"There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “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.
She's not quite two years old yet but my daughter is already using the two words that parents everywhere detest. I've never actually seen any data on this but I feel confident that if a poll were taken parents would unanimously agree that the words "no" and "why" raise our blood pressure more than any others. My sweet little girl says "no" or "why" to nearly every instruction now, but that is only her first reaction. And as parents we are gently working with our little twenty-three month old rebel to help her understand our authority and our reasons for telling her to do certain things. Though it may take her some time to get there she is obeying remarkably often in the end. And as it turns out, that's what is really most important to her Heavenly Father.
In the story above, Jesus makes two points. Let's look at them each in turn.
- It isn't about what you say; it's what you do that matters.
- It's not about what you've done; it's what you've believed that determines how God sees you.
It's not about what you say. It isn't our words but our actions that ultimately matter to God. The Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking were experts in the Jewish traditions, in politics, in the law, and in one more thing: hypocrisy. Jesus said many times that God is not impressed with smooth speech or big shows. He wants ordinary, everyday obedience. This is the fruit produced by a changed heart. Is your Christian faith displayed in action?
It's not about what you've done. God doesn't care where your relationship with Him begins. He cares where it ends. It isn't your first state that matters but your last that is important to Him. Consider the Apostle Peter. He had many foibles, faults, and missteps. But upon His bold declaration of faith in Jesus as the Christ, Jesus began to prepare Him for a leadership role among the twelve. (Matthew 16:13-20) After denying Christ at His trial, Peter would repent and be restored. He would later become the first person to take the gospel to non-Jews. (Acts 10:1-11:18) History tells us that he died a martyr's death after a long and fruitful life of ministry. So don't worry about where you started or what you've done in the past. Don't even focus too long on where you are now. Look ahead to where you want to be in your faith when Jesus returns and begin moving forward in faith so you can be sure to end well.
Here are some ways you can start doing, believing and moving forward in your faith in 2015.
- Read your Bible. It's not too late to start a Bible reading plan to try to make it through the whole Bible this year. Invest in your own spiritual health in the New Year.
- Repent and believe. What sin is still hanging around your life holding you down in repeated patterns of shame? Believe that God has set you free from sin through Christ's death and resurrection. Repent of that sin and begin the arduous process of casting it out of your life for good.
- Commit to honesty and accountability. The church doesn't need any more believers who are too insecure to admit their struggles. Don't make yourself out to be holier than you are. Be honest with other believers so they can pray for and encourage you.
- Cast off shame. Refuse to be weighed down by the shame of actions that Jesus has already paid for. He didn't suffer for us and save us so we could wallow in self-loathing. Rejoice in the greatness of your undeserved salvation and get to work telling others your story.