And he (the younger brother) arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him… But he (the older brother) was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him… Luke 15:20, 28
I think most Christians function regularly like the younger brother or the older brother (in what has commonly been called The Parable of the Prodigal Son). Some of us think like the younger brother and we feel that our sin keeps God from us and actually incites His anger. Some of us think like the older brother and we think that our obedience actually gains us favor with God. And some of us actually act like both brothers at different times.
In his book The Transforming Power of the Gospel, Jerry Bridges warns us of the dangers of this kind of thinking-
One of the dangers of [obedience-based Christianity] is that it can lead people to think God owes them a reward for their obedience. Their perspective in life is, “If I do certain things, I expect God to come through for me.” And when He doesn’t, they think, “What’s wrong? Why isn’t He doing something to help me, and what can I do?” In the opposite direction, some people live in fear that because of their sin, God will punish them…This is a trap. If we think we earn God’s favor by our obedience or disfavor by our disobedience, we will expect God to come through for us or, at the other extreme, will always be living in fear that “the other shoe will eventually drop.”
This is exactly what is happening with both brothers in Luke 15. They both have a skewed understanding of what God the Father is like. They both have fallen into a joy-killing trap. I don’t want that for any of you. Today, you can take a deep drink of the Gospel and see that God always moves toward you… because of what Jesus has done for you, not what you’ve done or haven’t done for Him.