daily Broadcast

When Being Good Isn't Good Enough, Part 1

From the series Jesus Offers Hope

Is it possible to do all the right things and still end up in the wrong place? Chip shares the story of someone who lived a very good life, but wound up in a very bad place. We’ll find out why, and how you can keep that from happening to you.

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Message Transcript

The wisest man in the world, his name was Solomon. God gave him a gift. He said, I’m going to make you wiser than anyone who has ever lived; wiser than anyone who will ever live.  And he said this, “There is a way that seems right to a man but the way ends in death.”

There is a way.  There’s a path.  There’s a worldview that people lock onto thinking this will deliver happiness and purpose and fulfillment. There’s a way which seems right to a man, but the way thereof ends in death.

There are two primary paths or ways to this day that people have developed how we ought to live.

If you want to pull out your teaching handout, on the front, I’ve added some notes for you.

The first way is what I’ll call the way of self-discovery. This is for people that say that I’m tired of tradition; I’m tired of people telling me what to do; I’m going to do my own thing; I’m going to discover my own way; I’m going to cast off the restraints and no one’s going to tell me what makes my life work.

I will figure it out, in fact, the problem with the whole world is all those super conservative people with their narrow, bigoted ideas.

The other way is called the moral conformist.  This way is for the person wants to be a good person. I want to obey the tradition of the fathers and usually there’s some religious establishment.  I want to do what’s right; I don’t want to sin; I don’t want to hang around with people that do.

And, if I’m a good person then life’s going to work out well. That’s the path that I need to be on.

Under the moral conformist, we have the development of people who think in conservative thoughts and we call those people the “right-wing.” On the other side are the self-discovery and they’re the “progressives.”  We call them the “left-wing.”

In his little book “The Prodigal God” Timothy Keller writes, “Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live.”

If you criticize or distance yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other because each of these approaches tend to divide the whole world into two basic groups.

The moral conformist says, here’s what the moral conformist says: the immoral people, the people who do their own thing, they’re the problem in the world and the moral people are the solution.

The advocates of the self-discovery say, the bigoted people, the people who say we have the truth, they’re the problem with the world and the progressive people are the solution.

Now notice each side says our way is the way. Underline “way” in your notes, will you? Our way is the way the world will be put right.  If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

Now, here’s what’s very interesting.  Jesus’ parable in Luke chapter 15 will tell us that both camps are wrong.

He’s going to say there’s a third paradigm. There is a way to be right with God that is a separate path and the path is not moral conformity and the path is not to be progressive.

There’s a third path, a Christ path that is a different path.  And He’s is going to explain it when He’s in the middle of these two groups.

And Luke 15 grows out of a situation where He’s with the progressives and the tax collectors and the self-discovery and the immoral people and the prostitutes who say, “I’m going to cast off restraint and find my way.”

At the same time the moral conformists, the Pharisees, are there. The goody-two-shoes that have lots of rules about everything.

These two groups are together.  The religious group is rejecting Him thinking He couldn’t be from God because He’s hanging out with these people.

We learned that in order to address this issue, He’s going to speak to both groups. He gives one parable and the one parable has three mini stories.

In story number one, He talks about their own world where the shepherd has a hundred sheep.  He loses one; and he goes and he’s on a search, gets the sheep, rescues it, puts it on his shoulders and brings it back to his house.

The second story’s about a woman that has lost one of her ten silver coins that they would wear in a headband to show that she’s a married woman.  And she loses one and she sweeps the house and she finds it and then she invites her friends – there’s a celebration.

And then, in climax, the story moves to the young son and there’s a father that has a young son who we learned represents the immoral people and he has an older son that represents the Pharisees.  And the younger son in absolute rejection of his father says, “Give me my part of the estate now.”  And so the father has to sell off some property and liquidates his assets and he takes a third of all that he has, he gives it to the young son.  The young son goes way, way over here and he lives in wanton pleasure and wild living and he squanders it all.

And one day, he’s feeding pigs and he thinking, You know what? My self-discovery, progressive, do my own thing is really not working very well right now. In fact, I don’t have anything to eat. So, I’m going to humble myself and I’m going to go back to my father and I’m going to tell my father, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven. I’ve sinned against you. I can’t be your son but your hired guys at least have a meal. Will you please forgive me?”

And as he’s on his way back, we learn that the father, every day, is going out and looking, and filled with compassion, he embarrasses himself, lifts up his tunic; runs to his son; hugs his son, kisses his son. The son starts in on a speech and the father says, Stop!  Put the best robe in the house on him - he’s a family member. Put a ring on his finger – security, authority. He’s my son again. Put sandals on his feet because that’s what sons wear. Slaves go barefooted. Kill the fatted calf. Get out the Kobe beef. We’re going to have a party. Invite the whole community.

We learned that’s the Father’s heart towards lost people. The father in this story is God. The Pharisees are the elder son. We learned that there’s a celebration in heaven when one single person comes and turns from where they were. When one sinner, a sinner by their progressive actions or a sinner by their conservative actions. When one comes to the Father there’s rejoicing.

