I received a letter from a brother in Christ who probably would claim he is a very upright man. Yet there was bitterness in his words to me:
"Brother Wilkerson, what has happened to you? You used to preach so powerfully against sin. But I believe you've gone soft on sin lately. Your recent message on Jubilee gives people a license to sin. You're offering comfort to compromisers, instead of convicting them!
"Go back to preaching holiness! I don't commit sin, and I have no sin in my life. No person has to commit sin." He went on for several paragraphs about the lack of reproving in my preaching.
Please understand - if there is one thing I greatly fear as a preacher, it is that my sermons might condemn the righteous and comfort the wicked. I tremble as I read these words: "He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 17:15).
I believe any true minister of God who preaches a pure gospel will show people their wicked ways. He will point out sin in order to reveal the difference between the holy and the profane. Thankfully, I believe the Lord has helped me to do this.
But I would be a fraud - a legalistic pharisee - if I did not also preach the riches of God's mercy and lovingkindness to all his children who struggle with sin!
In Luke 15, We Read the
Protest of Another Man Who
Boasted He Was Upright.
You're probably very familiar with this story. I'm talking about the parable of the prodigal son - and, in particular, the prodigal's self-righteous older brother.
In this parable, the father obviously represents God. Yet I also believe the two sons represent two kinds of children of the father. Indeed, they relate to their father in very different ways. And, in my opinion, most Christians fall into one of these two categories of children. (I'll explain this more as we continue.)
The story begins when the younger son demands that his father give him his portion of the family inheritance. The father complies - and when the son gets his share, he takes off for "...a far country..." (Luke 15:13).
Of course, giving up this portion of wealth didn't impoverish the father in the least. On the contrary, what he gave his son was an "earnest" - a token sum of all that he possessed. And I believe the son's inheritance represents the rich blessings we receive from our heavenly father - blessings of mercy, grace and compassion.
Now, what I'm about to say may shock you - but I believe this younger son represents a whole camp of Christians I call the "Bless Me Club." Like the prodigal, they come to God claiming their rights to all the riches of his kingdom. They demand every blessing God has promised, crying, "Bless me, God - prosper me! Pour out all your mercy and grace on my life. I want everything that's coming to me!" In short, they want to build up a "stash" of blessings, stockpiling all they can.
This is all fine - except such believers too often have no desire to walk closely with the Lord. All they want are the blessings that come with the Christian life. In most instances, intimacy with the Lord is not a part of their theology. They don't want to hear about the cost and sacrifice of communing with him or walking in obedience to his word.
This is just what happened with the prodigal. I believe this young man started out with good intentions. Apparently he had worked hand-in-hand with his father for years before he decided to leave. And along the way he must have hoped to invest his wealth, become a success and make his father proud.
Indeed, he was like many young followers of Christ. They rejoice in their newfound wealth of truth and freedom, pledging, "The Lord has done so much for me - and I want to always stay close to him. I'm going to be an overcomer!"
Yet, as has happened so often, their hearts aren't wholly set on having a longstanding relationship with the father. Like the prodigal, a worldliness still grips them - a desire for the pleasures of this life. And, slowly, it begins to choke out all intimacy with the father. Finally, they go to the Lord only to demand blessings - so they can spend them on worldly lusts!
The prodigal's attitude illustrates what is known as "easy grace." Paul writes, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.... What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid" (Romans 6:1-2,15).
This young man tried to "stash" all the riches he received from his father. He convinced himself, "I'm secure now. I've got everything from my father I'll ever need." But how wrong he was!
You See Multitudes of
Prodigals Sitting in Church
Each week, multitudes of prodigals come to church, sit in the pews, sing in the choir, teach Sunday school. They are New Testament children of God who "...have obtained an inheritance..." (Ephesians 1:11) and are "...partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:12). They have received what the Bible calls "...the earnest of our inheritance..." (Ephesians 1:14).
But what happens when, week after week, these believers hear messages about God's tender mercies - his free abundance of grace, his justification of them, his acceptance of them through Christ? Slowly, such Christians begin to heap upon themselves the earnest of their inheritance. And they glory in it, saying, "Isn't it wonderful that God loves me? He so freely forgives me when I fail!"
At Times Square Church, we preach all of these things - God's mercy, compassion, tenderness and lovingkindness toward us, his justification and sanctification of us, his acceptance of us in his son. All of these doctrines center on God's grace toward us through Jesus Christ. But what happens to us when we try to heap up this rich inheritance?
Consider what happened to the prodigal: Once he loaded himself down with his father's wealth, it began burning a hole in his pocket. And soon he decided to turn to the world to satisfy the lust in his heart. He said to himself, "My blessing is going to last a long time!"
Beloved, I'm convinced there are many Christians who can't handle the blessings of grace! They glory in the message of God's unearned pardon - filling their minds with every Bible passage describing his mercy and compassion. They love to hear the story of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, because it brings them great comfort. Yet, once they stockpile all the rich, glorious truth about God's grace toward them, it begins to burn a hole in their purse of flesh. And it becomes to them a license to sin!
