah 65:24—“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

Therefore, repentance is not self-induced regret but a miracle performed by God according to His sovereign mercy and grace. Two passages make this especially clear.

Acts 11:15-18—As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

2 Timothy 2:24-25—And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Because repentance ultimately depends on God, repentance is always relational in nature—meaning we relationally turn to God through faith in Jesus, and we live out our faith relationally with a local church family.

Repentance is seeing traces of God’s mercy and grace in everything, even the hard things.  For example, who brought the famine to the far country?  God.  What would have happened had God not ordained that famine?  The prodigal might have found a way to be prosperous again and die in his prosperity—or else he would have died of malnutrition.  As John Calvin said, God’s ordained miseries are His “invitation” to repent and find life.

   5.  Repentance produces full restoration to God (vv.21-24). “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’ ” (v.21).  Only people with this humble attitude can be fully restored because the idea of God’s grace either makes you mad or makes you glad because His grace gives undeserving sinners eternal blessing in place of eternal damnation.

Notice what full restoration looks like for the prodigal.  “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.  And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate’ ” (vv.22-23).  The robe, ring, and shoes are all precious pictures of how God’s salvation restores our status as sons and daughters.  At the cross, Jesus exchanged our filthy rags, ring-less finger, and bare feet with His royal robe, ring, and shoes of sonship that sets us apart from the world.

If these images weren’t powerful enough, we get the strongest of all. “ ‘For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found’ ” (v.24a).  Sin is so devastating and destructive that it leaves us spiritually dead.  But God’s mercy and grace are so powerful that He raises us up to spiritual life.  We were lost in our sin and couldn’t find our way out—worse yet, we didn’t want out.  We loved our lives of sin every bit as much as the prodigal loved his.  But God intervened, breathed eternal life into our souls, and gave us the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-5—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

   6.  Repentance is a cause of celebration (v.24).  “And they began to celebrate” (v.24b).  This is both our last point and basically the introduction for the next sermon.  When lost sinners confess Christ as Lord, follow Him in baptism, and become a faithful member of His Church, we ought to be happy.  Serving up the fattened calf back in verse 23 shows us just how overjoyed the father is.

Celebration over sinners come home will be different for each of us.  For some it means clapping or shouting.  For others it may be quiet tears or simple smiles.  But nothing should excite or motivate us more than seeing a lost sinner found!  Have you lost your joy over sinners coming home?  Perhaps you’re the one still lost in your prodigal sinning?  Won’t you repent and come home to God?

The Enslaving Devastations of Sin

The ease with which we sin should terrify us. The compassion of God the Father ought to bring us home to Him.

At Grace Life Baptist Church we have recently begun a short sermon series on The Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I write this post for the benefit of Grace Life, but my prayer is that the sermon will be used to encourage a wider audience.  You can also download the audio version of this sermon at www.gracelifelebanon.com or find us on Sermon Audio

The Enslaving Devastations of Sin
Luke 15:1-16

Jesus is the master storyteller, and His parables create compelling images in our minds.  The goal of the parables in the Bible is to use ordinary people, activities, and topics to illustrate deeper, spiritual truths to those who have hears to ear.  Jesus’ sheep hear His voice in the parables, but goats either can’t hear His voice or else stop up their ears so they can’t.

Two of Jesus’ parables stand out in the memories of most: the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.  Before we get to the prodigal son story, we need to understand why Jesus told it in the first place.  Examining the context is one of the first steps when studying Scripture.

Luke 15:1-2— Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

What’s this scene about?  Tax collectors and sinners are “drawing near to hear” Jesus, and the Jewish religious leaders (the Pharisees and scribes) are grumbling about it (cf. 5:27-32; 7:39; 19:7), and some would say with good reason.  The tax collectors of that day were subcontracted by the Roman government.  They put in bids for how much they would charge to collect taxes for the Romans.  If they got the job, they collected the taxes plus a percentage for themselves.  The practice itself isn’t wrong.  The problem was the lack of regulations on how much they could collect, and tax collectors were known for massive corruption.

The classification of sinners in verse 1 is a broad category.  In the Parable of the Great Banquet in the previous chapter, Luke gives a more specific rundown of what kind of sinners we’re talking about.

Luke 14:21—“So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servants, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ ”

Jesus is eating with the outcasts of His day: tax collectors, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (and prostitutes were often mentioned in the Gospels too).  Although economics had something to do with the disdain the Jews had for these kinds of people, it was mostly about perceived moral superiority.