This morning, we’re going to talk about people that are out of relationship because they zealously keep all the rules.

We pick up the story in verse 25 because while all this is happened, there’s the older son. The older son, apparently, was out in the field working because he always works because he always does what is right.

He’s always, you know, obeying what you’re supposed to do. He lives with “oughts” and “should” and “got-tos” all the time.

He hears the music and he hears the dancing. We pick up the story in verse 25. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard the music and the dancing so he called one of the servants and he asked him, “What’s going on?” “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fatted calf because he’s back safe and sound.”

The older brother, notice his response, became angry. He refused to go in. He has an opportunity to thrill the father’s heart. He has an opportunity to say, “Oh, Dad, this is your flesh and blood. This is your son. You must be really happy.” There’s a big party celebrating, but what’s he do? He refuses to go in. Now, the father is going to embarrass himself yet again in this culture because there’s a big party and people were stunned that this young person has been restored back.

But where’s the older brother? Oh, he’s outside.  Notice, he wants to hurt the father and reject the father because he won’t come in.  So, the father goes out and he pleads with the son.

“But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving.’”  Notice his view of the relationship. It is not loving; not enjoying; not intimacy. “’I’ve been slaving for you, and never, never, never disobeyed your orders. Yet, you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends, but when this son of yours, who’s squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him.’”

Then you hear the heart of God. Remember, Jesus is explaining how the Father feels, first, about lost, immoral people, far from God.  People who break rules; who’ve had multiple affairs; who’ve cheated people; who’ve had a couple of abortions.

People that have done terrible things. People that are sex-addicts and drug addicts. And, we constantly celebrate: Isn’t it amazing how God saves them?!

In contrast now, Jesus is going to say how does the heavenly Father feel about people who are trapped in their own goodness? People who think their acceptance is based on being a good person or a religious person or doing the right things, being morally superior.

Notice what he says to him. “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours. It’s always been available, but we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now he’s found.”

I want to dive in together, and I’ve put some notes together to help us. Jesus offers hope when our goodness fails. This elder brother is a good, moral person, but his good morality is actually keeping him from God.  Notice, his response is anger: I won’t go in.

He’s mad that God has forgiven someone else. He’s mad that God is compassionate. He’s mad also because, when you get down to it, a third of the estate was given to the younger son. It’s gone now.

Who owns the two-thirds that is left? He does. Well, guess what? That fatted calf was a part of his estate. This younger brother coming in, he might edge in on what he’s -

See, the older brother is not concerned about his relationship with the father. He’s concerned about:  What I get or what I don’t get - and I’ve earned it and he squandered it.

Notice the son’s reason. His reason is pride. I never disobeyed. Hey, I do the right thing all the time. I keep the rules. I cross the “T”s. I dot the “I”s. I follow the law. I’ve never killed anybody. I’ve never done any wrong, big, bad.

His pride, his arrogance is: I won’t go in because I’m not going to go in there and associate – and notice what he says, “This son of yours.” He’s not my brother. I’m better-than. I’m superior. He’s not my brother.  And he’s arrogant. He doesn’t see his own need.

His message is, you owe me. I’ve been slaving for you. His relationship with the father in this story isn’t any closer than the younger son. It’s a transaction.

I do certain things; you’re supposed to deliver certain things. In fact, Keller, in his book has a great line. On page 36 he writes, “The hearts of two brothers were the same.” Isn’t that interesting. Both resented their father’s authority and sought some way to get out from under it.

They each wanted to get in a position in which they could tell the father what to do. Each one, in other words, rebelled. One did so by being very bad and the other did so by being extremely good.

But both were alienated from their father’s heart; both sons were lost. Do you realize that Jesus teaching in this day was stunning? Neither son loved the father for himself. They were both using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than lovingly enjoying and serving him for his own sake.”

This is one of the greatest lines in this little book. “This means you can rebel against God and be alienated from Him either by breaking His rules or by keeping all of them diligently.”

It’s a shocking message. Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebelling against God. It’s very subtle.

The problem with being an elder son? You don’t know you’re lost.  In fact, you’re convinced, not only are you not lost but you know the score. You are right. It’s others and their problem that are lost.

Now, let me summarize some observations about this passage, and let me preface that with I know a lot about this son. I’m ashamed about how much I know about this son.

I remember early on, probably 17-years-old, doing a little work at the Ohio State’s Fair.

I had a friend whose dad sold hearing aids and he paid us a few bucks to get in a stand at this huge fair where thousands of people would walk by, and we were supposed to just hand out these brochures.  It was a ridiculous amount of money, like five dollars an hour. I thought it was awesome back then.

Across from us was some group of religious people. But they had this sign that said: You must be born again. I had no idea what that meant or who they were. They watched us and after three or four days, they came over. I’ll never forget, a young guy that looked a little bit like me, I mean, he just seemed fairly normal. He asked, “Are you saved?”  I said, “From what?” I’m dead serious. He says, “No, oh no. Are you saved?” I said, “Well, from what?”

