“Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’ And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’’”
In God’s Sight, Our Greatest Evil as Human Beings Is Trying to Establish Our Own Righteousness
There are two different sons appearing in today’s Scripture passage, which comes from Luke 15:11-32. The second son asked his father to give him his share of inheritance beforehand, so the father divided his wealth and gave it to this son. The second son then went out to the world, squandered all his possessions, repented, and returned to his father’s house.
Let’s turn again to what the Bible says about the return of this prodigal son: “‘I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’’ And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” This is the Word of God the Father for today.
When the second son returned home after going out to the world and squandering all his possessions and living a wasteful life, his father received him wholeheartedly. The father not only accepted his son back, but he also brought out the best robe to clothe him, put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet, slaughtered a calf, and held a great feast.
How did the first son then react to this, who had not gone out to the world but had stayed with his father? It’s written in verses 25-28: “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in.” As the passage says here, the older son did not like that his father was holding a feast to celebrate the return of his brother. On the contrary, it’s written that he got very angry.
What is the meaning of today’s Scripture passage? Of the two sons, it was the younger son who was truly united with the father’s heart. It is to teach us this truth that the Lord spoke to us with such a parable.
What actually is our greatest problem? In God’s sight, what is the greatest problem for mankind? It is that people have their own righteousness. For both those who have been born again by believing in Jesus and those who have not, their greatest problem is the notion that one’s own righteousness is more exalted than the righteousness of God. When we seek to follow the Lord, you and I must know that we have to cast aside such righteousness of our own. That’s because we can follow the righteousness of God Almighty our Father only if our own righteousness is completely removed.
What kind of people are those who have received the salvation of the remission of sins from God, and those who have received the blessed gift of salvation? They are those who have no righteousness of their own. That one does not have his own righteousness means that he is devoid of his own rightfulness. Those who do not have their own virtues, goodness, will, determination, merit, or faculty are the ones who have been saved by God. In contrast, those who think that they are intelligent, meritorious, good, virtuous, and not that sinful can never receive salvation from God. Far from being saved by God, they actually want to challenge Him. “God, let’s measure up and see who is taller and who is better. Let’s see if You are really more virtuous, wiser, and better than me.” Like this, those who flaunt their own righteousness want to compare themselves to God and challenge Him.
Like the Prodigal Son Here, Those Who Have Lost All Their Rightfulness Put on the God-given Grace of Salvation
The prodigal son in today’s Scripture passage lost everything. He had gone out to the world and squandered all the inheritance that he had received from his father, and although he tried to survive on his own later on, he couldn’t even do this. He got a job as a hired servant to feed someone else’s pigs and tried to survive on the pods that the pigs ate, but he couldn’t even do this job and he was eventually fired. In Luke chapter 15, God is saying that His blessings are received by precisely people who cannot live without God, who are devoid of any spiritual righteousness of their own before God, and who are complete sinners. In other words, in God’s sight it is those who have nothing of their own that unite their hearts with God, put on His salvation and love, carry out His work, and are approved by God as upright and blessed people to receive His blessings.
What is the real reason why so many people in this world are still standing against God, unable to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior who has blotted out all their sins? It’s because they are too full of their own merits, righteousness, and virtues. For those whose own virtues and righteousness have been broken down and lost, they have no choice but to believe in Jesus Christ the Savior.
Jesus Christ, God Himself, came to this earth incarnated in the flesh of man as the Savior of sinners, and He accepted all our sins by being baptized at the age of 30. He carried all these sins of the world to the Cross, was crucified to death, and thereby bore the condemnation that we should have borne. Jesus Christ then rose from the dead again on the third day, thereby becoming the Lord of salvation to all those who believe in Him as their God of salvation. It’s so clear that this is God’s work of salvation. There is no reason why we can’t believe. There is no need to decline, hesitate, or to wait. Like a lovely daughter accepting her father’s birthday present with joy, all that we have to do is just accept this salvation that Jesus Christ has fulfilled for us by blotting out all our sins and delivering us from them.
Why must we do this? It’s because we humans have no righteousness, or any merit, or virtue, or any goodness. Quite the contrary; all that we have are just inadequacies and sins. That is why we must believe in this salvation fulfilled through the baptism of the Lord and His blood on the Cross. It is only through this process that you and I can be truly saved.
By coming to this earth and being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus bore all our sins. Through this baptism received in the Jordan River, our Lord, the God of salvation, took upon Himself all our sins—all the sins that we’ve ever committed and will ever commit from our birth to our death; from the cradle to the grave. In this way, the Lord shouldered our sins through His baptism. He carried these sins to the Cross and died in your place and mine. Believing in this is true salvation and true faith.
How has Jesus blotted out all your sins and mine, and all the sins of this world and the curses for them? How has He saved us from sin? By being baptized by John the Baptist, the representative of mankind, Jesus accepted all our sins, and by going to the Cross and dying on it, He was condemned in our place. Furthermore, to raise you and me back to life to perfection, He rose from the dead again, thereby completing our salvation. He has become the God of salvation to all those who are devoid of their own righteousness and their own merits; to those of us who believe in Jesus as our God and our Savior.