The Jews were right to consider the lifestyles of the outcasts as immoral, and they were right to neither condone nor participate in their sins.  But they were wrong to shun them completely.  Of course, some take Jesus’ practice too far and use it as an excuse to party with the heathen.  Jesus was simply eating food with them as an opportunity to teach them the way of salvation.

Jesus answers the Pharisees and scribes’ grumbly question with three parables: the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coins, and the Lost Son.  Let’s read about the lost sheep and coins first.

Luke 15:3-10—So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

These first two parables are nearly identical.  The major difference is what’s lost—a sheep versus coins.  So the basics of the parables are threefold: something’s lost, then found, and then a celebration follows.  Jesus uses the familiarity of sheep and coins to illustrate the deeper spiritual truths that God (along with all the angels) rejoices when a lost sinner is found.

In fact, look how happy God is: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v.7).  “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v.10).  Does Jesus mean there are people who are righteous and don’t have any sin to repent of?  Of course not!  He’s saying there are people who think they don’t need to repent because they think they are righteous.

The illustration of lost sheep and coins introduces the longer and more intimate parable of the lost son.

Luke 15:11-16—And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless liv-ing. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

To help us digest this simple yet elaborate parable we’re going to break down our study into three segments; and today’s segment is mainly about the characteristics of sin that are evident in the prodigal son and serve as examples and warnings to all of us.

   1.  Sin is pride and rebellion (vv.12-13).  Whatever else may be going on in the prodigal’s mind, pride is at the heart of his motivations.  He comes to his father and says, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me” (v.12).  Notice how demanding he is.  He seems to think he deserves the inheritance from his father, but really what does he deserve?  Nothing.  The son’s pride is evidence that he loves the daddy’s riches but not his daddy.

Yet, the father grants his son’s depraved demand and “divides his property between them” (v.12), that is between the two sons though the father would continue to hold legal rights over the inhe-ritance until he died.  Based on Deuteronomy 21:17, the older son was to receive a “double portion” of the inheritance—that works out to two-thirds for the older son and one-third for the younger.

Pride always produces some form of rebellion that has a hatred for authority.  We know the prodigal wants to be “free” from the authority of his father because of his prompt action after receiving his inheritance.  “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country” (v.13a).

   2.  Sin is devotion to depravity (v.13).  Notice again, the prodigal “took a journey into a far country” (v.13).  Sin always takes you farther from home than you expect and makes you stay longer than you ever wanted.  Teenagers and young adults, please beware of chasing the wind like the prodigal did.  In our society, you’ve been taught that you’re “missing out” if you don’t sow some wild oats while you can.  In reality, you may find yourself missing out on going to Heaven if you walk away from God even for one frolic with sin.  In God’s kindness, He lovingly warns us not to chase after youthful lusts.

Ecclesiastes 12:1— Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”.

   3.  Sin is wastefulness and foolishness (v.13).  While in the far country, Jesus says the prodigal “squandered his property in reckless living” (v.13).  The word “reckless” in verse 13 was translated in the Latin Bible as wasteful, and it’s from this Latin word we get the word prodigal.  The prodigal son is the wasteful son, and he certainly lived up to this name!

Sin is such a total waste of your life that we can only call it foolishness.  Sin is foolish in many ways and for many reasons.  For one, it’s deceptive.  It always feels liberating at first, like you’re “discovering” yourself; but sin only leaves you feeling empty and depressed.  It’s like snorting cocaine or popping pills.  The euphoric feelings are real, and the feelings are good until the drugs dissipate and lay you low, hungry for another high.  Sudden-ly, your supposed freedom turns to bondage and you look foolish.

Sin is so deceptive that lost people don’t even know they’re lost.  Lost sheep and lost coins don’t know they’re lost, and lost sons don’t either.  Ironically, the farther we run away from God the farther we ran from ourselves, from our true identity as created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with Him.

   4.  Sin is devastating and destructive (vv.14-16).  After the money is gone and a severe famine strikes in the far country, the prodigal begins “to be in need” (v.14).  In reality, he had always been in need, he just didn’t know it.  “So he went and hired himself out” to a pig farmer (v.15).  For a Jew, nothing worse could be imagined—living in a Gentile country, working for a pig farmer.  It was so bad that the prodigal “was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (v.16).

The prodigal has hit the bottom.  He’s penniless and abandoned by everyone including his so-called party friends.  The prodigal stands to remind us that no one’s fit to govern their own soul.  He’s a picture of what we look like apart from God’s mercy in Christ.

