Luke 15:28-30 The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
What an important test this part of this well-known parable is for our understanding of grace!
Another parable Jesus told to test us on our understanding of grace is the one about the worker who received the same pay for one hour’s work in the cool of the late afternoon as others received for 3, 6, 9, and even 12 hours’ work through the heat of the day (Matthew 20:1-16).
How easy it is for us to slip subconsciously into the trap of thinking God ‘owes us’ for our labours in serving him! Those of us who became recipients of God’s grace at a fairly young age (17 for me), and have responded with persevering zeal in devoted, faithful service to our Saviour, might be able to sing sincerely, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling”, and still feel a bit of resentment towards someone who ‘enjoys’ their ‘three score years and ten’ in a self-serving, hedonistic lifestyle and then experiences a genuine ‘death-bed’ conversion and ends up spending eternity alongside us. But until we can wholeheartedly join in our Heavenly Father’s prodigal celebration over ‘one sinner who repents’, regardless of their prodigious ‘enjoyment’ of life here on earth, we have not really understood grace.
You will notice I have put ‘enjoys/enjoyment’ in inverted commas in what I have just written above. I think of the lyrics: “Tell me the old, old story when you have cause to fear that this world’s empty glory is costing me too dear. Yes, and when that world’s ‘glory’ shall dawn upon my soul, tell me the old, old story: ‘Christ Jesus makes thee whole’”! When I reflect on the ‘old, old story’, and lift my eyes again to the cross on which my Saviour hung and suffered for me, I feel ashamed that I ever take, to any extent, God’s amazing grace for granted, or underestimate just what it has meant to me personally for more than 65 years.
Yes, Lord, I do want to participate fully in any and every ‘fattened calf’ celebration you hold – ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now an found, was blind but now I see.’ “For it is by GRACE [I] have been saved, through faith – and this NOT from [myself], it is the GIFT of God – not by works, so that NO-ONE can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
– Bruce Christian