Duty or Desire?
Text: Luke 15:11-32 | Listen to Message
What do you find your identity in? Which component of your identity gives you the biggest dose of self-worth (if you succeed) or self-loathing (if you fail)? What do you need to achieve in order to feel a sense of validation?
In a Traditional Identity culture, the authorities set the rules and it’s your responsibility to live up to them. You’re driven by a sense of duty, and the highest ideal is honor. If you sacrifice, work hard, and play by the rules, you’ll achieve the highest honor possible for you. If you fail at any of this, you will feel shame.
In a Modern Identity culture, you set the rules for yourself. Nobody can tell you what’s true, or right, or wrong for you. You’re driven by a sense of desire (what do I want for me?), and the highest ideal is individuality. If you create your own identity and stay true to yourself, whatever that means, you will achieve the highest autonomy possible for you.
While a Traditional Identity tends to be “conservative,” and a Modern Identity tends to be far more “liberal” or “progressive,” both identities are based on fatal flaws. How good is your identity when success goes to your head (in arrogance and self-righteousness) and failure goes to your heart (in anger and despair)? How enduring is your identity when it’s based on something you know you’re ultimately going to lose?
No story in Scripture illustrates these two contrasting, dead-end identities quite like “The Parable of The Prodigal Son” in Luke 15:
The prodigal is the classic modernist, striking out on his own to forge his own path and create his own identity. He believes he’ll be a somebody if he follows his heart desires and makes it on his own apart from his father.
The older brother is the classic traditionalist, staying home and playing by the rules. He believes he’ll be a somebody if he inherits the family estate – which, of course, depends on him having a track record of serving and obeying his father.
But this is where the parable gets really interesting – and is really instructive to us. The father doesn’t commend or condemn either identity over the other. To the contrary, he indicates that there is a distinct, third identity that both sons need to recognize:
A Gospel Identity is neither conceived nor achieved, but received. It’s a gift. Instead of being based on the relative merits (or demerits) of the recipient, it’s based solely on the grace of God. That means being a somebody is not about whether you are worthy or not, it’s about the worthiness of the Giver. Regardless of the fact that both sons had failed and both sons had dishonored their father in different ways, here’s the key: they were both still sons! Rather than being defined by their sins or their successes, they were defined by the father’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
In Christ, this is your new identity. You don’t have to chase after your own honor or autonomy, both of which are illusory. You can possess infinite freedom and righteousness by the free grace of Christ, who is your life.