But it’s at the bottom that the prodigal realizes there’s something much worse than pigs and poverty.  “But when he came to himself” (v.17a).  That’s a vivid way of describing repentance, which will be our focus next week.  The prodigal realizes that he has abandoned his father.  He says, “ ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!’ ” (v.17b).  The prodigal remembers the goodness of his father.

In the same way, sinners like us enslaved to their sin need to be freed and reconciled to God the Father.  How?  By repenting of our love for sin and trusting in Jesus who died in our place on the cross.

Two Shall Become One

Having just preached on one of Jesus’ more controversial teachings, I wanted to make my manuscript available to the faithful believers at Southside Baptist Church so that it may be of help to them–and hopefully it will be of help to others as well.  Ironically, this is around the 15th anniversary of a seminary paper I wrote on this same topic while in a New Testament Survey class under one of my father’s in the faith, Dr. Ken Easley.

May the Lord be pleased to expand our understanding of His glory and our need of Him!

Two Shall become One (Mark.10:1-12)
Before we read our Scripture, let me begin with a few cautions.  Any sermon you hear ought to be listened to carefully.  If that’s true for any sermon, it’s especially true of this one.  The topic we address today is incredibly prone to misunderstanding.

Divorce is no easy subject because many of you have experienced the pain it can mete out.  Many of your parents divorced.  Many of you have divorced.  Simply bringing up the topic can evoke deep-seated feelings associated with the uprooting of our most intimate relationships—husband and wife, parents and child.

The Church has responded with extreme errors.  At times, she’s been too harsh, saying divorce and remarriage are never permissible for any reason, making divorcees feel like second-class Christians, as if divorce is equivalent to the unpardonable sin—and that’s wrong, and no better than divorce itself.

At other times, the Church has overcorrected and become too soft, as if it’s no big deal, saying divorce and remarriage are permissible for any reason.  In doing so, the Church has compromised the holiness of marriage and God’s intentions for it.

Both errors seem like the proper approach in the moment, but both are destructive in the long run.  So what’s the right answer?

     Mark 10:1-12—“ And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the   Jordan, and crowds gathered to him a-gain. And again, as was his custom, he taught them. And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (English Standard Version)

Mark tells us Jesus is making His way into Judea by way of the area “beyond the Jordan” (v.1a), also known as Perea.  He’s teaching the crowds (v.1b), and the Pharisees show up “to test him”.  They ask, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (v.2).  Matthew’s Gospel adds the phrase “for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3), further evidence they’re trying to trap Him.

The Pharisees throw Jesus into the debate between the Hillel and the Shammai views.  All Jews agree divorce and remarriage is allowable in the case of adultery.  The debate is whether there are any other permissible reasons.  The Pharisees are trying to provoke Jesus, perhaps hoping to see Him martyred like John the Baptist.  Remember Herod Antipas had married his own sister-in-law, and John had denounced the union and was beheaded for it.  So what can we say about divorce?

1.  Our view of divorce must come from the Bible and not our individual feelings (vv.3-8). Jesus answers the Pharisees, “What did Moses command you?” (v.3).  The idea is, “Who cares about Hillel and Shammai?  What has God said?”  They answer, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away” (v.4).  They’re referring to Deuteronomy 24, which contains the much contended word that divided the two sides.

     Deuteronomy 24:1—“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house.

The word indecency is the debated word; and it comes down to emphasis, or should we say emphasis.  The Hillel view said divorce and remarriage are permitted for “any indecency”.  Examples they gave for divorcing a woman included burning the toast, talking to a man, or exposing her ankles while twirling.  The Shammai view said divorce and remarriage are permitted for “any indecency,” usually understood to be sexual immorality.

But Jesus didn’t side with either.  “Because of your hard-ness of heart he wrote you this commandment” (v.5).  That’s important because upon closer inspection of what Moses writes (Dt.24:3-4), God never commands divorce in cases of indecency but only acknowledges that divorce happens because of sinful hearts.

Jesus then quotes Scripture too but a Scripture that predates the Mosaic Law and predates the need for the Law because there was no sin in the beginning.  Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ” (v.6; cf. Gen. 1:27).   “ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (vv.7-8; cf. Gen.2:24).

Jesus is retightening the screws of God’s original intention for marriage so tightly it shocks the disciples, “And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter” (v.10).