Indeed, Jesus Christ has saved people who have neither their own righteousness nor their own virtues, who know that they are insufficient, and who realize that they are sinful and therefore doomed to hell. It’s to save precisely these people that the Lord came to this earth. God did not come to this earth to save those whose lives are virtuous, upright, and righteous, and who labor and try hard to dedicate their lives to others. It’s not to bless such people that Jesus came. On the contrary, Jesus Christ came to this earth to save from sin those who see themselves as insufficient, weak, and sinful beings, to bless these people, and to blot out their sins. According to this will of God, Jesus has saved you and me perfectly and made us God’s own cherished people.
By being baptized, the Lord accepted all our sins, and as He was crucified on both His hands and feet, He poured out all His blood and died in our place. The Almighty God Himself came to this earth incarnated in the flesh, and He was baptized by John the Baptist in order to blot out all your sins and mine. He took away all these sins through this baptism. This is how the Lord has saved you and me.
Those who are devoid of their own righteousness accept this Jesus as their Savior. In other words, it is people who lack their own virtues that accept Jesus as their God and Savior. However, what about those who consider themselves as good, virtuous, and righteous people? They have trouble accepting the salvation of Jesus. They are not only unable to accept it, but they actually stand against it. They think to themselves, “I’d rather believe in my own fist than in Jesus. I’d rather than believe in my own heart than Jesus. I’d rather believe in my own good deeds, my own thoughts, and my own righteous acts. I’d rather believe in myself.” These people ultimately end up rejecting Jesus because of these mistaken thoughts.
Do You Consider Yourself Meritorious?
We have absolutely no spiritual merit at all. Yet by any chance, do we not think that we ourselves are good and virtuous, that we are qualified to be saved, and that we deserve to be blessed by God? But such thoughts are just our own human delusion. When we look at ourselves as reflected on the Word of God, our portrait is completely opposite to our own self-perception.
Of the two sons mentioned in today’s Scripture passage, the first son seemed to be a good son: He took care of the house, he helped his father, and he didn’t do anything bad. But how was the second son? He asked for his share of inheritance, went out to the world, and squandered all his possessions. Unable to find any good job, he ended up with the wretched job of feeding sludge to the swine and ate this pig sludge. There was nothing else for him to eat because of a severe famine. What is worse, he was fired from even this job. The owner fired him, saying, “How can you eat pig sludge? It would be better not to have you here.” What did the son do in the end? He couldn’t make a living on that foreign land, and so he returned to his father; to God. He repented from the depth of his heart, saying, “My father has so many hired servants and workers, and all these servants have plenty to eat. Yet here I am, starving to death after having left my father. I should return to him and say to him, ‘Father, I am too ashamed to call myself your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’” Having thus repented from his mistake, he returned to the father. He had turned his heart around.
When the prodigal son made his way home, how did the father react? He looked out from his room and he saw his son far away. Overwhelmed by joy, the father jumped up and ran toward the town entrance without even putting his shoes on, shouting out, “My son!” Too ashamed of himself, the son couldn’t even look at his father, but the father embraced him in his arms, kissed him on his filthy mouth that had eaten pig sludge, patted his back, and received him in joy, saying to him, “My son, I am so glad that you’ve returned.”
The father then took the filthy rags off his son and said to his servants, “Throw away all these rags. Bring the best robe in our house and put it on him. Put the best sandals on him as well. Put a ring on his finger. This son is indeed my son. So put a ring on him as a sign of being my son. Slaughter a calf. Play music. Gather together everyone in the town and hold a great feast.”
What does all this mean, my fellow believers? It means that the sufferings we endure in our lives—that is, being born, getting old, falling ill, and dying—are all permitted by God so that we would return to Him. It is all by God’s work that people fall ill and live in suffering on this earth, unable to fulfill none of their desires with their circumstances turning against them and their plans remaining unfulfilled. In other words, God’s work is designed to make each and every one of us return to Him. Take a look at today’s Scripture passage here. The land where the prodigal son was residing was visited by a famine, and as a result he was forced to survive on the pods and was fired from even this job. Why do you suppose all this happened? It was because of the will of God that sought to make him return to his father’s home, nearer to God.
If the prodigal son had found a good job and prospered in the world, he would have never returned to his father. That is why God brought a famine to that country when he found a job to feed pigs. God made him fired by the owner. In doing so, God brought the prodigal son back to His fold. What does this all mean, my fellow believers? It means that it is the will of God the Father for us to take His best robe, sandals, and ring, to hold a feast, to eat abundant food in His Kingdom, to live there and enjoy glory, and to be honored like this.
Indeed, all our sufferings and weaknesses are permitted by God. That is why true salvation can be received from the Lord by those who believe that Jesus is their Savior. They believe that the Lord accepted all their sins by being baptized, dying on the Cross, and has thereby saved them, and that He has saved them perfectly through the water and the blood. Remember this always, that Jesus has saved you and me in this way.
