Jesus told a story. It was about a father and his two sons. His older son was loyal, obedient, and followed all the rules. The younger son was a “free-spirit.” After demanding his share of his father’s inheritance, the younger son left home and squandered all he had on prostitutes and other displays of wild living. For him, there were no rules. 

After a period of time, the younger son found himself broke, homeless, and scraping the bottom of the barrel. He came to his senses and headed for home. After confessing his sins to his father, his father rolled out the red carpet to celebrate his younger son’s return. It was an incredible thing to witness: confession, forgiveness, and a party. But not all was well.

When the older son found out what was happening, he lost his cool. He was irate because he believed he had earned what his failure of a brother was receiving. The father attempted to convince his older son to join the celebration, but to no avail.

These two sons represent two different ways we can be lost and without hope. We can be lost either by being really, really bad (younger son; i.e. irreligion) or by being really, really good (older son; i.e. religion). Together they help us see clearly what true Christianity is really about.

Older brothers, religious people divide the world into two groups and say, “The good people (like us) are in and the bad people, who are the real problem in the world, are out.” The good people are in, the bad people are out.

Younger brothers, irreligious people, also divide the world into two groups and say, “No, the open-minded and tolerant people are in and the bigoted, narrow-minded people, who are the real problem in the world, are out.” Open-minded people are in, the narrow-minded are out.

But in Jesus’ story, both sons are lost. So they’re both out. Those who say, “The good are in and the bad are out,” are out. Those who say, “The open-minded are in and narrow-minded are out,” are out. Jesus says something different. He says, “The humble are in and the proud are out.”

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14

Those who exalt their moral standards are out.
Those who exalt their open-mindedness are out.

The humble are in. The proud are out. The one who can say and believe, “I’m more sinful, flawed, and messed up than I can possible imagine” is in. This is the first sign of true Christianity.

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