The Parable of the Prodigal Son

20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe [for the guest of honor] and put it on him; and give him a ring for his hand, and sandals for his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let us [invite everyone and] feast and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was [as good as] dead and is alive again; he was lost and has been found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15

I have often wondered why the father didn’t punish his son for this very silly behaviour and welcomed him instead with open arms, gave him a change of clothes and threw him a feast. Some style of parenting [rolling my eyes]!

God’s ways are not at all our ways and He sees things completely differently to us. With this parable Jesus shows what is most important to the Father; a relationship with us. The Father is happy when we are with Him. But it appears we still struggle with having our sins forgiven and enjoying the liberty of sonship and seem to prefer ‘earning’ this privilege. A lot of doctrines in much of today’s church kind of reflect this belief. We are still unwittingly taught that salvation only gets us thus far and our efforts will take us over the finish line. Whether we care to admit it or not we are repeating the same mistakes of the Galatian church.

From time to time, I get really, really shocked by some of the write-ups I come across in support of the continuance of this doctrine in the New Testament church. Believing that one has to tithe to be blessed really reflects a works mentality. With this in mind, let’s consider the father of the prodigal son; all that mattered to him was that his son had retraced his steps back home. The father had no further requirement from him. His repentance was enough to earn him a place at his father’s table. Against this backdrop, teaching that ‘tithing’ is a condition for receiving God’s blessings and protection flies in the face of Christianity. It is quite akin to the prodigal son’s request of being treated as a servant; he thought he could earn his father’s forgiveness.

A servant has no rights in a household. He has to work to get paid; he basically earns his keep. A son on the other hand does not have to earn his father’s approval. His father will always cater for his needs regardless and this makes mandating the tithe in today’s church completely out of place. However, this has not stopped some proponents of this doctrine; they take scripture completely out of context and go to great lengths to justify teaching it.

Here’s one I hear quite often. God gave you what you have and is only asking for 10% back. If God needed anything back, it would have been reflected in the scripture. Another one is we show our appreciation to God by tithing. This is again is approaching our relationship with God from a human perspective. We show appreciation by shunning our old way of life and embracing the new life He’s given us. A fraction of our possessions is no substitute.

Let’s consider the prodigal son for a second? Didn’t he deserve some punishment for his behaviour? Had his father turned him away wouldn’t we have sided with the father? Had the father agreed to treat him as a servant would we have seen anything wrong with it? Did the son really deserve all of this sacrifice? Now let’s turn our attention to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, does it make any logical sense? God saw it fit to send Jesus to die on our behalf even though we were still in our sins and didn’t deserve it. If He could make such a great sacrifice for us when we didn’t deserve it, why on earth will we think we have to earn His blessing through tithing? It doesn’t make any sense!

That the church requires money is not reason enough. That people will refuse to give if they were given the option to give what they liked is hardly justifies it either.

The simplicity of the Gospel – Part 2

However, the thinking of some of the early apostles is still quite prevalent in much of today’s church. Many aspects of the Law are repurposed and reshaped to justify teaching it. Some of them are hailed as some sort of new revelation. The first time I heard the doctrine of the ‘firstfruit’ taught, it was hailed as such. Some preachers even teach giving of an ‘atonement’ offering. The tithe is another one I mention constantly. Still others just take the entire Old Testament and form a completely new religion under the premise of Christianity. The Mormons are a perfect example.

Still others like the Jehovah’s witnesses take the ‘abridge version of the law of Moses’ a little too literarily. Even though this clearly referred to the forbiddance of eating meat which still had its blood on it, they’ve interpreted this to mean blood transfusion. They completely ignore Paul’s charge to the church in Corinth concerning meats; it neither commends nor condemns you before God. Having a blood transfusion neither commends nor condemns you before God as well and prevents you from dying untimely if it is required to save your life. I have even seen a preacher offer the Jewish prayer shawl on tv for a fee! He sang the praises of the shawl as if wearing one was the only way to get God to answer your prayers.

Adherence to the Sabbath is also seriously pushed by some even though the law of Sabbath is clearly an Old Testament command. Paul also mentioned something about special days and he admonished that those who observe special days and those who do not are both fine just as long as they are doing it unto the Lord.