My fellow believers, how did we receive salvation from our sins? We received salvation by our faith, by believing that Jesus came to this earth, was baptized, died on the Cross, and rose from the dead again in three days. How could we have become righteous by believing in Jesus? How could we, who were all sinners, have become righteous people? How could we have become sinless? It is all because all our sin was passed onto Jesus when He was baptized by John the Baptist. Our Lord indeed bore all your sins and mine. That is why we have become completely sinless and righteous people.
What Kind of People Can Be Saved by Believing in the Righteousness of God?
What kind of people has God accepted to be His children? Those who recognize their sinful selves before God and desire to believe in His righteousness; those who believe in Jesus as their Savior and also believe in His baptism and His blood on the Cross; those who believe that Jesus bore all their sins by being baptized; and those who believe that Jesus bore our condemnation on the Cross in our place—these are the people whom God truly approves as His own people. Just as the Word of God says, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name,” God has indeed given all His rights to those who have true faith.
It’s not because we’ve led a virtuous and righteous life that you and I have been saved. It is by accepting the salvation of Jesus Christ into our hearts, and by believing in this salvation, that we could reach our true salvation. In other words, it’s actually those who are insufficient in this world just like the prodigal son here that can receive the blessed salvation of God. What kind of person are you then? Are you like the first son or the second son? If you think that you are more like the second son, then you must return to God. You must realize who you really are, and you must admit that you are completely devoid of any virtue, righteousness, or goodness. You must then believe that Jesus Christ took upon Himself all your sins by being baptized. Finally, you must also believe that Jesus bore the condemnation of all our sins on the Cross in our place. Only if you believe like this can you receive the true salvation of Jesus.
What then is the biggest problem for those who have now received the remission of sins by believing in Jesus? It is that even though they have been saved by believing in the righteousness of the Lord and His salvation, they still have too many virtues of their own that exceed Jesus. It’s by believing in Jesus Christ and His water and blood that we’ve received the remission of sins. It’s by the power of the Lord, not by our own power, that we’ve received this blessing. What is then the biggest problem for us, who have received the remission of sins in this way? Remember this clearly: It is none other than our own righteousness. When you think that you have some sort of righteousness of your own, some goodness, some virtues, and so forth, this is when you confront your biggest problem. This is also a huge problem before God.
Those who think that they are quite virtuous and righteous are prone to judge others. They judge people on their own, thinking, “This man is so and so, that man is so and so.” Those who are self-righteous impose their own standards on everything, thinking, “Why is this Church like this? Why is the worship service carried out on the floor? I wish they would do something different at the hour of worship.” In other words, they think everything according to their own standards and want to get everything done in their own way.
What will happen to these people in the end? As they are full of their own righteousness, far from exalting Jesus, they end up exalting themselves even higher than Jesus, saying, “I’ve done this and that, I’ve been so good, and I’ve been so right.” Since they keep insisting on their own achievements, it’s impossible for them to take pride in the Lord. Because they are too full of their own virtues and their own rightfulness, ultimately, they end up leaving the Church that Jesus Christ has founded. Why does this happen? It’s because they think they are more right, and that’s why they leave the Church, saying, “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t do this. I’d never do anything like that. I’d rather do something else. In fact, I will just go my own way.” In other words, it’s because they are too self-righteous that they tragically end up leaving God’s Church.
While carrying on with our lives of faith, whom are we most afraid of? It’s those who see everything through a legalistic lens. Let me give you an example. While walking in the street, a saved person saw an empty can lying around. If he is a fan of soccer, this can look like a soccer ball to him. Soccer fans sometimes think that even stones can be balls. So this person dribbled the empty can as if it were a soccer ball and kicked it toward some corner that he saw. Obviously, it’s unlikely for him to aim correctly. So when the can he kicked landed on someone else’ window and broke it, he picked up his bag and started running. The owner of the house then came out and screamed, “Who did this?” But some other little kids ended up getting blamed for it.
If some recently saved brothers saw this scene, what would they think? They would judge this person, thinking, “This man is supposed to be a saved man, and yet he broke the window and ran away. How can he do this when he has been saved and he has no sin?” When they see someone who has received the remission of sins littering, they think, “How can a redeemed person be so careless? I don’t behave like this, and so how can someone who was saved a long time ago behave in this way?”
What does this mean? It means that they’ve begun to flaunt their own virtues. This is why we are more afraid of those who have received the remission of sins just recently. That’s because we have to be careful about how we act before them. Since we have to always put on our best behavior, you can imagine how difficult this can be.
We are not afraid of those who received the remission of sins long ago. Quite the contrary, we feel intimidated when we stand before those who have received the remission of sins only recently. It’s not because they are strong and physically imposing that we feel intimidated, but it’s because we think to ourselves, “I’m sure they have their own standard. If I litter, they will think I’m a bad person.”
