The Gospel: A Third Way

The parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32 is directed at two types of people. The relativist (younger brother) and the moralist (elder brother).

The Relativist

The Relativist lives how he wants. He does the things he wants to do because he does not believe it is important to follow God’s commands. He does not believe it is necessary to give God His rightful place, which is the Lord of His life. In doing so, he shows he believes he does not need a Savior.

In the parable, the younger brother represents the Relativist. He asks for and receives his inheritance from his father before his father’s death. He turns his inheritance into cash and leaves home to seeks fulfillment and joy in living how he pleases. Even though he thought living his own way would bring him joy, it brought him nothing but despair and enslavement.

The Moralist

While the Relativist does not obey God’s commands, the Moralist strictly seeks to obey God’s commands and please Him. He is at church every time it is open. He reads his Bible everyday, prays, and does a host of other things that look Christian. Even though he does and says all the right things, his heart is not right. He believes his good works earn His salvation and favor with God.

In the parable, the elder brother represents the Moralist. While, he did not ask his father for his inheritance early, turn it into cash, and leave home to seek his own desires, he still seeks to serve himself by staying home and serving his father faithfully.

Even though, his actions looked noble righteous, they did not stem from a righteous heart. He believes he should receive good things for his good works. Notice in the parable the complaint of the elder brother. He believes his father should have given him a young goat to celebrate with his friends because of his dedication in serving him.

Instead of living to glorify God, the Moralist does good, in order to attempt to control God.  Not only does he believe his works earn him salvation and favor with God, but his good works are an attempt to control God.

A Third Way

Jesus tells this parable not only to point out the error of the Pharisees in living like the elder brother, and the enslavement and joylessness that comes from loose living, but also to show us the gospel, which is the third way we can live. In the gospel, we are not accepted based on our works, but by God’s grace, and His grace is not something we can earn. It is something freely given to us.

In the gospel, we do not seek to please ourselves, or we do not obey God, in order to control Him and get our way. Rather we live a righteous life because we have been freed and empowered to do so.

Our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior serves to change our hearts, and with it our desires. Not only are we given a new heart and new desires, but we are empowered through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to live out our righteousness. In other words, we do not perform good works to earn our salvation or favor with God, but we perform good works because we have been freed and empowered to do so.


In this parable, we do not see two ways to live, but rather three. We can live either like the Relativist, the Moralist, or we can rest in the gospel. For it is only in the gospel that we are truly free to worship and serve God, rather than ourselves.

One thought on “The Gospel: A Third Way

  1. Pingback: How Do We Live Like the Elder Brother? « Christianity Matters

What Are You Thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.