We saw that the older brother didn’t see himself as a sinner, wanted to dispense justice rather than forgiveness, and felt entitled based on his good works. But the last words in the parable are from the father–an invitation. We don’t know what the older brother decided, but we can look at the real life of another Pharisee and see how he accepted the invitation from the Father.
Paul wrote, “…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless” (Phil. 3:4-6).
Look at all the reasons he had to boast, feel proud, and even feel entitled. How did Paul keep from sinning after looking at his impressive resume?
He wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his suffering, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:7-11).
Paul combated the sins of pride and entitlement with the power of the cross. He goes on to say in Philippians that he is not perfect and forgets what had already happened, focusing on what was to come. Like Paul, my list of accomplishments pales in comparison to the life of Christ. When I compare all my good deeds to His death on the cross, I am reminded of what a sinner I am. I’m also reminded of His grace and love. I must continue to preach the gospel to myself.
At the end of the story of the prodigal son, we know the younger brother returned home, repented, and was forgiven by his father. We don’t know if the older brother repented and joined the party. But when I see myself in this story, I can make the choice to stay in my sin or be restored to a right relationship with God.