He said, “Well, let me ask you this question: If you were to die today, do you know whether you’d go to heaven or not?” I said, “Yes.” He looked at me sort of like, You didn’t answer the right question, and he went back over to his booth.  I thought to myself, If I have not killed anyone. I, intellectually at least, believe in God. You know what? I may cuss a little bit and have a few but, you know, I’m not sleeping with anyone.  I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I try to be a good person. I mean, what’s He want? If anybody gets in heaven it ought to be people like me.

My goodness was keeping me from - and  I grew up in a family system where perform, perform, perform, perform is how you get successful.

Notice how this person’s goodness kept him from the father. What do we learn from the elder brother? That very good, moral, religious people, even those who believe the Bible, can be as lost as the most immoral sinner.

Do you understand? When the Pharisees heard this, it was, “What?!”

Second observation is that Jesus extends forgiveness to elder brothers. The Pharisees then and the Pharisees like us now. What’s He say? “Come into My house.”

It’s interesting, every night after I teach on Saturday night I get a little chance to review and I get feedback from different people and how long I spend on each one.  I pray it through and try and improve.

And as I woke up early this morning, I was on time last night. Things were okay, but I had this little lack of sense of peace; and it was like: God, something’s missing from this message and I don’t know what it is.

I began to process it with Theresa over a cup of coffee early. And as we talked, I said, “Honey, you know what it is? Down deep, I think the Father’s heart and deep love and compassion really got communicated to people that feel far away from God.”

And I said, “Last night, as I taught through this, I think the information was clear. I think the content was clear, but I don’t think people heard and felt God’s loving, Father’s heart.

You know, we celebrate it when prostitutes come to Christ and we celebrate when people come out of trafficking or drug addictions, but when good, moral, religious people – I mean, even some of those that are, you know, like pretty repulsive and arrogant and bigoted? Well, I mean, the Pharisees are always the bad guys. And when they come to faith it’s almost like, Well, we ought to let them in, but they’re such jerks.

I remember she said something to me this morning. She said, “Well Chip, maybe the reason it was hard for you to share God’s gentleness and compassion is because you’ve had a hard time accepting that as a Pharisee, like you are.”

She is not condemning. I mean, she’s seen my journey--not only before I became a Christian but then after I trusted Christ. I mean, I had a year of grace.

No one said, “You’ve got to read the Bible.” I just got it in the morning and I read it, and it was like, “Whoa! Man, you mean, God would speak to me?!”  And He started changing my life; and I was singing out loud; and I didn’t even know why; and I’d whistle as I was walking on the college campus. My attitudes changed and I felt like a burden was gone.  I was free and I didn’t know you were supposed to do a bunch of stuff. I just knew God loved me. I didn’t have to perform. I didn’t have to fake it. I didn’t have to try and pretend I was someone else.

Then, I got connected to a group of very committed Christians with all the best intentions--it was like a recipe for disaster. Their style of Christian growth and my personality was just like TNT and nitroglycerine and someone threw a match on it.

And what it was is that, they started telling me, “You need to spend so much time in the Bible; you need to pray so long; you need to memorize so many verses; you need to be in a Bible study; you need to have a Bible study.” You need. You need.  You need.

It took me a while, but then it was like, “Okay!”  I can remember probably being a Christian for two years, or two and a half years, and I read the Bible every morning. I prayed so long. I made a list. I went through the list every time. I learned to give ten percent; then twelve percent; then twenty percent. I mean, it wasn’t over much money, but: Whatever you’re supposed to do.  I shared my faith.

And I remember, it was the end of my junior year; the beginning of my senior year of college. I’d been a Christian now about three years and I met a girl in the quadrangle.

We had a campus that had all these beautiful brick buildings with ivy and grass and sidewalks that went everywhere.  We met in the middle.  I knew her as a freshman. In fact, I dated her for a little while and we had a quick conversation.  She asked me a question and I answered quoting a verse.  She asked another question. I quoted another verse. Said something I’ll never forget. I mean it was a defining moment.

She said, “Chip, could I tell you something?” I said, “Sure.” She goes, “When I met you three years ago, you were a really neat guy.” And she said, “I’m not a Christian. I never claimed to be a Christian.  But, I thought to myself, if I was ever going to be a Christian I’d like to be one like you. There was a joy in your heart and you weren’t down on people.  You seemed to have this reality of a relationship with God, but I gotta tell you--you really have changed. You know, people ask a question and all you do is spout little Bible verses. And you know what? Every time I’m around you, I feel less-than; every time I’m around you, I feel guilty; every time I’m around you, I feel like I don’t measure up.  And if you are what a committed ‘disciple’ is, whatever a Christian is, what I know is, I would never want to be like you.”

And in my pompous arrogance, I remember turning around and thinking, Well, obviously because, you know, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that those who don’t have the Spirit of God can’t discern the things of the Spirit of God and she doesn’t so she doesn’t understand that I’m just…

And I got down to my dorm room and God went, bam!  It was like, “You know, I just spoke through that young woman.  You’re far from My heart. What marks a follower of Christ is they love people and they love Me.  And there is intimacy and joy and life and relationship.”