That's how the prodigal misused his wealth. He spent his father's riches partying, gambling, getting drunk, sleeping with prostitutes. Night after night he squandered his blessings, falling deeper and deeper into sin. Yet each morning he got up, shook off all conviction, and consoled himself by going back to his stash. He told himself, "There's still plenty here for me. I can handle it!"
Like the prodigal, many Christians today set off for some place of forbidden pleasure, looking to spend their riches on riotous living. Their lust carries them to the bed of a fornicator, to a fix of cocaine, to homosexuality, to pornography, to alcohol or drugs. Yet they continually comfort themselves in their sin, saying, "God's grace is more than sufficient for me! He's got more than I need. He'll love me no matter what I do in my flesh. His mercies endure forever!"
No! God's grace was never intended to be perverted and squandered. In fact, it's meant to have just the opposite effect. Paul writes: "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:11-12). God's grace teaches us godliness, righteousness, and a holy fear of the Lord!
The Moment We Try to Cover
Up Sin by Appealing to
Grace, We Do Despite to
Whenever we squander God's grace, we end up bankrupt in body, soul and spirit. We no longer have the bread of heaven to feed on. And we find ourselves in a spiritual pigsty - starving, our souls gripped by famine.
Luke writes, "When he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him" (Luke 15:14-16).
I have seen this kind of starvation among Christians. They once had a marvelous testimony of grace and mercy. But now, because of sin, they've become spiritual skeletons - with no life whatsoever!
Keep in mind - the prodigal's father still had all the riches his son ever needed. It didn't matter how badly this boy wasted his inheritance; his father was brimming with wealth and provision. Yet, returning to his father - going back to enjoy once again the flow of spiritual riches and grace - required that he come to his senses. Luke writes:
"When he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants" (verses 17-19).
The young man had to admit, "I can't handle these blessings after all. I'm no match for my lusts! I've sinned against God and my family. I've squandered everything that's been given to me!"
You must understand - repentance is more than just turning around and going back to God. It is a full surrender of self-government - a return to God with this confession: "Lord, I've made a mess of my life. I simply can't handle it. And now I come humbly to you, asking you to take over. Please, govern my life!"
When the prodigal said, "Make me as one of your hired servants," he was confessing, "Father, I can't be my own boss. I'm tired of making a mess of my life! Let me take orders from you, as all your servants do. You govern my life - you tell me what to do and how to do it and I'll gladly obey!"
That's when God begins to do a very special work of restoration. It's when the feasts begins!
"He arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
"But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry" (verses 20-23).
The slain calf in this story represents the slain lamb of God - which means redemption, joy and rejoicing! When the prodigal returned, they all had a celebration - a wonderful, merry time of feasting around the glorious lamb.
And make no mistake: When the son returned, he was fully restored in his father's house - not as a servant, but as a son! He was willing to submit to his father and be under his governance. Moreover, he wanted intimacy with his father. He'd lost all interest in the things of the world and was ready to do as his father commanded.
What a wonderful scene of total restoration!
But There Was an Upright
Man Looking in the
Window - and Protesting the
"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 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. And he was angry, and would not go in..." (Luke 15:25-28).
This older brother grew angrier by the moment. After all, he had served his father diligently for years, never transgressing any commandment. He was upright according to the law, and he'd kept himself scrupulously clean.
Yet, peering through that window, this older son saw the greatest vision of grace ever given to humankind: The father was embracing a repentant, lost son. He didn't ask any questions; he didn't lecture. Instead, he clothed his child in a new garment and restored him to his former status - to a position of full favor and blessing. And then he brought him into the feast - to a celebration of the lamb!
The vision this older son saw was that any person can repent, no matter how low he sinks - if he simply gives up governing his own life and comes back to the father. That is true reconciliation, from the very heart of God.
Yet the older brother protested it all. He refused to go in to the feast. Why? He wanted no part in what he saw as an easy grace! He told himself:
"My brother broke all the commandments - he disgraced our father. He can't get off that easily! I've worked at obedience for years. I've toiled and sweated and dutifully done good works. And yet, when my sinful brother comes crawling out of a pigsty, he receives a hero's welcome. It isn't right. I'm the sinless one, not my brother!"
It's typical of the legalistic mindset to protest a generous outpouring of grace on a returning backslider. Many Christians, sitting next to some drug addict or alcoholic in church, think, "Thank God, I never sinned that way. He could fall again tomorrow. I'll keep my distance from him until I can tell that his return is genuine."
Yet scripture says this kind of pride is more deadly than any addiction: "...let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The truth is, when the prodigal saw his older brother frowning at him through the window, he probably thought, "Oh, brother - if you only knew how I admire you! You've always shown diligence, discipline, faithfulness. You never went out and sinned as I did. You have the better testimony. And all my life I'll have to live with the memory of bringing shame on our family's good name.
