When confronted with an issue, we often see two people responding differently. Whether they end up doing well or not depends on what they will eventually do. This was the scenario presented by the Lord Jesus Christ when he gave the Parable of the Two Sons. In this parable, two sons were instructed by their father to work in the vineyard. The first said that he will not go but changed his mind and went, while the other son said he will, but did not go. The question Jesus asked was, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” (Matt. 21:31) The people who heard this answered, “The first,” and they were right. As far as the Lord is concerned, it is not what we say that matters but what we do. We are often tempted to make promises that we do not intend to keep, just like the second son.
In giving this parable, Jesus was not merely referring to simple obedience to our parent’s instruction. Rather, he was pointing to our obedience to God’s commands. He said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matt. 21:31-32) The Pharisees and other religious people were the first to say “yes” to God, but were not responding to His command as required. Rather, their knowledge of the Law had hardened their hearts so that they ended up only scratching at the surface of it and not getting the true meat of God’s Law. It is for this reason that Jesus rebuked them saying, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39).
When one does not fully submit to God’s command, he will end up just like the young rich ruler that came to Jesus one day asking what he must do to get eternal life. This man was so confident of his righteousness that when Jesus told him to obey the commandments, he quickly responded, “All these I have kept, what do I still lack?” To test the sincerity of his heart, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matt. 19:20-21). We are told that upon hearing this, he went away sad because he had great wealth. There will be many that will turn away from the Lord in the end because they are unwilling to fully obey his commands. They will prefer to hold on to their earthly possessions, caring less about the eternal life that God promised. Their reading of the Scriptures and their superficial obedience will only be a form of godliness without power, for them to feel good about themselves. Therefore Jesus concluded, “ But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (Matt. 19:30).
In another parable, Jesus said that there were two men who went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. When the Pharisee prayed, he looked around and put down everybody else but lifted himself up. On the other hand, the tax collector could not even lift his head towards heaven but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13). Again, this parable is directed to those who are too confident of their righteousness. In their own eyes, they have everything that is required to enter heaven, and are proud about it. However, Jesus said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
In one of his sermons, Jesus said that unless we surpass the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. These two groups of people were almost perfect because of their knowledge of the Law. However, they were lacking in obedience. In the same manner, our knowledge of the Word will not guarantee us into heaven. Rather, it is what we do with the Word that will count before God. We need to repent if we have been living just like the people that were denounced by the Lord above. Let us respond to the admonition of John the Baptist. He said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Let us excel in obedience that we may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. Hallelujah!