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The lesson for Christ*s disciples is obvious. We should not serve Him because we want to receive an expected reward, and we should not insist on knowing what we will get. God is infinitely generous and gracious and will always give us better than we deserve.
Now we can understand the perils that were hidden in Peter*s question in verse 27. For one thing, we must not 'suppose' (20:10) that we will get something more if we really do not deserve it. It is possible to do the Father*s work and yet not do His will from the heart (Ephesians 6:6). If we serve Him only for the benefits (temporal and eternal), then we will miss the best blessings He has for us. We must trust Him unreservedly and believe that He will always give what is best.
There is the danger of pride. 'What shall we have?' asked Peter. This parable warned him: 'How do you know you will have anything?' We must beware of overconfidence when it comes to the rewards God will give, for those first in their own eyes (and in the eyes of others) may end up last! Likewise, we should not get discouraged; for those who consider themselves 'unprofitable servants*s' may end up first.
Beware of the danger of watching other workers and measuring yourself by them. 'Judge nothing before the time,' Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 4:5. We see the worker and the work, but God sees the heart.
Finally, we must beware of criticizing God and feeling that we have been left out. Had the early morning workers trusted the owner and not asked for an agreement, the owner would have given them much more. He was generous, but they would not trust him. They did not rejoice that others received more; instead, they were jealous and complained. The goodness of the owner did not lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4). It revealed the true character of their hearts: They were selfish! Whenever we find a complaining servant, we know he has not fully yielded to the master*s will.
Jesus clearly teaches that the 'kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder' who pays all of his workers exactly the same wage, regardless of how much work they have done. Now, if you believe that the works you have done (your 'faithfulness' in keeping the commandments etc.) will determine which Mormon heaven you arrive at, you have a problem. We have groups of workers who have all done different degrees of the same work, but all receive exactly the same pay - eternal life! So how can anyone claim that good works pay any part of getting you to heaven?
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) speaks more eloquently than most other parables told by Jesus, in illustrating the difference between the Grace of the God of the Bible and the 'god' of Mormonism. We know that the 'share of the estate' (v12) that a younger son would receive on the death of the father would be one-third, because the older (or oldest) son received two-thirds, a 'double portion', i.e., twice as much as all other sons (Deuteronomy 21:17). The property was 'divided', so the elder son was made aware of his share (cf. v31).
The vivid wording of the account, including 'squandered his wealth' and 'wild living' (v13) is captured by the New International Version. The famine made employment and food even harder than usual to get. The 'distant country' was apparently outside strictly Jewish territory and the wayward son found himself with the demeaning job of feeding pigs (v15), unclean animals for the Jews. A Jew would have been unbearably degraded by feeding swine. Also, the owner would have had to be a Gentile, since both keeping and feeding swine were forbidden to Jews. He would even have eaten 'pods' (v16), which were seeds of the carob tree, common around the Mediterranean and used for pigs' food. He had fallen so low and had become so insignificant that 'no one gave him anything' - an indication of total neglect. This is how low a sinner can fall, yet still be capable of repentance and of being forgiven by the Father, the God of Grace.
We read that he 'came to his senses' (eis eauton elthon, literally, 'came to himself,' v17) which was a common idiom and carries the Semitic idea of repentance (Jeremias, Parables of Jesus, p. 130; cf. Bailey, Poet and Peasant, pp. 171-73). Certainly repentance lies at the heart of the words the son prepared to tell his father. Having claimed his birthright (v12), the son had no further claim on his father's estate. He at least had the integrity not to resort to begging; he knew his offense and was willing to abide by the implications of it - a mark of genuine repentance. Although the motivation for his return was hunger, it was specifically to his 'father' (v18) that he wanted to return. The words 'against heaven' (Greek: eis ton ouranon) carry the meaning that his sins were ultimately against God (cf. Psalm 51:4). The father in the story does, of course, portray the characteristics and attitudes of a loving heavenly Father. This does not mean that God is heavenly Father to everyone (note John 1:12; 8:42-44) as Mormon doctrine promotes. The Jews knew God's loving care was like that of a father (Psalm 103:13). The son also knew he had no right to return as a son (v19), having taken and squandered his inheritance. He therefore planned to return to work as the lowest servant and earn his room and board.