Once enough time goes by since receiving the remission of sins, many of your weaknesses and insufficiencies are exposed in your life of faith, and so this makes you less judgmental. You no longer judge your brothers and sisters for their mistakes, recognizing, “I, too, have made mistakes like them.” In other words, you don’t judge others for their shortcomings according to your own thoughts. But what about those brothers and sisters who have just recently received the remission of sins? They are prone to judge others. What does judging mean here? It means flaunting one’s own virtues. Of course, one’s own virtues are not even comparable to the virtues of Jesus, but some people think that they are more virtuous than those who were saved before them. Because they think they are more virtuous, they judge others according to their own virtues, and because they judge in this way, they don’t show any respect to others.
My fellow believers, when we first received the remission of sins, we did so by admitting our true nature and confessing, “Lord, I am such a worthless sinner.” But what is the reality? Did we really know all about our sinful selves when we received the remission of sins? No, that’s not the case. When we first received the remission of sins, our self-recognition was limited to our own experiences and we just admitted literally what the Word said about our sins. Therefore, even after receiving the remission of sins, we must realize that we are even more worthless than when we first believed in Jesus and discovered our true selves. Only then can we realize that we are indeed devoid of any righteousness of our own. It is then that we can really take pride only in Jesus, His baptism, and His blood on the Cross. We come to boast of this gospel alone every time we open our mouths, and we become people of faith who preach this gospel that’s worthy of being boasted of. It is then that we can always be happy and rejoice in our lives despite our insufficiencies and weaknesses.
This means that one can rejoice with this gospel and boast of it only when he realizes clearly that he is devoid of any righteousness. But what about the self-righteous people who have too many virtues of their own? They have no interest at all in how the gospel is spread. On the contrary, they just try to always maintain their own virtues, afraid that their own righteousness and goodness may break down.
My fellow believers, we should be always thankful to God in our lives. Even though we are so insufficient, the Lord has saved people like us by coming to this earth, being baptized, and shedding His blood to death on the Cross. Because the Lord has saved sinners like you and me is something for which we should all be grateful. It’s not the virtuous but the worthless that the Lord has saved, and that is why we are all the more thankful. Such gratitude should always be kept in our lives.
When we turn to Romans chapter 10, we see the Apostle Paul saying to the people of Israel, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). Through this passage, God rebuked the Israelites for trying to establish their own righteousness. Indeed, God wants us to show off His righteousness instead. He wants to break down the righteousness of man. God longs for His righteousness to be spread rather than our own human righteousness.
The Righteousness of God Is None Other Than the Gospel of the Water and the Spirit
What is the gist of the righteousness of God? It is the water and the blood; it is the gospel of the water and the Spirit. What has saved you and me and everyone in this world from sin is this salvation of the water and blood of the Lord. This is the righteousness of God. What does this God want from this earth, for the rest of your life and mine? He wants us to proclaim His righteousness!
Our Lord has saved you and me with His water and blood. This Lord wants us to become sinless, to enter Heaven, to be made into God’s people, and to be able to carry out His righteous work. The Lord wants us to spread His righteousness. He wants us to boast of His righteousness. What God wants from you and me, in short, is for us to exalt His righteousness, to boast of it, and to spread and serve this righteousness.
All of us should realize clearly that God wants to break down the righteousness of man, exalt His righteousness, and spread this righteousness. We must believe so. We human beings have nothing else to say but this: “Jesus has made me sinless with His water and blood. He has made me a sinless person. I have no sin. The Lord has saved me through His water and blood. I have become sinless by believing in this water and blood.” We have no choice but to thank God for this and give all glory to Him. That is the only thing that we have to do. This means that there is nothing in this world that’s worthy of exalting except the righteousness of God.
The prodigal son in today’s Scripture passage returned to his father after squandering all his possessions. He said to his father, “I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants. Take me in as your servant.” Given the context of today’s Scripture passage, we can conjecture here that this prodigal son clearly became one of his father’s faithful workers when he returned home. I have no doubt that this prodigal son was diligent with his father’s work as if it were his own work, rather than living off his father and saying in arrogance, “I am the son of the landlord.”
But how did the first son react? He got angry. His heart was filled with discontent, thinking to himself, “Even though I’ve served my father for so many years, and I’ve never disobeyed him, not even once did he give me a young goat to enjoy. How can he then hold such a feast for my brother, who had run away from home, just because he has returned?” He was so resentful that his face turned red in anger and looked at his brother with an evil eye. The father then said to the angry first son, “Why are you so resentful when all that I have is yours? Isn’t it right for us to rejoice and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found?”
What does this mean? The older son here had worked in his father’s house all his life like a servant. Yet he was actually filled with his own righteousness. That he thought of all the things that he had done for his father means that he was too self-righteous. In other words, the first son was filled with his own virtues and rightfulness. That is why when his brother repented wholeheartedly and returned home ready to live a new life, far from being rejoiced by this, the older brother actually got angry.
The First Son Was a Self-Righteous Man
How would the father have felt when the first son got angry and tried to vent out his frustration at his younger brother? Would his mind have been at peace? Would the father have been happy? If the father is rejoiced, the son should be rejoiced with him. Wasn’t the second son lost but now found, dead but alive now? The first son should have been truly rejoiced at his brother’s return regardless of his past, since he had been dead but was now alive. But the older son wasn’t happy because he was too self-righteous.
