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Religion and Grace
What is the Difference?
by Milton Almeida

I always thought that Jesus intended to show in the Parable of the Prodigal Son something far more important than the mere narration of the return of a backsliding sinner. 

I have preached as many as 27 sermons on a couple of verses alone this rich text and I am still counting. Yet, one of the most under explored aspects of this impressive story is the difference between the father, clearly a picture of God, and the oldest son, obviously a picture of the religious system called "Christianity" of today. Let us find out. 

Of course, every Christian knows the story. This boy takes what is his by right and squanders it living in a system totally different than that of the one his father planned for him. After finding himself alone, with no money, eating with society most despised animal, pigs, this character plans his dramatic return to the father. As the story goes, and other participants come in the scene, we begin to see what Jesus meant with the parable is to show real godly and fatherly affection and how it supersedes religious formality. The story becomes a display of what is really important to God and how careless self righteous, well organized, and man governed religious can be. The fact is, that there is a great chasm that divides true Grace from its counterfeit, known today, for a lack of a better word as religion It is hard to check the differences of religion and grace in just a few words, so I will not even try. Let me do so by looking at the father, the picture of Grace and the oldest son, a sure representative of the Religious world: 

GRACE
THE FATHER 

1 - The Father waited. 

The father waited for the return of his son. Grace always waits. It believes people will change. In fact, Grace will provide the means for people to change. Grace is not always the fastest thing in the world because it patiently waits. The father waited because he knew that if the son ever would come back, he would be in desperate need of him. He new that he probably would not be in the same shape he left, so perhaps it would be necessary to receive him with love and to clean him up before bringing him home to the family. 

2 - The father received him as one of his own. 

The father did not require from the son a long elaboration as to the certainty and the purity of the son's repentance. He simply took his word. When the son pronounced the planned words, "I am not worthy to be your son. May I be your servant"? The father said, "No, you are my son, here is the ring of our family, here are some clean clothes, I want you to look as my son, because you are my son!" 

3 - The father brought correction. But he did it before he took the son before the rest of the family. The correction was on the form of taking his dirty clothes out and dressing him with the family attire. All was very proper. No "exposes", nor in the presence of CNN's reporters or tabloids. Everything was in the discrete environment of the familiar interaction between the father and the son. 

4 - The father was happy to see the son back that he threw a party over it. He even found it was an occasion special enough to kill the best animals, and now that the son was looking good again, to call everyone to the party! 

RELIGION
The Oldest Son 

1 - The oldest son worked 

The oldest son is pure religion. And sadly, religion to which most of us subscribes. In contrast with the father who waited, the son was in the field working. Grace waits religion works! Grace is a WORK THAT IS ALREADY DONE, FINISHED FOREVER! Religion is a work still to be done. What a contrast with biblical teaching! Any sincere theologian will agree that the work of the cross IS FINISHED. Even Jesus agrees with me (chuckles). Just before He expired, He shouted, "IT IS FINISHED".

2 - The oldest son was not sensitive to his father's feelings. 

The oldest son never showed any concern for the way that his father felt in the absence of his brother. That is pure religion! It is not concerned for the way God feels when one of his own has gone astray. It simply establishes the rules for the return and never checks the revealed Word of God as to how He feels about the situation.

3 - The oldest son said "Your son, but NOT MY BROTHER". What an absurd! He was willing to admit to the father HE IS STILL YOUR SON, when he said "THIS SON OF YOURS." but never said this brother of mine. This is religion. It admits that fallen people still have a right standing with God. At the same time it crosses to the absurdity of saying "but I do not want to have anything with him! I heard this many times in the in some religious circles. What a disaster! 

4 - The oldest son said, "I want to party with my friends". That is religion. Instead of desiring fellowship with the father and the brethren it seeks a party with "those without" to use biblical language. It seeks the "unusual kindness" of "barbarians", as in Acts 28. Religion does not realize that eventually they will have a deadly viper around their arm and the same people who showed "unusual", kindness will just stare and wait for them to die. Its own desire to be popular and accepted deceives it. 