The description of his return and welcome is as vivid as that of his departure, with several beautiful touches. Reading that his father saw him 'while he was still a long way off' (v20) has resulted in many assuming that the father was waiting for him, perhaps daily searching the distant road hoping for his appearance. This accurately represents the Father in heaven who watches us all and knows every situation and circumstance. The father's 'compassion' (v20) assumes some knowledge of the son's pitiable condition, perhaps from reports. Some commentators have pointed out that a father in that culture would not normally run as he did, which, along with his warm embrace and kissing, adds to the impact of the story. Clearly Jesus used every literary means to heighten the contrast between the father's attitude and that of the elder brother (and of the Pharisees, cf. v1-2).
The son's prepared speech was never completed (v21). Instead the father more than reversed the unspoken part about becoming a 'hired man' (v19) and the robe, ring, and sandals he placed on his formerly lost son (v22) signified more than sonship (Jeremiah Parables of Jesus, p. 130); the robe was a ceremonial one such as a guest of honour would be given, the ring signified authority, and the sandals were those only a free man would wear. All of these speak for the forgiveness and acceptance into heaven of the prodigal son - and against the post-death purgatory of Rome and 'second chance' teaching of Mormonism's false three-tiered heaven. The calf was apparently being 'fattened' for some special occasion (v23 - people in first-century Palestine did not regularly eat meat) and represents the banquet in heaven that believers will enjoy (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 22:2-9; 25:10). There is a clear parallel between 'dead' and 'alive' and 'lost' and 'found' (v24) - terms that also apply to one's state before and after conversion to Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5), so no one can miss the strongest point of Jesus' teaching: the worst sinner can pass from a 'dead' and 'lost' state at a stroke to a 'found' and 'alive' state in the twinkling of an eye. As in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15:3-10), it was time to 'celebrate.'
Why wasn't the older son there when the celebration began? We read (v25): 25'Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on'. He was working hard in the field, which is all well and good, but what attitude do we find he holds towards his own 'good works' - and those of his brother? Jesus' parables are a fictional way of teaching enduring truth, but did the celebration really began so quickly that the older son was not aware of it (v26-27). It is more likely, in view of the dialogue in verses 26-31, that his absence showed his distant relationship with his father. Verse 28 contrasts the older son with the father. The son became angry; but the father 'went out,' as he had for the younger brother, and 'pleaded' rather than scolded. The older son's abrupt beginning - 'Look!' (v29) - betrays a disrespectful attitude toward his father. His attitude to his work - 'All these years I've been slaving for you' (King James Version - 'these many years do I serve thee') - is quickly revealed. 'Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends', whether true or not, shows a long smouldering discontent (v29-30). The son is articulate in airing his grievance: his brother enjoys a fatted calf, while he has never had even a kid, which was much cheaper fare. He speaks not of 'my brother' but of 'this son of yours' (ho huios sou houtos, v30) and thus avoids acknowledging that the prodigal is his own brother, a disclaimer the father corrects by the words 'this brother of yours' (v32).
The whole story is a moving portrayal of a loving God's persistence in seeking out the lost - and of human perversity in resenting such grace, which exceeds our natural understanding. Note that the older brother's charges include sharp criticism of both father and brother. The older son valued his own higher privilege, and despised his brother who had squandered his portion. He felt superior and self-righteous, and was now 'understandably' annoyed that his brother was being lavished with mercy and kindness. In contrast to the father, who shows nothing but mercy to his long lost son who has finally come home, the older brother sneers at the joy and celebration heaped on his brother. He is not merely jealous, but outraged at what he perceives as injustice. How could the father kill the fatted calf just because his wayward, ne'er-do-well son had come back, while seeming to neglect the faithful, diligent loyalty of his other son? Jesus is clearly painting a portrait of the attitude behind the murmuring of the Pharisees (verse 2) who were still among those listening to this story. It is an attitude taken by many who are familiar with 'religion,' but unfamiliar with the work of the Spirit - an attitude that raised its ugly head from time to time as the gospel spread to the Gentiles (e.g., Acts 11:1-3). How could Jesus be so friendly toward known sinners, such as the tax gatherers, and so distant from people like the Pharisees who carefully practiced the finer points of the Law? How could God be compassionate toward Gentiles, while the Jews, who had been His people for generations, were passed by?