My fellow believers, we are all very happy now that we have received the remission of sins and we have been saved. But now that you and I have been saved, what kind of people should we become? If we had too many virtues of our own like the first son here, we would have run away from the house of God. This time it wouldn’t be the second son leaving but the first son. What’s the reason for this? It’s because the first son would be thinking that the father was not right. What God wants from you and me is for all of us, the saved people, to lose all our virtues, goodness, and righteousness. He wants us to confess, “I am completely devoid of any merit or righteousness. But if there is one thing that I am thankful for, one thing that I can exalt, it is that the Lord has completely blotted out my sins with His water and blood.” This is the confession that the Lord wants to hear from us. Do you grasp this?
This salvation through which our Lord has blotted out all our sins is our most precious treasure. This is what is most worthy of our pride. The Lord wants us to become people of such faith. He wants us to become people who exalt the gospel of Jesus Christ, serve the Lord’s gospel, worship the Lord no matter what happens to them, live for His gospel, praise and spread this gospel of the Lord, believe only in the righteousness of God realizing that they are devoid of any righteousness, and follow and serve this righteousness of God alone.
Indeed, our God is pleased by those who exalt only His righteousness, believe in it, praise it, and take pride in it. These people are the ones who have truly united their hearts with God. I am not saying here that you are doing something wrong. Rather, I am explaining to you what kind of people we must become before God. We go astray when we exalt ourselves like the first son in today’s Scripture passage. Even though the first son had lived with his father for a long time, his heart was not truly united with his father.
In my life of faith, if I had thought of myself as a completely perfect man as the first son had thought of himself, then I would have never tolerated anyone who was worse than me. Indeed, everyone has a high opinion of himself, thinking, “I’m right, I’m good, and I’m virtuous. I am really a man of justice.” But if you let such thoughts get a better hold of yourself, you will end up despising all those who seem to be insufficient and not as right and virtuous as yourself. You will ignore them and look down on them as though they were not even human.
But what happens when you recognize clearly before God that you are insufficient and weak? Regardless of your merits and demerits, you will cherish everyone as long as he has accepted the gospel to become sinless. So long as your brothers and sisters have received the remission of sins and are living for the Lord, you will think that these brothers and sisters are more precious than even yourself. So you will respect them more than yourself. Like this, those who have thrown away their virtues before God are all compelled to recognize wholeheartedly how precious their fellow saints are.
But what about those who think that they are quite decent and virtuous people before God? If you don’t know your shortcomings and think of only your own virtues, you will end up completely despising everyone else. My fellow believers, God wants you to exalt only Him. Jesus Christ wants us to boast of this gospel that has blotted out everyone’s sins in this world. This gospel is more precious to us than anything else. There is nothing in the hearts of the redeemed that is more precious than this. It is far more invaluable than the most precious pearl and diamond.
Isn’t the gospel all about how the Lord has made you and me sinless? Isn’t this what the gospel is all about? What else is more precious than this? The famous hymn “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” goes in its third paragraph:
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
Like this, even those devoid of any righteousness can now attain it thanks to God. If you and I have any righteousness at all, it is solely that the Lord has washed away all our sins with His water and blood, made us sinless, and saved us all. The only righteousness we have is this righteousness of the Lord. If there is any righteousness, and if there is anything that we’ve done right, it is solely that we have accepted this gospel of the Lord into our hearts. If someone asks us to show them our merit, the only thing we can say is this: “The Lord has saved me. He has made me a sinless person. I have no sin. The Lord has saved me with His water and blood.”
Your strong arms, long legs, pretty face, smart head, virtues, goodness, and obedience to the Word of God—all these things are not worthy of boasting. Indeed, we are completely devoid of anything to be proud of. My fellow believers, life is nothing. Physical beauty also means nothing. It’s only when you are young that you have a soft skin; see what happens when you grow old. It will all turn wrinkly. Your skin will turn so dry that you will have to put on moisturizers all the time. In other words, the physical beauty of human beings will all disappear with age. The merits of human beings amount to nothing, rendered meaningless with the passing of time, and their virtues are also completely insignificant. Even if you’ve lived virtuously all your life to this day, if you fail to do so even slightly in the future, all your achievements are rendered obsolete.
My fellow believers, we have nothing but this salvation of the Lord. Some of you may be thinking now, “Gee, every time Pastor Jong opens his mouth, he always talks about the water and the blood. How many years has it been already? I’ve heard him speaking of the same thing for over ten years now. Yet he is still talking about it. Doesn’t he ever get tired?” But I am not tired of preaching the gospel of the water and the Spirit at all. Far from it, I will continue to preach the gospel until the day I die. That’s because I have nothing else to boast of but the water and blood of the Lord.