2.  Marriage is a lifetime covenant (vv.5-9). As a covenant, marriage reflects God’s covenant keeping character.  This is why Jesus says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (v.9).  The concession Moses made for divorce was not to open the door wide for divorce but to discourage and warn against it.  Why is Jesus so adamant on this point?

      3.  Marriage is a work of God (v.9). Even if a husband and wife are not Christians, marriage is still a work of God’s providence and evidence of God’s law written on the (Rom.2:14-16).

     4.  Divorce is never pleasing to God. There is no such thing as a divorce that pleases God and brings Him honor (Mal.2:16).  To say otherwise would be like saying there are times when lying or stealing please God.  Of course, God can take divorce and work good out of it, but that does not give us permission.

Yet, sometimes divorce is the lesser of two evils.  For example, God commanded Israel not to intermarry with pagan idol worshipers (Dt.7:3-4), but many did it anyway.  In Ezra 10:3, the solution was to divorce the pagan wives.  But this does not mean Christians should divorce unbelievers today. In the New Testament, we are commanded to stay if the unbeliever agrees to it (1 Cor.7:13).

     5.  Marriage can be dissolved because of sexual immorality (vv.10-12). In Matthew’s Gospel, we find what the Church calls the “exception clause” for divorce, meaning divorce in such cases may not be sin for one of the spouses.  “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt.19:9; cf. 5:32).  Notice we’re saying sexual immorality can dissolve a marriage, but it doesn’t have to.

The reason sexual immorality can dissolve a marriage is because it strikes at the most unique and intimate aspect of marriage.  Therefore, sex outside of marriage is the vilest threat to its holiness.  In the Old Testament, the penalty for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10).  That would end the marriage!

But Jesus uses the Greek word porneia, a word covering every kind of sexual sin.  It would include a husband raping his wife for example.  And thinking of sexual immorality this way should at least make us sympathetic to the possibility of allowing divorce in cases of persistent physical abuse because such behavior is so far removed from what it means for a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church and a wife submitting to her husband as unto the Lord (Eph.5:25-33).  All sin erodes the foundation of marriage, but these are like an earthquake.  And spouses are faced with the decision: Do I renew this broken covenant or dissolve it.

      6.  Marriage can be dissolved because of desertion (1 Cor. 7:15).  The nature of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood is so different from the Old that the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to give a second “exception clause” for divorce.

     1 Corinthians 7:15—But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

     7.  Divorce should never be easy to obtain. Even when divorce is permissible, is it always the best option?  No, it should always be the last option.  Spouses should persistently aim for reconciliation.

Since divorce is permissible in cases of sexual immorality and desertion by an unbeliever, we believe remarriage is permissible in such cases.  But what about remarriage after an unlawful divorce?

     8.  Remarriage after an unlawful divorce leads to adultery (vv.11-12). “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (vv.11-12).  The disciples exclaim in Matthew’s Gospel, “It is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10b).  Jesus agrees: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given” (Matt. 19:11).  Staying married is a supernatural act of God’s providence.

     9.  Remarriage might be permissible if a divorce occurs prior to conversion.  We are stretching Scripture to the edge, so we want to be careful.  But my personal conviction is that if you were an unbeliever at the time of your divorce, then remarriage is permissible without being adultery.

      Colossians 2:13-14—And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumci-sion of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

There is no record of debt against a Christian for pre-conversion divorce and no legal demand that a Christian remain unmarried.

     10.  Remarriage does not consign someone to perpetual adultery. Only the initial consummation of the new marriage is adulterous.  Otherwise there would be no room for God’s grace and God’s forgiveness for the sins of divorce and adultery.  The gospel would not be good news for those who have sinned in this way.  But there are no scarlet-Ds or scarlet-As on the chest of those who repent of their sin and trust Christ for pardon.

Desiring marriage?
1.  Don’t marry an unbeliever (2 Cor.6:14-15)
2.  Don’t consider divorce an option
3.  Don’t underestimate the struggles of marriage
4.  Remember that marriage is about Christ and not you

Contemplating divorce?
1.  Make sure it’s your last option
2.  Make sure it’s for biblical reasons

Desiring remarriage?
1.  Make sure your prior divorce had biblical grounds
2.  Resolve all issues from the previous marriage (as far as it’s up to you)
3.  Make sure you are humble about your divorce (this is evidence of true repentance)

Self-Induced Faith

There’s a lot of confusion out there when it comes to the word “faith”.  Most of it creeps in over time as people become increasingly removed from the biblical concept.  Of course, some use the Bible to justify their self-revelatory versions of “faith”.  And everyone but atheists (whose “faith” is in “nothing-ness”) seem to have some kind of “faith,” usually affectionately termed “my faith”.