In the parable, the father takes the initiative with his eldest son, but his response is nevertheless tender: 'My son' (or 'child,' teknon) is followed by words of affirmation, not weakness (v31). 'We had to celebrate' (euphranthenai ... edei) is, literally: 'It was necessary to celebrate'; no personal subject is mentioned. This allows the implication that the elder brother should have joined in the celebration. The words 'had to' (edei) introduce the necessity and urgency which is prominent in the gospel of Luke.
The first part of the parable (v11-24) conveys the great sense of joy on the lost being found and, in contrast, the second part (v25-32) deals with the sour attitude of the elder brother. The positions of the two sons would, in a structural analysis, be considered binary opposites: the lost son rises and the elder brother falls in moral state. We see the contrast between the joyful attitude in heaven - and the sour, unforgiving attitude of the Pharisees (Luke 15:1-2: 'Now the tax collectors and 'sinners' were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them'). Like the Pharisees of Jesus day, the modern Pharisees of the Mormon church (and other cults, such as the Roman Catholic church and the Jehovah's Witnesses), cannot comprehend the depth and completeness of God's forgiveness. The prodigal son had strayed so far from his father into rebellion which resulted in riotous living that he hit rock bottom before his plight brought him to the realization to repent and return, where he then experienced a glorious reception, reconciliation, and rejoicing. His wicked conduct was wilful and inexcusable, but his repentance was complete and his forgiveness absolute. This is not seen in Mormon doctrine! This son is a picture of every man born on this earth and in need of a Saviour. It is ironic that everything the prodigal son sought in the far country was right at home. There was abundance, freedom, and rejoicing. The central figure, the father, remains constant in his love for both sons and pictures God's love for lost sinners. Jesus identifies Himself with God in His loving attitude to the lost. He represents God in his mission, the accomplishment of which should elicit joy from those who share the Father's compassion. The parable is one of the supreme masterpieces of storytelling - and there is no equivalent in the shabby counterfeit that is the 'Book of Mormon'. Its details are vivid; they reflect actual customs and legal procedures and build up the story's emotional and spiritual impact. The main point of the parable - that God gladly receives repentant sinners - can only be obscured by the blatant deception perpetrated by Mormon doctrine.
In the two previous parables, Jesus told how the Pharisees should act when lost sinners were found. In this longer story he pictured how they did act. They can see themselves in the person of the elder brother, who had his good and bad points. He was morally straight, a hard worker, and an obedient individual (v29), as are many Mormons, but he was also proud and had no fellowship with the father. He was more willing to think of his brother's sin than of his repentance. This is exactly the attitude of the Mormon church - you must work hard for salvation, as hard as Mormons - nobody is going to get into heaven easily, and certainly not the 'thief on the cross' (Luke 23:43).
In countless conversations with Mormons, I have only ever met one who had any grasp of the Biblical doctrine of justification by grace and agreed that we were saved, by grace, through faith alone. It happened on an occasion when I was in conversation with the Mormon bishop and his two counsellors and, as one of the counsellors, this man then had to endure the disapproving glares of the other two when he dared to express dismay that the view was not compatible with official Mormon doctrine!
The doctrine of justification by faith in Christ apart from the law and works is clearly taught in Scripture (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:6-14). God justifies 'the one who has faith in Jesus' (Romans 3:26). 'A man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law' (Romans 3:28). 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness' (Romans 4:3). 'Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ' (Romans 5:1).
