Have you ever been frustrated by the frequent "you're a sinner and you need to 'get right with God'"-type messages we get from thought leaders and pastors?
I do, and while the fact that I am a broken sinners is not untrue, it is only part of the truth. Because, as I understand it, I've been made right through Christ.
Yet, unfortunately it seems we spend more time focusing on what we're being saved from (our junk, our stumbles, our mess ups, our sin, etc.) than what we're being saved to (a life of freedom, abundance, forgiveness for past/present/future sin, and safety from an unconditional love we can't barely begin to understand).
This sparked some great conversation with a pastor friend of mine, Ryan Tate, who really helped clarify this well-intentioned-yet-false idea that we need to "get right" with God.
I was pondering the conversation we had about "getting right with God" and how that sentiment has well intentions but isn't always helpful. And, in typical fashion, I began to think about the prodigal son story again. So, I thought I would share...
We're correct in the reality that we no longer need to "get right" with God because we've been "made right" with God through Christ. (God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:21). That business has been taken care of once and for all, and when we try to "get more right" with God we're basically saying that Christ's death was good, but not good enough, because there is more getting right work for us to do.
The prodigal son returned home to "make things right" with the Father. He wanted to work his way back into righteous standing with the family. He thought he needed to prove himself, pay off his debt, and most likely live like a slave/servant (at best) for the rest of his life. He was hoping to be lucky enough to just be back in close proximity to the family; if only he could eat the crumbs that fall from the table.
The Father wouldn't have any of that and immediately reinstated and welcomed him as a son, full royalty, fully secure, and fully clothed (in righteousness). What great imagery we have here with what the Father gives his son: shoes, ring, robe, feast. There is no "getting right" going on here. It's full-on, counter-cultural grace. And, grace is never about the condition of the recipient but all about the generosity of the Giver. Grace has a focus and it's not us.
Imagine if the son, on the following day, packed up the ring, robe, and shoes deep in his closet and acted like a slave in his father's house? I think that's what we often do when we try to earn our righteousness.
While I like the well intentions of "getting right with God" (and I'm sure I'm guilty of doing similar things from the pulpit before, so I'm speaking from a place of humility), I don't like the language because it's more about assessing our condition/standing before God. A better way to go is to talk about "trajectory."
Like the father in the story, our Lord embraces and welcomes us even when our motives are mixed. If God waited for our hearts to be pure and "right" he would never have us back. In the story, what mattered most was not the son’s motives but his movement. He was finally moving toward his father after so many years of moving away. It's about trajectory.
What trajectory are you on? Are you moving away from the Father or toward the Father?
Consider your trajectory. That language forces us to consider our sin, our heart, our idols, our worship, our everything, and that's much better than telling people to "get right with God" when they already are.
What's your trajectory?
Ryan Tate is currently a creative director at ipso a boutique web agency out of Akron/Greenville/Pasadena. Prior to that Ryan was a bi-vocational pastor and creative director, and once upon a time was a really really smart engineer guy.