Thoughts on grace and older brothers…

Ray Ortlund leads a church in Nashville where they use the following wording as a call to worship:

To all who are weary and need rest;
to all who mourn and long for comfort;
to all who feel worthless and wonder if God cares;
to all who fail and desire strength;
to all who sin and need a Savior;
to all who hunger and thirst for righteousness;
and to whoever will come—this church opens wide her doors and offers her welcome in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It’s a grace invitation. And Ray is big on grace, the grace of the gospel. He says that ‘If you have gospel doctrine on paper but you don’t have gospel culture in relationships, you don’t really have gospel doctrine.’

So it’s a bit of a problem when evangelical churches (who believe in the grace of the gospel and preach it) produce (or at least count in their ranks) people who sometimes appear to demonstrate so little grace.

I’ve talked a lot over the past few years about the older brother in Jesus’ Tale of Two Sons (better known, but less accurately, in my view, as the story of the Prodigal Son). I’ve thought about some of the warning signs that betray a failure to really ‘get’ grace (or be fully ‘got’ by grace).

Here are some thoughts on older brothers, like the one in the story:

  1. ‘But he was angry…’ verse 28. Older brothers find it hard to forgive, hard to extend grace to others. As CS Lewis reminded us, we might think forgiveness is a wonderful idea – until we have something we need to forgive.
  2. ‘…these many years I have served you… yet you never gave me a young goat…’ verse 29. Older brothers live out a transactional type of spirituality that lacks the warmth of a relationship with a Heavenly Father.
  3. ‘…I never disobeyed your command…’ verse 29. Older brothers are very aware of their own rightness which makes them aware of others’ wrongness and often unable to admit their own failings.
  4. ‘But when this son of yours came…’ verse 30. Older brothers make comparisons and struggle to be generous in how they think of others.

For each of these symptoms, the treatment is repentance and a humble receiving of grace, acknowledging, as Jerry Bridges puts it,

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

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