Isn’t that how God works? Just when you think you have it all figured out is when God really knocks you off your feet. Isaiah spent 5 chapters going on and on about the sins of his nation (and rightly so!). I imagine he’s thinking he’s got things pretty much together himself. He’s doing alright in comparison, right? Not so fast! That’s when God gives him a vision. Chapter 6 of Isaiah, we read how Isaiah came face to face with the holiness of God. And once he saw himself against the backdrop of perfection, Isaiah could see himself for who he really was: a sinner. And he came completely undone. Thankfully, God didn’t let him wallow there very long and Isaiah accepted God’s cleansing and commission without hesitation.
So, we’ve been studying the concept of “living the gospel” in our small group. Not just experiencing a moment of conversion but living every day with the knowledge that we need Jesus. I’m thinking obedience, obedience, obedience. That’s my new mantra. As long as I do what God asks of me, I’m … good. But then I read Alan Kraft’s perspective on the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15:25-30 in his book Good News for Those Trying Harder. And I realized that’s still me “trying” to be “good.” I’m relying on my own actions again! What’s my motivation? I’m focused on me, instead of God.
I have heard this perspective of the story before but in the context of the book and where I am spiritually, I was really struck by his words. Kraft tells the story with a focus on the older brother, the obedient son who is upset that is father is celebrating the son who had squandered his inheritance. Here’s what he wrote:
[The older son] was trying so hard to be good. He had been the obedient son, doing everything the father wanted him to do. He was the good son, the moral one who kept the rules. But notice his motivation: “All these years I’ve been slaving for you.” His motivation to be good was rooted in duty rather than desire. Here he was, a beloved son, and yet living like he was an employee. Ironically, his “goodness” resulted in his missing the love of his father. To him, his father was a slave driver who was never satisfied—which wasn’t true, but that was his perception. Why? Because he was trying to earn the love that was already his, and it distorted his image of his dad …
The irony of this parable of the lost son is there are actually two lost sons in this story. One is lost in his sinfulness and rebellion, the other in his goodness. The rebellious son [sees his] brokenness and experiences the incredible grace of his loving father. He was lost but now is found. The obedient son, however, remains lost in his goodness, separated from his father as he earnestly tries so hard to earn what is already his.
The “obedient” son’s actions bred bitterness and resentment. He was self-righteous, ironically fed by his own obedience. But the father’s response is beautiful” “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”
Do I see God that way, as my loving Father who has lavished His love on me? Or are my actions, my attempt to please God by doing the “right” thing, keeping me from feeling loved by Him? I think I know the answer. I have a distorted view of God, just like that obedient son, trying to earn God’s acceptance through my performance. What I need is a fresh vision of God, like Isaiah. Seeing God in all His glory transformed Isaiah’s life, he was never the same. Knowing who God is, having a right view of Him and his righteousness puts everything else in perspective.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah 6:3