Prodigal Son

Why You Don’t Have To Work For Salvation

I live the normal life of a parent; I work a 9 to 5 job, and when I get home, my kids are building forts, having Nerf wars, and generally turning my house into a war zone. Every once in a while, I come home to find the kids have scrubbed the house from top to bottom. Their rooms are clean, everything is vacuumed and swept, classical music is playing in the background, and my kids speak in King James English, saying bizarre things like ‘Evening, dearest father.’ When this happens, I know my little rugrats are trying to butter me up for something. ‘Most gracious father, full of charity and hospitality, might we, your most beloved children, call upon thy hospitality and beseech thee for ice cream this evening at Ada’s finest Braum’s establishment?’ my daughter will say. Now, their dad is a sucker, and I do like a really clean house, so I take my little Victorian-speaking rugrats to get ice cream.

But isn’t it interesting that my little children, your children, and even you and I know instinctively that we can work for favor, grace, and acceptance? In the Garden, Adam and Eve had no consciousness of ‘earning favor.’ God’s disposition is one of love, joy, and generosity. Without the stain of sin on their conscience, Adam and Eve could stand in their identity as sons and daughters, knowing they are loved, without striving to believe they needed to earn favor, grace, or acceptance from God. However, due to their sin, we are all stained with a sinful nature that is being renewed through sanctification and the mortification of our sinfulness.

Consider both sons in the Prodigal Son parable found in Luke 15:11-32. The younger son knows he is no longer worthy to be a son, so he wants to take on servanthood. He thinks, ‘If I work as a servant for my father, maybe he will accept me back into his home.’ The older brother, in like manner, looks to his works and expects that his works should earn him greater favor and acceptance than his younger brother. The older brother is outraged at the thought that his works are being overlooked. Both expect that their works are what wins them favor, grace, and acceptance. However, the moral of this story is not that our works merit us favor or grace. Rather, our sonship, our adoption, our familial ties to the King of Glory bestow on us unmerited favor and acceptance into God’s family. We need not work for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), work for supernatural power or gifts (Galatians 3:5); He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. And He has freely given us everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

Beloved, you do not have to ‘butter God up.’ Our best works are filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Though sinful fathers like me will accept the bribe of well-behaved children and a clean house, God is not like us; He will not accept our bribes (Deuteronomy 10:17-19). Our present work, our present striving, is not the labor of good works to earn God’s favor. Rather, we are called to labor and strive to trust in God’s favor, trust that His work is enough. We strive to enter His rest by striving not to look to our own works. Certainly, we work, but our labor unto the Lord is our worship, our thanksgiving, not a means of merit. Whether you are a wayward son like the prodigal or the faithful son serving your loving Father, we must all fight the stain of sin Adam and Eve have placed upon us through the fall. We must look not to our works but to His.

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