5 Some people might believe that one day is more important than another. And others might believe that every day is the same. Everyone should be sure about their beliefs in their own mind. 6 Those who think one day is more important than other days are doing that for the Lord. And those who eat all kinds of food are doing that for the Lord. Yes, they give thanks to God for that food. And those who refuse to eat some foods do that for the Lord. They also give thanks to God. Romans 14 (ERV)

The New Testament frees us from all of these laws and allows us to freely worship God. You no longer have to be a descendant of Aaron before you can approach God’s throne. You no longer need to conform to Jewish customs before you can be accepted by God. This flies in the face of the notion that your need to do something special like give ‘special sacrificial offerings’, pray in certain ways or at certain times and places or conform to a certain dress code to receive blessings or favour from God.

Some will interpret this as me saying that once you are a Christian you simply do nothing but I’ll like to clarify that you do not need to do anything to influence the way God acts or feel towards you. He loves you regardless and all He requires is that you love Him with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.

You do not pray in the hope God will be impressed, you pray because you love Him. You do not give because you are trying to attract some sort of blessings or influence God so to speak, again you do it out of love.

The New Testament is God’s way of making all nations and every tribe and tongue a part of His commonwealth. And the only requirement for entry is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ alone.

The simplicity of the Gospel – Part 1

We know from scripture that the early Christians where Jews who observed the Jewish laws as this was already their way of life. The only difference was they believed in Jesus Christ. However, their Jewish customs became a bit of an issue when the gentiles began to turn to Christ; as some Jews expected the gentiles to observe the Jewish customs as well. The bible discusses this in the book Acts.

5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter. 7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. Acts 15 (KJV)

The apostles did not think the gentiles should observe the Law of Moses and provided an alternative which was basically an abridged version of the law.

19 “So I think we should not make things hard for those who have turned to God from among the non-Jewish people. 20 Instead, we should send a letter telling them only the things they should not do: Don’t eat food that has been given to idols. This makes the food unclean. Don’t be involved in sexual sin. Don’t eat meat from animals that have been strangled or any meat that still has the blood in it. 21 They should not do any of these things, because there are still men in every city who teach the Law of Moses. Acts 15 (ERV)

Paul didn’t think this should apply to the gentiles at all and addressed it in his epistle to the Corinthians.

Now I will write about meat that is sacrificed to idols. It is certainly true that “we all have knowledge,” as you say. But this knowledge only fills people with pride. It is love that helps the church grow stronger. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know anything as they should. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God. 4 So this is what I say about eating meat: We know that an idol is really nothing in the world, and we know that there is only one God. 5 It’s really not important if there are things called gods in heaven or on earth—and there are many of these “gods” and “lords” out there. 6 For us there is only one God, and he is our Father. All things came from him, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ. All things were made through him, and we also have life through him. 7 But not all people know this. Some have had the habit of worshiping idols. So now when they eat meat, they still feel as if it belongs to an idol. They are not sure that it is right to eat this meat. So when they eat it, they feel guilty. 8 But food will not bring us closer to God. Refusing to eat does not make us less pleasing to God, and eating does not make us closer to him. 1 Corinthians 8 (ERV)

His premise clearly shows that we cannot obtain God’s favour or blessing by keeping or observing parts of the Old Testament like some of the apostles encouraged the gentiles that first believed to do.

It is not uncommon to see some churches try to resurrect some Old Testament practises in today’s church. It is like they almost believe that doing this makes them more acceptable in God’s eyes.

The land of Israel was central to the Old Testament Law as was the knowledge of one’s ancestry. The latter was essential in determining those who should act in the priestly offices and those who shouldn’t. Land usage was also governed by this and had to be strictly followed. Dietary requirements were strictly enforced as was a dress code and physical appearance. Different offerings were required and the temple was central to worship. Conversion to this faith involved full adherence to all of these.

But herein lies the beauty of the New Testament; it transcends every race and tongue on the face of the earth. It does not require a dress code for acceptance. Observance of the Old Testament Law is not required. Relocating to the land of Israel is not required. A tribal distinction to determine those who are supposed to serve in a physical temple is not required. A physical temple is not central to its worship.

The universality of the New Testament is clearly seen in scripture; Christ died for the whole world as seen in John 3: 16. John 1: 12 tells us that anyone who receives Jesus is automatically given the rights to sonship. This is open to all and sundry irrespective of race and background. The Old Testament clearly made a distinction between the Jew and the gentile and the only way the gentile could be accepted was by observing all of the Old Testament laws. The New Testament does away with these and establishes justification by faith and faith alone.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesian 2: 8 – 9

The Old Testament further creates a class distinction between those allowed to approach God and those not allowed and desire was not enough to make one join the party of those allowed to approach God; it was a tribal privilege. The New Testament removes such limitations and all are welcome.