The trouble with these misconceptions of faith is they’re mostly self-induced, meaning faith is treated like something you must drum-up from within, more like an emotion.

So what’s the big problem with self-induced faith?
1. Self-induced faith hijacks the doctrine of sin.  It underestimates the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God.  We are more wicked than we know; and God is more holy than we can conceive.  Human depravity is total.  Our mind, will, and emotions are incapable of the righteousness required by God to enter His eternal presence.  As Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
 
2. Self-induced faith hijacks salvation through faith alone in Christ alone.  Self-induced “faith” is really “faith in faith”–or more specifically, faith in self.  Often, people with self-induced faith talk more about being “spiritual” than having faith because they aren’t keen on historical, propositional truth as recorded in the Bible.  The result is a self-induced faith directed toward self while biblical faith is directed toward Jesus.  And any faith directed toward the self is by definition a “faith + works” system of salvation that falls short of God’s glory.

3. Self-induced faith hijacks salvation by God’s grace alone. If “faith” is something you must work up in yourself, God’s grace is rendered meaningless. God grace is God’s undeserved favor, meaning no amount of good deeds or self-actualization (aka, “name it and claim it”) can earn God’s grace.  You can’t earn that which is un-earnable.  Self-induced faith turns biblical faith into “works of the law”.

4. Self-induced faith hijacks the doctrine of perseverance.  If faith is something you are primarily responsible for coming up with, then faith is something you are primarily responsible for maintaining.  And there is no guarantee that you will keep “the faith”.

Biblical Faith
Biblical faith, on the other hand, acknowledges man’s inability to come to God for salvation on his own because it recognizes the sinfulness of sin and the holiness of God.

Biblical faith acknowledges that man’s only hope is trusting (faithing) in Jesus Christ alone for deliverance from his sin debt to God.

Therefore, biblical faith in Christ alone is the Christian’s only hope of salvation and perseverance because only biblical faith depends on God’s grace.  Biblical faith is grace-dependent.  In fact, faith is a gift of God’s grace.

Ephesians 2:8–For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Philippians 1:29–For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

We can no more perfectly obey the command to “Believe” than the command of “Do not lie.”  Faith must first be granted by God according to His eternal purposes.  But self-induced faith turns biblical faith into “works of the law” rather than a gift of grace.

So how do you know you have received the gift of faith?  That’s the question people often pose in reaction to salvation by God grace through a faith that is itself a gift of grace.  If you are trusting in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins and living out the “obedience of faith” (Rom.1:5; 16:26), then you’ve received His grace.

Sola Fide,
Jeremy Vanatta

Santa Would Make a Horrible god

Have you ever really thought about it that way: that Santa would make a horrible god?  He would.  Receiving good things from Santa requires you to be “nice” rather than “naughty”, “good” rather than “bad”.  In some ways, that is similar to the true God of Christianity.  God does reward the righteous.

But what is Santa’s definition, or standard, of “good”?  If the definition of good is when a person’s “good” deeds outweigh his bad, then I guess Santa then must make distinctions between those whose “good” deeds are at 51% versus those at 63%, 75%, and 81%, etc.  Shouldn’t those with more “goodness” get more “good” things?  And I guess, all those who fall below the 51% mark get nothing.  Those that come in at 49% get the same nothing as those who are only 1% “good”.

What a horrible god Santa would make.  I imagine many a million kids on Christmas morning discover that apparently they’re not “good” enough, that they just didn’t measure up to Santa’s standard of righteousness.  And what hope do they have?  None, because Santa would make a horrible god.  They have no way of knowing what 51% looks like.  Worse yet, why would anyone think that 51% good is good enough, or even 99% for that matter?  Is a glass of water with only 1% pig manure “good” enough.  This is why we need Jesus so desperately.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to just make it possible for us to be righteous.  Jesus came into the world to be our righteousness through His perfectly obedient life, His perfect substitutionary death on the cross, and His perfect victory over sin and death.  All who put their faith in Jesus as there only hope, turning from their sin and turning to Him, will receive His imputed righteousness.  The gift of Heaven is not based on being naughty or nice; it’s based on the perfection of Christ on our behalf and distributed according to the riches of God’s grace and mercy in accordance with His sovereign purpose.  May God be gracious to us and our children as we teach them to treasure Jesus this Christmas.

Sola Gratia,
Jeremy Vanatta