"I know I don't deserve any of this. In fact, you should be here in my place. How I wish I could have fellowship with you!"
That is the cry of a truly repentant and humbled heart!
The Younger Son Misused
Grace - and the Older Son
Both brothers were equally sinful. To misuse grace - to squander, pervert and do despite to it - is wrong. And to misunderstand grace - to not appreciate it or to deny it to others - is equally wrong.
The younger son hadn't understood the purpose of grace - which is to grow into the maturity of holiness. But the older, protesting son had never known his father's heart. He had always sought to earn his father's love by obeying and doing. He couldn't accept that his dad had always loved him unconditionally, apart from his good works. The truth was, his father loved him simply because he was born of him - bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh.
"...therefore came his father out, and intreated him. 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. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf" (Luke 15:28-30).
The older son told his father, "I don't feel like feasting - I don't feel happy like you - because I'm under a burden! All these years I've worked so hard to please you, yet you've never shown me this kind of love. I don't feel your love for me, Father!"
This sums up the root problem of the protesting son: He thought he had earned, through good works, what his younger brother had received through free grace!
Every legalist has a difficult time setting aside the works of his flesh. Why? Our flesh wants to perform for God! We want to be able to say, "I've earned my peace in the Lord. I've fasted, prayed, done everything to get the victory. I've worked hard - and now I've finally made it!"
If we're honest, we'll see that our flesh always protests against dependence on the Lord. We don't want to rely on his mercy and grace, or to believe that if we simply come to him in repentance and faith, he'll wipe our slate clean. We don't want to acknowledge that only he can give us the power, wisdom and authority to live as overcomers.
God forbid that I should ever love my children on the basis of the things they do for me. And God forbid that they should ever compete for my love by doing things to please me. I say, as any parent would, "I love all my children equally - simply because they're my flesh and blood!"
All obedience becomes as filthy rags - putrid sin - whenever we trust in it to merit God's acceptance. Whenever it supplants grace, it's worthless!
Yet the protest, heard then and now, is: "You're too easy on sin! Where is the piercing denunciation against this man's sin? Where is the holding up of the law to show him his wrongdoing? He could easily take another fall. Make him prove his repentance! He hasn't had time to learn holiness, to obey God's commands, to sacrifice."
Some of the most bitter, judgmental people I know are Christians who say these very things. A few years ago, our church hosted a Russian pastor who'd spent a number of years in jail for his faith. As I watched him during our worship service, he was always frowning.
After the service I asked him, "What's wrong?" He said, "I don't understand how you people have the right to clap and be happy. You haven't been to prison. You haven't paid a price. The only way to come to victory is through that kind of suffering.
No - that is not scriptural! We come into the joy of the Lord through his unmerited grace. Anything less is a cheapening of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross!
We have to be careful not to make the protest of the older brother, the upright man. It is a protest of human uprightness - and it is a stench in God's nostrils!
In closing, let me sum up the point of this whole passage:
Grace Is Freely Bestowed on
Those Who Have Died to Self-
Worth and Acknowledged
"(The father) said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 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" (Luke 15:31-32).
The younger son - mired in a muck of loneliness brought on by sin - was dead to his own will. And in his wretchedness, he experienced something beyond his pain: He experienced his lostness!
As he thought of his father, he wanted to go back to him - to surrender himself completely! He knew he could never repay his father or please him by any good works. He saw that he was wholly dependent on his father's grace and love for any kind of restoration.
But the older son never had a sense of his lostness - of how hopeless it was to try to bridge the gulf between himself and God. And so he never faced his need to die to self.
Beloved, that chasm can never be bridged by works, promises or self-effort. Our acceptance in the love of the father comes only through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no other plea. The cross alone bridges the gulf.
You may protest everything I've written here. You may say, "Brother Wilkerson, you're telling sinners that if they'll just repent, everything will suddenly be okay - that God will wipe out their past and immediately bring them into his favor and blessing."
Yes, that is exactly what I'm preaching - because that is just what Jesus is saying in this parable! Whenever a sinner turns to the Lord in utter repentance, brokenness and humility, he is immediately brought into the loving arms of his shepherd. Hallelujah!
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This data file is the sole property of World Challenge. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice [i.e., "Copyright © 1999 by World Challenge"]. This data file may not be used without the permission World Challenge for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content with the exception of a few brief quotations. Please give the following source credit: Copyright © 1999 by World Challenge, Lindale, Texas, USA.
This material is solely for personal use and is not to be posted publicly on other web pages. The Lorain County Free-Net Chapel holds exclusive rights from World Challenge, Inc. to publicly post these messsages on its web page. You are free to download, copy, print and distribute this material, so long as you do not post it on a different Internet site. You may, however, link this site to reference these messages.
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