“What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ ‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went. The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go. Which one of these two did his father’s will?” They said, “The first one.” Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you. For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.
If you ask five different Christians about the topic of salvation, you might get six different answers. For something that is so central to our belief system, worldview and faith, we tend to either overly complicate it or overly simplify it. That is part of the reason why I love this passage.
Jesus is questioned by the religious authorities on the following day after Palm Sunday and his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (complete with cleansing the Temple), and this is part of the answer he gives them. It is a straight forward parable whose interpretation is fairly easy to see.
One son says the right things and does not have the action to back up the words; the other son says the wrong things but has the action to support the right response. Interesting, isn’t it? It is easy for us to see how the first son is in the wrong by not following through on his verbal commitment. This would be like people who say they are Christian and know all the correct Christian-speak and the Church-jargon. They look very good based on what they can communicate, but they never follow through on their faith. They may have enough faith to change how they talk, but they do not have enough faith to change the way they live. Faith without works is dead, according to James, and this is part of where he got that idea.
Yet the second son can be problematic for many. Here is one who verbally rejected what was supposed to be correct. He did not respond to his father they way in which he should have done. He actually said “No” to the call. But he decides to act according to his father’s will and desire despite his answer and he is commended. This would be like people who say no to the Christian faith, but then live Christian lives despite their answer.
This is a wonderful word of warning to us. Not a single human being can ever know what the state of the heart is with another person. Some who are outside of the Church may be upright and moral because of societal expectations and pride, but others may live in that manner because they actually are endeavoring to live according to their Father in heaven’s will. We don’t know. And it is not for us to judge someone’s relationship with Jesus. Can a person have faith and be outside of the Church? As an institution, yes. But since the Church is the Body of Christ, no. It is a harder life of faith without a believing community around us, which is why Jesus created a Church, but it can be done.
Let’s make sure for ourselves that we have a good confession of faith and a good life of action that are both according to our Father’s will, and then we can be the kind of witnesses for Jesus that he desires.