In fact, what else do we have to boast of? Should I stand here and just tell you what I did last week, boasting about how I visited orphanages and seniors’ residences and donated 50 boxes of instant noodles? No, that’s not what I should be preaching. Truly, we have nothing to boast of. Given how I have nothing to boast of like this, what should I then boast of to you when I come to God’s Church? What should I boast of to people? I have nothing to boast of other than to say, “Jesus has made you and me sinless. So believers like you and me have no sin. We are completely sinless, as white as snow. We are clean and spotless.” This is because none other than this remission of sins, of the water and the blood, is our everlasting salvation. It’s because this is the never-changing righteousness of God.
Of the two sons mentioned in today’s Scripture passage, we need to pay particular attention to the second son who had gone out into the world but returned to God. This prodigal son completely admitted his lack of virtue, returned to his father, united his heart with his father, and worked diligently for him as his worker and servant. No matter what his father asked of him, he was just thankful that he could work for him and that he was accepted back to the family. He lived the rest of his life with such a thankful heart.
But what about the first son? He thought that his father was wrong to welcome his brother. He thought to himself, “All these years I’ve worked so hard for my father, and yet he has never held a feast for me. How can he then hold a feast for my brother just because he has returned, when he had left home out of his own volition?” How about our own parents then? They are more fond of the children who know themselves and are rightfully grateful to their parents than the children who are too self-conceited. If this is how parents think, how would our God think? God is far more fond of those who, like the prodigal son, have cast aside their own righteousness.
Our Biggest Problem
You and I have grown just a little bit since we first received the remission of sins. What is our biggest problem then? It’s the fact that we still have some righteousness of our own. That we are still clinging to our own virtues is our biggest problem.
My fellow believers, we are serving the gospel always. Serving the gospel is the only thing that we should be doing. That alone is our only pride. We’ve done well until now, and we must continue to do so in the years to come. We humans are completely devoid of any virtues, just as we have no righteousness at all. When we stand before God’s Truth and examine ourselves, we see that all of us indeed have nothing to boast of before God, nor any righteousness. As such people, the only thing that we should be doing is serving the gospel of the Lord who is always right and upright.
I am deeply concerned that you might still cling to your own righteousness and worry about losing it. Even if you have received the remission of sins, unless you demolish your own righteousness, it will clash with the righteousness of God and a struggle will ensue. It would be fortunate if your own righteousness is defeated in this battle, but if it’s still alive, sooner or later it will cause a huge problem down the road. Therefore, you must make the following confession of faith as soon as possible: “Lord, I am indeed like the prodigal son. I have no righteousness at all. I am just thankful that You have saved such a worthless being like me and made me Your servant.”
Satan had attacked our sins before we were born again. But, now that we have been born again and have no sin in our hearts, our own righteousness is the point of Satan’s secondary attack on us. In other words, he incites us to flaunt our own righteousness to say, “I’ve received the remission of sins, but I still think my own way is right.” In this way the Devil goads us into flaunting our own righteousness. What will happen if we give into such temptations of Satan? We will end up insisting on our own righteousness, and once this happens, we will begin to look down on our predecessors of faith who received the remission of sins before us. We will end up ignoring them completely, thinking, “They are not better than me. They are in fact worse than me!” What will be the result of all this? The natural consequence is that we will start facing serious problems in our lives of faith.
Those who are self-righteous take the demolishing of their own righteousness as their own death. In reality, when their own righteousness is demolished, the righteousness of the Lord is exalted and they come to realize that the Lord is more right, cherish Him even more and praise Him. But as they do not know this truth, they think that the end of their righteousness is their death. Indeed, when we the redeemed see our righteousness break down, Satan tries to make us feel as though we are dying. So the Devil tries to make us worry about what will happen when our righteousness is demolished.
What will really happen if we are deceived by such temptations of Satan? Those who fall into this trap will fall into despair every time their own righteousness is broken, as though their lives of faith were over. However, my fellow believers, the truth is far from this. See for yourself what really happens when your righteousness is demolished. Once your righteousness is broken down, you will exalt only the Lord. You will cherish Him even more. What happens after this? Since you now care about God more than yourself, you will serve the Lord rather than yourself, hold onto Him with all your heart, give all exaltation to Him, and completely unite your heart with Him.
It’s those who know their insufficiencies that exalt the Lord more than themselves, not those who are full of their own merits. This is the truth. Only the Lord is our most cherished treasure, and He alone is right. Everyone in this world must first cast aside his own righteousness if he wants to follow the Lord. Those who think that they are virtuous and perfect, and who flaunt their own righteousness, can never be led to the Lord.
After Saving Us, the Lord Demolishes Our Own Righteousness
God makes us face many failures, fall into our weaknesses, and find ourselves in difficult situations. By doing so, He completely demolishes our ego. At first, we try to resist this, but ultimately we are compelled to surrender. When our righteousness is completely demolished, we begin to see the Lord’s exaltation. Just as Job said, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You,” we come to exalt the Lord truthfully and unambiguously. We don’t exalt the Lord just with words, but we begin to exalt Him with a sincere heart. In other words, we come to trust Him with all our hearts and praise Him sincerely when our own righteousness is broken and our hearts are humbled.