5 - The oldest son begged what was already his. He charged the Father: "You never gave me an animal to party" He begged for an animal to party with his friends! Well, he owned the farm. Religion begs. And begs for that which is already theirs. Begs for God to finish what has already been finished. Religion has prayer meetings to call for the things that God has already given us. Religion fails to recognize that we have been blessed with all kinds of spiritual blessings in the heavenly, and that is IRREVERSIBLE. Religion is a beggar and it will always beg BECAUSE INSTEAD OF HAVING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER, IT IS TO CONCERNED ABOUT THE FARM. THEY WORK, WORK AND WORK. Work in fasting, work in new programs, work in designing new market strategies to spread their junk, work in conserving their real estate, work in attempting to preserve their reputation before the world and not God. That is why they do not know what they have! And not knowing what they have they kept begging today! Beg in fund raising, beg in peddling members, rights and favors from government, beg, beg, and beg!

CONCLUSION 

We see above that Grace waits. God waited patiently for the Holy Spirit to complete His work in showing us His irresistible Grace until we finally returned to Him. The father does not require elaborated formulas for our salvation. "He that confesses with his mouth and believes in his heart that Jesus is the Lord, SHALL BE SAVED!" That is it! What can be simpler? 

Also, the father receives us as sons. When I say I am not your son, He responds. "But Jesus is my son for you, so in Him I will make you my son! He covers us with His robes of righteousness! He puts on us the blood washed white robes of Jesus' righteousness! He does that without putting us to shame before the world. God is not a "tabloid" God. God wants correction to be promoted within the family, to wit, the body of Christ boundaries. The CHURCH!

What happens to a son or daughter of God is none of the world business! The world does not bring their problems to the church to solve. They should, but they're not crazy. They do not want their name in the supermarket counter tabloid tomorrow. The church should, therefore, not take its problem to the world. An old chorus says, "The world didn't give it to me, and the world can't take it away! And finally, God is happy when we return as often as we have to return. He always waits, receives, clothes, takes care of our needs and is happy with our return. But above all God was willing to sacrifice His best for us, Jesus Christ his son, His perfect lamb of sacrifice! And that's why we can party forever! We do not need an animal to party, the animal has already been offered right there at the cross! We should, rather be PARTY ANIMALS, so to speak!

The difference between the father and the oldest son is the same as Religion and Grace. We have established that. In summary, God will receive you back unconditionally. Religion won't. Religion will try to impress outsiders. Grace will allow God to present you always as His Triumph (II Cor. 2:14). Grace displays us as the "manifold wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3:10). God is the one that makes us better and then presents us to principalities and powers and evidence of HIS VICTORY!

God will never expose you. Religion will. Grace will deal with you within the walls of the body of Christ. Religion will call the "tabloids". God provided a perfect sacrifice so you can forever party!Religion demands from you what is left of you to sacrifice! Or else, look at their fund raising tactics, and you will see my point! Grace presents you a finished work! As Spurgeon said "Our flesh screams "do, do, do", but from heaven will hear the eternal shout, It is done, done, done!

Religion is fast and quick in assessing its damage! There is always something lacking. There is no satisfaction! Religion is insatiable! Grace is satisfied with Jesus' sacrifice! Grace receives you back with the same rights and privileges that you had before you've ever gone astray. It never ceases to consider you a son. The relation is never severed. The relationship with the family of God is restored. It is not so in religion. It attempts to prove that even if you are a child of God, since you did what you did, it cannot have relationship with you. You do not fit in their constitution and by-laws. 

Finally, Grace is what we need, not religion. Grace should direct our behavior, not religion, simply because God directs His Eternal behavior based in Grace and not in Religion. WHO ARE WE GOING TO BE AS A CHURCH, THE FATHER OR THE OLDEST SON? WHO ARE WE GOING TO CHOSE, GRACE OR RELIGION?

Milton Almeida - Grace Ambassador

Embassy of Grace - Brazil & USA

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