The parables of Jesus are so well-known that we often forget their message. Take, for example, the story of the prodigal son. The primary application is the welcome the father gives to wayward son when he is ready to return home. We rejoice to see the forgiving love of the father.
But there is another message here, I think. There are two sons in this story and, if you read carefully (Luke 15:11-32), you will see that the father divided the inheritance between the two. In other words, both are gifted and set free.
One of the sons takes his inheritance and lives wickedly. He rejoices to be free of the father’s rules and expectations. With no limitations, he squanders his inheritance until it is all gone and he finds himself destitute and alone.
The other brother does not believe that he is free. He does not celebrate. He remains faithful to the rules and expectations of his father even though his anger builds. He tries hard to do his duty. He becomes resentful and seems to hate his brother who left.
But neither brother is under grace.
There are believers who do not seem to believe they are under grace. They continue to live according to the law. Their lives are built around standards and rules and principles and they struggle to feel good enough. Their hearts are often filled with work and resentment.
There are other believers who use the idea of grace to celebrate rebellion. They let themselves experience things that were forbidden under law and rejoice to feel no guilt. They push boundaries and standards to the side as they enjoy their new life apart from the law. But they sometimes find themselves in bondage to masters more cruel than the law ever was. Alcohol still forms physical habits. Promiscuity still has a price. The sins the law warns us about still hurt us.
You see, neither of these believers walk in grace. To walk in grace is to walk with Jesus. Grace is a relationship through which good things come to us. Under law and standards, the relationship is secondary and the privileges of grace cannot be enjoyed. Under rebellion and immorality, the relationship is still secondary. But the relationship with Jesus is what saves us and gives us victory.
Suppose the two brothers had received their inheritance and, in humility and love, had turned back to their father. Suppose they had said, “Thank you Father, for your kindness and generosity. Teach us how to use what you have given in ways that will make our lives as rich and joyful as yours.” Had they done that, they would have experienced the laughter and joy of their father and a wonderful relationship with each other.
For some, grace is a high church word that means little for daily life.
To others, grace means anti-law, freedom from rules and expectations.
But, in Christ, grace is a relationship.