Scripture affirms that Biblical justification says nothing about the subjective transformation that necessarily begins to occur within the inner life of the Christian through the progressive infusion of grace that commences with the new birth. This progressive sanctification follows Biblical justification which refers to God's wholly objective, wholly forensic judgment concerning the sinner's standing before the Law, by which forensic judgment God declares that the penitent sinner who trusts Christ is righteous in his sight because of both the imputation of his sin to Christ on which ground he is forgiven and the imputation of Christ's perfect preceptive obedience to him on which ground he is constituted righteous before God. In other words, as Paul states clearly in Scripture after Scripture:
Acts 13:38-39: 'Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.
Why then, would God add keeping laws and commandments to the requirements of justification if they were so utterly impossible to attain, and therefore totally inadequate, while true and complete righteousness comes only through simple belief in Christ?
Romans 3:20-22: ' ... no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law [ergÇn nomou]; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.... This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.'
Paul uses the phrase erga nomou, 'works of law,' eight times: he affirms that no one can be justified by 'works of law' (Galatians 2:16 [3 times]; Romans 3:20, 28), that the Spirit is not received by 'works of law' (Galatians 3:2,5), and that all those whose religious efforts are characterized by 'works of law' are under the law's curse (Galatians 3:10). The simple erga in Romans 4:2, 6; 9:12, 32; 11:6; and Ephesians 2:9 almost certainly has the same meaning. Paul intends by the phrase anything done in accordance with whatever the law commands - the moral law no less than the ritual, the ritual no less than the moral - with the intention of achieving justification or right standing before God. We have to ask - why would anyone, knowing this, put themselves under the curse of seeking justification by good works? Scripture is perfectly clear:
Romans 3:26: '[God] justifies those who have faith in Jesus.'
Romans 3:28: 'For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.'
Romans 4:2-6: 'If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about - but not before God. What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.'
Romans 4:13-14: 'It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.'
Romans 9:30-32: 'What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not obtained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.'
This describes exactly what Smith and Young, et al, have done to the Mormons - they have put them back under the curse of the law so they can never be righteous!
Romans 10:4: 'Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.'
Regarding Paul's statement in Romans 4:5 to the effect that God 'justifies the wicked,' the same Greek phrase is used in the LXX (Greek Septuagint) in Exodus 23:7 and Isaiah 5:23 of corrupt judgments on the part of human judges which God will not tolerate. Paul declares that God does precisely what He commanded human judges not to do, but also that He does it in a manner designed 'to demonstrate his justice' (Romans 3:25-26). Of course, Paul relieves what otherwise would be a problem of theodicy (the vindication of divine providence in relation to the existence of evil) by teaching that God justifies the wicked on just grounds, namely, that the claims of God's law upon them have been fully satisfied by Jesus Christ dying in their place.
Romans 11:5-6: '...there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.'
Galatians 2:16: '...a man is not justified by observing the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.'
Galatians 3:10-11: 'All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.' Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because 'The righteous will live by faith.'
Ephesians 2:8-9: 'For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.'
Philippians 3:9: .... '...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that [righteousness] which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.'
Titus 3:5,7: '[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.. .so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.'
If we are fully justified by His grace - and there is no Scripture that says differently - then it is no longer by our works and these verses make plain that Paul teaches that justification is by 'faith alone' (sola fide) in Christ's preceptive and penal obedience. The moment the penitent sinner casts himself totally upon God's mercies in Christ, God pardons him of all his sins. The Greek is absolutely specific about this in these verses:
Acts 10:43 - 'everyone who believes has received [labein] forgiveness of sins,'
Romans 4:6-7 - 'David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven [aphethesan], whose sins are covered [epekaluphthesan]'.
Thus God constitutes him righteous before Him by imputing or reckoning the righteousness of Christ to him - as the following verse make clear:
Romans 5:1 - '...having been justified [dikaiothentes] by faith;
Romans 5:19 - '... so also through the obedience of the one man the many shall be constituted [katastathesontai] righteous,';
2 Corinthians 5:21 - 'God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.'
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