I sometimes try to repay my debt
I’ve been reading the parable of the prodigal son a lot lately. And I’m seeing more and more of the younger brother/prodigal in myself. A lot of times we think that the younger brother is the one who gets grace. Atleast he seems to be the one who understands that he has no hope but the father’s mercy. But this week – looking closer I saw that even that crazy prodigal can’t get his head around the one thing he needs so desperatley: free grace.
In the parable, after the younger brother decides to return to the Father’s house he has a plan. He doesn’t just intend to fling himself upon his father’s mercy. I mean – he plans to do that – but he plans to do it in the form of a repentance speech that includes a strategic initative: repaying the money to his father. He figures he can work as a hired servant until he can pay off his debt.
Annnndd….conviction. right to the heart. Of me. Because this is all too familiar. I know the pig pen all too well. And I know when I’m there –the only hope I have is the mercy and grace of the Father. And over the past year or so He has taught me to fling myself at His feet when I fail – and for that I’m grateful. There is a lot more hope there than I find in myself.
As a younger brother – I love the Cross, I cling to it, but like the younger brother, I also find myself sometimes trying to pay God back. For me – this is where the act of repentance comes in. I reduce repentance to this ‘work’ that I do to show God how truly sorry I am and how willing I am to make amends.
Repentance – which is the most glorious gift of God – the joy of returning to the Father, has become less about the welcoming hug I receive from God, and more about the offer to work off my sin.
There are a couple of problems with this. Problem One: It is laced with the implication that my sin could be repaid. The very reason I need Christ is because I cannot make up the debt I have incurred, and when I try, I reduce the Cross to a transaction and I imply my Sin is small enough for me to ‘make it better’ with some good deeds.
Problem Two: I once again make the Gospel about myself and not Jesus. Somewhere in the middle of this prodigal son’s desire to return, even he reveals the Pharisee way of thinking that his acceptance by the Father is based on what he can do. The Gospel is not just what saved me – it’s what sustains me. It’s not just the grace I needed to be forgiven for the life in the pig pen, it’s the grace I need for the heart that longs daily to return to the mud in spite of it’s regeneration. The Gospel – the life and blood of Jesus – don’t just cover my past, but my future. And I get a chance to preach the Gospel to myself each time I fail and feel tempted to turn prayer, quiet times, even repentance into ‘deeds’ to repay God a debt that cannot be repaid.