Two Ways to Rebel Against God
Every religion has a shared narrative of how people rebel against God – by breaking the rules, by violating the moral code. But in Christianity, there are two ways people rebel against God. You can run away from God by breaking all the rules or you can run away from God by keeping all the rules. You can rebel by being very, very bad or you can rebel by being very, very good. This is a paradigm-shattering insight of Christianity. In all other religions, it is only the immoral who are lost. But in Christianity, the immoral rebel and the morally upright are both lost.
You see this in Jesus’ classic story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. People typically read this parable as the story of only one lost son – the younger son who leaves the homestead to indulge in a life of sensual pleasure and dissipation. But that’s not the story Jesus tells. In the parable, there are two sons – both equally alienated from the father. The elder son rebels against his father by staying home, working hard, and keeping all the rules. But he does this – and here is the crucial insight – not out of love for the father, but to put the father in his debt and to be independent of the father. In other words, the elder son’s obedience is actually his way of rebelling against the father – by trying to control the father. In the end, the younger son repents and is brought into the celebration feast; but the elder son bitterly complains against the father and refuses to go into the feast.
Most people think Christianity is only about the rebellion of the younger son. But Christianity is about the rebellion of both sons. And in a way, the focus is not on the younger son – but the older son. The morality and obedience of the older son puts him further away from the father than the younger son. Because at least the younger son, while he’s boozing and whoring, knows he’s in the wrong. He knows he’s lost. But the older son thinks he’s in his father’s good graces. And this makes him, in many ways, more lost.
Christianity is not, like all other religions, a call for the immoral to repent. It is a call for both the immoral and moral to repent and receive mercy. For a much more in-depth look, read The Prodigal God.