The Forgiveness of God is Gratuitous Liberation From Guilt

The forgiveness of God is gratuitous liberation from guilt.  Paradoxically, the conviction of personal sinfulness becomes the occassion of encounter with the merciful love of the redeeming God.  “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…” (Luke 15:7).  In his brokenness, the repentant prodigal knew an intimacy with his father that his sinless self-righteous brother would ever know.

– Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, copyright 1990, 2000, page 180-181

We Do Not Have a Pharisee for an Older Brother

While Act 1 of the parable showed us how free the father’s forgiveness is, Act 2 gives us insight into its costliness.  The younger brother’s restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother.  The father could not just forgive the younger son, somebody had to pay!  The father could not reinstate him except at the expense of the elder brother.  There was no other way.  But Jesus does not put a true elder brother in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost.  It is heartbreaking.  The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead.

But we do not.

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 83-84

The Anger and Superiority of Elder Brothers

The anger and superiority of elder brothers, all growing out of insecurity, fear, and inner emptiness, can create a huge body of guilt-ridden, fear-ridden, spiritually blind people, which is one of the great sources of social injustice, war, and violence.

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 67

Earning Salvation Through Goodness

The last sign of the elder brother spirit is a lack of assurance of the father’s love.  The older son says, “You never threw me a party.”  There is no dancing or festiveness about the elder brother’s relationship with his father.  As long as you are trying to earn your salvation by controlling God through goodness, you will never be sure you have been good enough for him.  You simply aren’t sure God loves and delights in you.

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 63

What is Your Self Image Based On?

Elder brothers base their self-images on being hardworking, or moral, or members of an elite clan, or extremely smart and savvy.  This inevitably leads to feeling superior to those who don’t have those same qualities.  In fact, competitive comparison is the main way elder brothers achieve a sense of their own significance.  Racism and classicism are just different versions of this form of the self-salvation project.  This dynamic becomes exceptionally intense when elder brothers pride themselves above all for their right religion.

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 54

What Must We Do Then, to be Saved?

What must we do, then, to be saved?  To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother.  To truly become Christians we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right.  Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness too.  We must learn how to repent of the sin under all other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord.  We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope and trust in things other than God, and that in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 77-78

The Gospel is Distinct

The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches:  In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved and everyone is called to recognize this and change.  By contrast, elder brothers divide the world in two: “The good people (like us) are in and the bad people, who are the real problem with the world are out.”  Younger brothers, even if they don’t believe in God at all, do the same thing, saying: “No, the open-minded and tolerant people are in and the bigoted narrow-minded people who are the real problem with the world are out”

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 45

Obedience that Leads to Slavish, Begrudging Compliance to the Law

Elder brother obedience only leads to a slavish, begrudging compliance to the letter of the law.  It is one thing to be honest and avoid lies for your sake, but it is another to do so for God’s sake, for truth’s sake, and for the love of the people around us.  A person motivated by love rather than fear will not only obey the letter of the law, but will eagerly seek out new ways to carry out business with transparency and integrity.

– Tim Keller, Prodigal God, copyright 2008, page 59-60