In case you don't know, the book is firstly about God. The Prodigal God. What does that mean? Isn't a prodigal someone who lives recklessly, rejects authority and spends all he has? Exactly. God is a prodigal God. God came down in Jesus and lived a life of offensive recklessness in the eyes of the religious leaders (the Pharisees hated Christ). Jesus doesn't reject authority but rather surrenders every right He has to be authoritative and be treated fairly, even to the extent of being nailed to a splintered bit of wood. What about spending all He has? Yes. Ultimate generosity is expressed in God giving Himself to mankind, living the life we could not live and dieing the death we should have died all to bring us back to Himself (1 Peter 3:18).
The book centers Christ's parable as recorded in Luke 15:11-31. In this parable we see two sons and a generous Father representing God. One Son is good, keeping the rules of the Father while the other Son rejects the Father, asks for His inheritance and runs off without a thought for the dignity of his family. On the surface it seems that we are taught to make a clear distinction between good and bad from the parable. This is not the case. Jesus is actually exposing the heart of the elder 'good' Son. His obedience is full of pride- He's driven by the pleasure of knowing that he is good in comparison with his reckless brother, an attitude that is despicable. The older brother doesn't love his Father. He loves to feel distinct from his runaway brother.
What's the message? You can reject Jesus by being good or bad. You can reject all the rules or keep them all to push away Christ. You can live morally or immorally without God. Keller explains that religious people avoid Jesus. The same people who are sitting in churches every Sunday (like the elder son in the home of his father), despising the lifestyles of those outside the church are avoiding Jesus by trusting in their own goodness. They don't need Jesus because they think they have their own goodness. Instead Christ wants all of us, moral and immoral, to trust in His goodness. When we trust in our own goodness to make us acceptable we are calling ourselves God, this is the essence of sin.
'Sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Saviour, Lord, and judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life' (pg. 43)
'It is only when you see the desire to be your own Saviour and Lord- lying beneath your sins and your moral goodness- that you are on the verge of understanding the gospel and becoming a Christian indeed. When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink. If you follow through, it will change everything: how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, your sins, your virtue. It's called the new birth because it's so radical'. (pg. 78)
More to come...