Okay, so I know the Pharisees in the Bible are always the bad guys… but full confession? I totally get them.
People who grew up just wanting to earn God’s favour, doing all the right things, sticking to the straight and narrow, hoping against hope that one day all their effort will be rewarded.
Yeah, it’s pretty familiar.
Thing is, I never relate to villains in stories. I’m always the protagonist. (Aren’t we all?) I find it terribly uncomfortable reading the New Testament when, generally speaking, I’m a whole lot more like the priests, Levites and Pharisees Jesus didn’t have time for than the ragamuffin band he chose to lead His church.
It’s not a nice feeling.
Another story I dislike? The prodigal son. I know, everybody loves the story of the Prodigal Son – that man-child who demands his inheritance, wastes it all on wild living, then comes back to his dad in humility to ask for a job, and is given the biggest welcome home party one can imagine. (Luke 13:11-32)
I don’t like it because I’m always the older brother in the story – the one NOT at the party. The one still working the fields. The one without a ring on the finger, mad because he’d done everything right but is watching his screw-up brother get all the love, attention and honour. The one who deserves the party but gets the rebuke while the one who deserves the rebuke gets the party. I sympathize, buddy.
Oh, I’ve read all the arguments, heard all the sermons and poured over the commentaries explaining why the brother deserved what he got; why his “faithfulness” was actually pride, and so on. They shut me up for a while, but they never really satisfied.
But I’m beginning to learn a little of what it’s like to live as the daughter of God, and it’s given me some insight into the poor older brother’s story.
I’ve been confident as my status of a child of God for most of my life – that’s not new. But I think I was living as one working for my inheritance rather than embracing life in God’s family.
Working for my inheritance
It’s absurd in real-life terms. Can you imagine if my kids started looking for a place to live, because my home wasn’t theirs until they received their inheritance? Wondering what they’d eat and hustling to make a life for themselves, until they “came of age” and could access their share in the family estate? How bizarre! Of course they have a home with me! Of course we’d buy their clothes, groceries, make meals and give them a warm place to sleep. They don’t have to work for it – it’s their privilege as part of our family. Now, as part of our family, they absolutely have contributions to make: chores, respect and so on, but as part of our family they’re looked after.
Their inheritance has very little impact on their daily lives. In fact, I’m 99% sure my 7 & 8 year olds never even think about their inheritance most days. It’s enough to be part of our family in the here and now. Yes, one day we hope to pass something onto them, but in no way does that imply they aren’t looked after today.
Yet that’s how I was living: looking after myself until that “one day” in heaven when I finally “came of age” and had access to the riches of God’s family.
I suspect that was the older brother’s issue, too. He was working for his inheritance. He didn’t consider his home, the crops, the barns his to enjoy – they were all just for that one day.
And that’s the gentle rebuke his dad gave him – not that he was upset over his brother’s welcome, but that he hadn’t been living as a son. He’d been living as a servant. He had all the family’s wealth and resources to enjoy, but he lived as if they were off-limits (Luke 15:31). He was there to work.
Living as a daughter (or son)
But it also means we get access to God’s wealth of resources, to his care and provision, to the rights and privileges of being part of His family today (1 John 3:1).
Not one day. Not eventually. Not in the distant future.
Today I get access to the throne room (Hebrews 4:16).
Today I get resourced from the storerooms of heaven (Galatians 4:6-7).
Today I have authority over my enemies, as a royal in God’s kingdom.
Today I can discard my servant’s role and walk with the confidence of a daughter (Romans 8:14)
The work I do for the kingdom is not to earn my place or secure my future – it’s just participating in the family business because we’re in this together.
I am His daughter, and I get to live like it.
And yeah, I can look forward to that one-day inheritance because heaven’s going to be amazing. But that doesn’t diminish the life I get right now, just because I get to call God my Father.