Those who quickly realize their true selves even as they don’t discover this through their actual experience are the wisest. Those who realize and believe promptly that the salvation of the Lord is most precious and that the Lord is the most cherished God are the wisest. All of us must abide by our faith in the Lord. We must serve the Lord while abiding by this faith. We must serve Him while exalting Him. In other words, whenever we are gathered like this, we must exalt the Lord, praise Him, pray to Him, and commend Him. Regardless of whenever and wherever, we must always humble ourselves and exalt the Lord in our lives.
Just as we praise the Lord and boast of Him when we are gathered in the Church, when it comes to our individual lives, and our individual faith as well, we must exalt the Lord. This means that we must become the kind of people who are devoid of their own righteousness, who have lost it all, just like the prodigal son in today’s Scripture passage. “I have no merit. If there is just one merit, it is that I believe that the Lord has saved me. I believe in this. I believe that the Lord has saved me through His water and blood. This Lord has made me sinless. I have no sin. I have no sin because the Lord has made me sinless.” We must become people who believe like this, boast of the Lord, serve Him completely by faith, and follow Him by trusting Him completely.
My fellow believers, do you realize just how precious it is that you and I are serving the Lord? This is indeed a priceless work. Serving the Lord, serving the gospel, making offerings to Him, and supporting the gospel ministry—each and every one of these things is invaluably precious. That’s because the One whom we are serving is exceedingly precious. Each and every one of these small things is precious because we are serving this exalted Lord and His precious gospel. Because God is infinitely exalted, and because it is such a precious honor for us that this Lord has saved us through His water and blood, even the little things that we do to serve this Lord is also precious.
Take a look around us. There is a restaurant in the basement of our church building. I heard that some seedy people have been coming there recently. Apparently, all kinds of lewd behaviors go on there while drinking liquor. What the hostesses and their guests do in secret is beyond description. However, do you think that they are fundamentally different from us who now are worshipping the Lord just two floors above them? No. Strictly speaking, we are the same as these people. Do you understand what I mean? My point is that as far as the flesh is concerned, there is absolutely no difference between those sitting in the restaurant and us.
Are you any different from them in the flesh? No. What is so different about the people drinking in the “secret” restaurant in the basement and our brothers? Are they any different in the flesh? They are no different from us. Of course, we cannot be with the Gentiles. Yet we also are human beings with the same flesh that they have. When we look at the clients of the restaurant, we need to realize that we also have the same flesh as they have. We must admit that we, too, are the same human beings. So I have no qualms about ministering a church on top of a seedy restaurant. I am more than willing to do so. That’s because I think that the people in that restaurant and I are the same as far as the flesh is concerned.
When I see people coming to that restaurant, I think to myself, “I am someone who serves only the Lord, for I have nothing else to boast of nor anyone else to serve. Because only our Lord is to be served by me, and He alone is precious, I can’t help but serve Him alone. But you serve your bodies because you still do not know this Lord. You serve only your mouths.” This is the only difference; in everything else I am the same. When we look at the flesh, they and we are the same. Think about it. Were it not for our Lord who dwells in us, and if we set Him aside and look at ourselves, is there anything righteous in us? Is there any merit at all? No, we have no merit whatsoever.
On the contrary, sometimes I am afraid of the very fact that I myself am righteous, that I am living righteously. I am afraid that such thoughts might turn into my own righteousness. In fact, sometimes I find myself looking down on such people, thinking, “I myself am more righteous than these people. How can anyone compare me to such people?” I then break my own righteousness, realizing, “There still is such arrogance left in my heart.” I break down my own righteousness and turn my heart toward God again, saying to myself, “They and I are the same human beings. Every human being is the same. The only difference is that I’ve accepted the Lord, and the Lord has saved me, bestowed His grace of salvation on me, and given me the Holy Spirit. Other than these things, how am I so different from these people?”
My fellow believers, remember this clearly: We have no righteousness of our own. If there is any righteousness at all, it is just that the Lord has saved us, made us sinless, and given us this gospel. I admonish you all to grasp clearly here that the only righteousness we have is the righteousness of the Lord. I admonish you to exalt the Lord. Realize the fact that we are serving the Lord precisely because there is nothing else in this world that is worthy of serving. In fact, if there were something else to serve, I would serve it, but I can’t serve anything else because there is nothing else to serve. If I had any virtue at all, I would follow it, but I am completely devoid of any virtue of my own, and that is why I am serving the Lord, who alone is good. Indeed, even though we are insufficient, in our lives we must still serve only the Lord, understand Him alone, and exalt and praise Him alone. This is the life that we must lead as Christians.
Of the two sons described in today’s Scripture passage, in whom was the father pleased? It was the younger son. Because he had broken down all his righteousness, he had no trouble with his father. He did everything he was told by his father. Whatever his father told him to do, he obeyed it with thanksgiving and did exactly what his father asked him to do. He could carry out his father’s work as though it were his precisely because he had no righteousness of his own.
