Father’s Robe or Father’s Business?
Preface: Peter’s behavior in Antioch suggested that ex-pagans could not be true Christians unless they were first circumcised. Paul pointed out the fallacy of such thinking. God cannot pronounce anyone righteous on the basis of that person’s behavior, for even the best humans are not perfect. It is only by accepting what God has done for us in Christ that sinners can be justified in His sight.
Faith and works. Controversy indeed! Just listen. The great theologians are engaged in theological conundrums over which is important. The cart or the horse? Which pulls the other? The car or the engine? Faith and works are complementary. One is the outgrowth of the other. Jesus makes it so simple in the parable of the prodigal son.
In this parable the younger son gets a “bright and smart vision.” He is mature enough to run his own affairs. He takes his inheritance and heads for “Hollywood,” the pleasure city. Before long, he is milked dry and empty. In his misery he remembers that his dad makes royals out of mere servants. Why can’t he go back home and let his father’s merits, good name, and good reputation cover him? In penitence he goes back. And, truly, his father puts his own robe on him. He is “somebody” again. His older brother had stayed home. He had obeyed his dad and worked for him. He looked forward to a big inheritance someday. Therefore, his brother’s homecoming upset him to no end. Why take a vagabond back? What did his father think of him anyway? For all his hard work and obedience, what had he received so far? Nothing. Nothing indeed!
Now the two boys show what faith does and what works do. Faith makes one turn back to a father who is able to turn impossibilities into possibilities. The prodigal son was wretched, but he realized that his father’s good reputation and dignity could make him respectable again. He reached out for it. And his dad puts his own robe on him and restores him to full sonship. His faith and confidence in his father changed the prodigal son’s life completely.
Conversely, the holier-than thou brother thought his obedience and hard work should earn him a bigger inheritance. And this is where he was wrong. If an inheritance were to be gained by hard work, then his father’s servants probably deserved it more. And if it were to be gained on the basis of flawless behavior, his attitude, which showed that he was no better than his prodigal brother, would have disqualified him.
God’s inheritance is a gift bestowed on sons. An unmerited favor. Faith makes it possible to turn to God to be “robed” in His righteousness.