Win a $1,000 Gift Certificate

Rembrandt's Painting of the Prodigal Son

The 3 Sons

The Son Christ Never Mentioned

by Waitsel Smith

Christ once told a story about two sons. We call it the "Parable of the Prodigal Son," like as if the younger, rebellious son was the only one at fault. But the older son was just as sinful with his attitude of self-righteousness. What most people don't realize is that there was a third son, not mentioned in the story, but present at Christ's telling of it. As we all know, the older son was outwardly obedient to his father, but inwardly resentful toward his younger brother who had taken his inheritance, left home and spent it in riotous living. Now he was back with his tail between his legs, and his father was throwing a big party for him and his friends. Self-righteous people always resent rebellious ones, even when they repent. It's in their blood to judge. So, the father actually had two sons to forgive.

I spent the first third of my life as that resentful, judging, prideful, self-righteous son. I thought that by seeking God's approval, as the older son did his father's, I could come into relationship with God. It didn't work. So, in the next period of my life, I became the rebellious son. I saw that the first son's approach hadn't worked; and, after all, the second son had been welcomed back into his father's home with open arms - so I decided to try his approach. I thought that if I "spent myself" in riotous living, I would come to the end of myself and find God. That, too, didn't work.

What I didn't realize was that there was a third son in Christ's story, not mentioned but still present. It was He: Christ Himself was the third son. You see, the older and younger sons were really two sides of the same coin: both were people living their lives for themselves, because being self-righeous and being rebellious are both about self. It's just that, in the case of self-righteousness, the person cloaks his selfishness in religion. At least the rebellious person is not a hypocrite. On the other hand, the third son, Christ, is all about God and others. Christ said, "I always do the things that are pleasing to Him," which was to serve others. But He didn't do it for the reason the older son supposedly "obeyed" his father - for approval. Christ already had God's approval. He did it out of love.

Before Christ, Man really had only two ways to be: either self-righteous like the older son, or rebellious like the younger one. But Christ brought a third option: obedience out of love. That can only happen when our eyes are on Him and we walk by His Spirit. I didn't understand that before; I do now, but I still don't do it except in spurts. I still struggle with the other two brothers. (Talk about sibling rivalry!) But I am always striving to be like the third: I am always trying to see my true self in Christ and walk by His Spirit.

You see, walking by the Spirit is what is unique about that Third Son, and about us. With His Spirit, we no longer need to depend on our flesh, we no longer have to be like those two wretched brothers. Our Heavenly Father has already forgiven, accepted and approved us, just as the father in Christ's parable did his younger son. Our Heavenly Father has already clothed us in the righteousness of Christ, just as the father clothed his younger son and put a ring on his finger. Now He is throwing a party for us and our friends that is out of this world - literally. All we need to do to enjoy Him, our friends and even ourselves is to follow that Third Son's example of loving obedience. With our eyes on Him and walking by His Spirit, we can do that more and more each day.

Party heartily!


Waitsel Smith, June 24, 2008

Subscribe to our newsletter


[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page. Let me know what you think.]

Text © 2008 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.

close windowmake a comment back to Son