But what about the first son? Whatever the father was doing, he always insisted on his own thoughts. He was not pleased by what pleased his father. We must never be like this first son. The Lord has saved you and me. This Lord wants to save everyone in this world. He wants this gospel to be spread so that everyone would believe in it. He wants all people to come into God’s Church. My fellow believers, the Lord bore all your sins and mine and blotted them all out. He took them all away. He has thereby saved you and me, and He wants to save everyone else as well.
My fellow believers, our disposition must be that of a servant. Take a look at the second son. He said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” Like this prodigal son, our hearts must also be disposed like a servant. This means that although we are masters when it comes to the power of faith, our hearts’ disposition must be that of a servant when we think of the grace of the Lord.
Our own righteousness is bound to be all broken whether we like it or not. All those whose own righteousness has been broken must hold onto the righteousness of the Lord. They must hold onto the gospel with which the Lord has made them sinless. They must serve this gospel only. Those whose own righteousness still has not been broken even after being saved must now realize through faith that they have no righteousness of their own. They must admit this. Unless they admit this, they will continue to face problems down the road and therefore they will only have complaints to make.
Let us then truthfully follow the Lord by faith, live by faith, preach the gospel to all souls by faith, and lead these souls to the Lord by faith. Let us become such righteous people who live by faith. Let us not boast of our own virtues. Let us instead boast of the virtues of the Lord alone and His honor, and let us also be proud of the lack of our own virtues, our humility, and the Lord’s exaltation. All of us must indeed become such people. As those aspiring to follow the Lord, it is absolutely indispensable for you and me to become such people.
My fellow believers, is there anything that we can boast of apart from the gospel of the Lord? No, there is none. It is also by the grace and blessings of the Lord that we are able to serve the Lord after receiving the remission of sins. This is not something that came about on our own. Rather, it’s what the Lord has permitted to you and me. It’s the Lord who has used us as His workers. In today’s Scripture passage, the Lord received the prodigal son in joy. Like this, you and I have found grace from the Lord. Truly, you and I are completely devoid of anything to boast of before the Lord. After having met the Lord, the longer I live in the Lord, the more clearly I recognize that I have nothing of which to boast of. I have no reason at all to live for myself either. The more time goes by, the more my failings are revealed and the more the Lord is exalted. That is all that remains.
Is there anything exalted about us just as the Lord is exalted? Of course, you will all say with your words that there is none. But there are hidden thoughts in you that crave your own righteousness. We must cast aside even these hidden thoughts. If we practice virtues and righteousness, it is only by the strength the Lord has given us. Had the Lord not strengthened us, had He not entrusted us with His work, had He not blessed us to serve Him, and had He not given us the right faith, how else could we have served the Lord? It is not by our own strength or our own virtues that we are serving the Lord. It’s because the Lord has permitted us that we are able to serve the Lord, because He has given us God’s Church and entrusted His work to us through this Church. In fact, I am just one of many servants of the Lord. This means that you and I are no different.
I had taken some rest due to my poor health and just returned to the Church only recently. As someone who is not even healthy, I have nothing to brag about. So I want to boast the Lord all the more, and I can’t help but do so. I am just thankful that our Lord has made me sinless, and my only desire is to preach all over the world this gospel that has made us sinless. The Lord has given me such a desire. I am so thankful that the Lord has made me into someone who can’t help but confess his insufficiencies, and who can’t help but boast of the Lord’s righteousness. I want all of you to also become such people. God will shape you into such people in the future.
My fellow believers, I admonish you with all my heart not to take pride in your own virtues. If you have any virtue at all, boast it just to yourself. Never boast it someone else. If you are indeed living for the Lord, then know that the Lord has blessed you with His grace for your sake. So let us all exalt the Lord in this way. Let us all live for Him.
This World Is Now Nearing Its End
My fellow believers, if we are still clinging to our own virtues, these virtues will crumble down when this world falls. So let us exalt the Lord rather than ourselves. Let us remember in our lives just how much the Lord has glorified us, how much He has done for us, and with how much grace He has clothed us. It’s my sincerest hope and prayer that we would all thus live by faith. I have absolutely no desire to become like the first son here in today’s Scripture passage. The one that we should strive to emulate is the prodigal son who had gone out to the world but returned to God.
What happens when you receive the remission of sins and begin to lead a life of faith? Aren’t your weaknesses and insufficiencies exposed even more, the more you lead your life of faith? It may be that not all your weaknesses and shortcomings were exposed clearly before, but are they not all revealed explicitly now? Will you then keep trying to hide these weaknesses that are exposed? Will you once again try to fill up your insufficiencies to make you whole on your own, or will you exalt the Lord instead? Won’t you praise the Lord and follow Him by faith?
The way to our deliverance is not trying to fix our insufficiencies on our own to make ourselves perfect. The only way to our deliverance is recognizing our inadequacies just as they are, trusting in the Lord, and following Him. This is the only way for us to find deliverance, and this is the only way for us to give all glory to God. Let us therefore all live by our faith in the Truth, that we are indeed completely devoid of any righteousness of our own and all that we have is the righteousness of God.