Thursday, August 14, 2008

Avoid both rebellion and religion

This week's small group curriculum is a study into grace-filled living as presented by Jesus in His story of the Prodigal Son.

Big Idea:
Grace-filled living is being able to experience all that our heavenly Father has for us - His goodness, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and ultimately, His presence. Grace-filled living also empowers us to live for God in a new manner, choosing His ways over our ways.

Jesus told a story about a father and his two sons that paints a vivid picture of God’s grace. This “Prodigal Son” story shows a younger brother who was missing out on an intimate relationship with his father and the grace-filled life because he chased after the trappings of the world. The story also depicts an older brother who was missing out on the full impact of his father’s grace, not because of rebellion, but because he chose to base his relationship with his father primarily on performance rather than intimacy. The younger son represents the person who is looking for love in all the wrong places, but finally finds what he is looking for in the Father. The older son represents those who have already found what they are looking for, but can’t fully receive it because they can’t accept the fact that the Father’s love is unconditional and free. They focus on ways to earn the Father’s love and decline an invitation to the party. Christians too often fall into this trap by becoming ultra-religious and following the rules instead of the Ruler. Honoring and loving God through a life of obedience is critical, but it must flow out of a close, personal relationship with God, not simply a commitment to the rules.

Ultimately, the “Prodigal Son” is a story about us - a story about a Father in heaven who sees humanity bound by sin or bound by religion. God wants us to experience grace-filled living by being free from sin and free from religion. Allowing our hearts to wander away from God’s provision by the enticements of sin or the deception of religion are both destructive.

Discussion Questions: (read the scriptures & discuss)

Luke 15:11-24
What was the result of the younger son’s rebellion? How did the Prodigal Son finally experience grace-filled living? Discuss how living for ourselves and the world separate us from God and His grace.

Luke 15:25-32
How was the older son’s relationship with his father based on performance? (v. 29) How can “mature” Christians intentionally and unintentionally act like the older son toward new believers? How has religion impeded your relationship with God?

Titus 2:11-14
Discuss how this passage expands our definition and understanding of God’s grace. Share examples of how God’s grace has empowered you to live for Him, to love others, and to experience grace-filled living?

Taking Action: Examine your life and your heart. Are you rebellious like the prodigal son? Are you comfortable with the world and sin? Or, have you become a religious Christian who follows the rule book instead of the Ruler? If so, repent and turn back to Him, accept His grace, surrender yourself, and enjoy living solely for Him again.

Ministry Time

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I connect with your thoughts on the older son representing an “ultra-religious rule keeper” who is trying to earn the love of his father. If we allow the story to speak for itself, the reaction of the older brother seems very reasonable. The older brother doesn’t have an issue with his father forgiving his younger brother and letting him come back home. What he can’t figure out is why his father is not upset and angry with his little brother. After all, the younger son essentially slapped his father in the face when he left the house early and squandered his father’s money. The older son was there to see the shame and pain his younger brother caused his father. Then consider what the father does when his son returns. He showers him with gifts and throws him a big party. The older son sees this and is confused and frustrated. But he is not aware of his younger brother’s contrite repentant heart. Only the father knows his son was lost and now he is found! He was dead but now he is alive! The father is not happy that his son came home, he is happy that his son came home with a changed heart. It is reasonable that the older brother cannot initially understand the mercy of his father, just as we cannot fathom God’s mercy on us. Just because the older son does not initially understand his father's merciful response does not necessarily mean that the older brother was trying to earn his father's love. The recurring theme of the parables in Luke 15 is that God actually enjoys showering his repentant children with mercy and forgiveness!

I also don’t see how Jesus indicates in this parable a lack of intimacy with the father and the older son or a problem with their relationship. How does the father respond to his obedient son? “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” The father reveals to the faithful son what his inheritance is – not just a portion of what belongs to the father, but everything in the estate! A simple party does not compare to owning the entire estate! I would suppose that at that moment the older son fully realized how much his father loved and appreciated him. The real thought to consider is that the older son’s intimate relationship with his father (“you are here with me always”) and the father’s blessings (“everything I have is yours”) cannot be separated from his obedience. We know that God loves us first, without condition and without us earning it. We cannot earn the right to be called sons of God. That being said, our saving relationship with God is contingent upon our continual free response to His love, which cannot be separated from our obedience to His commands. Jesus himself says, “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them”. (John 14:21) Jesus tells us that our relationship with God and our receiving and experiencing His transforming presence is conditional, and requires our free will to submit to His “rules” out of love for Him. How can you follow the “Ruler” without following his “rule book”? How can we be committed to God without being committed to his commands? Obeying Jesus brings intense pressure on us at times. It is natural for us to try and justify the broad road we may be walking on. We must be careful to not characterize those who are encouraging us to walk on the narrow road as “ultra-religious rule keepers”. Let’s not make the obedient, faithful son the fall guy for those who want to avoid picking up their cross.