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37.2 The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

The Parable of the Two Sons

Matthew 21:28-32

Message by Pastor Eric Chang

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We are going to consider the words of the Lord Jesus in Mt. 21:28-32. As we study, this Parable of the Two Sons, as it is called, I want to ask you this question (whether you are a Christian or not a Christian): Have you truly responded to God’s call? My question is not whether you think you have responded to God’s call, as I am sure many of you think you do. But as we go along, I would like you to ask yourself this question and let the Spirit of God search your heart, as to whether you have truly responded to His voice. Mt. 21:28-32 reads:

“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he (i.e., the father) went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.” (The ‘you’ here are the Pharisees, the chief priests and the religious leaders, as you see from v45.) “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots (i.e., the prostitutes) believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.”

Now this passage is very similar in many ways to the Parable of the Lost Son, the Prodigal Son, in Lk. 15:11-32. There, we see two sons: one who left the father and the other who stayed with the father, thinking that he was doing the father’s will but, in fact not. Here you can see the close parallel between those two sons and these two sons.

Christians Are Committed to Love the Truth

What is the message that the Lord Jesus has here for us? I have been expounding on the Lord’s teaching concerning the importance of commitment to the truth. Indeed, it is essential that we are committed as Christians to love the truth. You are not a true Christian if you simply love a religion or if you simply love a certain way, even a Christian way, of thinking. You only become truly a Christian when you are committed to love the truth.

Many of you might have thought, “If you want us to love the truth, you have to tell us what the truth is or give us a definition of the truth, so that we may love it.” But if you are thinking what you need is to get a definition of the truth so that you can believe it, then you have really not understood what truth is in Biblical terms.

Truth in Scripture is not a thing that you know by way of a definition. Truth in Scripture is something that God reveals to you. Unless God reveals it to you, no definition of the truth will help you to know it. But God refuses to reveal the truth to those who do not have a commitment to love it. That is why it is really not a question of defining the truth in Scripture; it is a question of experiencing it. That is, when God has revealed His truth to you, you will not only perceive it, but you will experience it.

What Is the Truth?

However, if you would like a definition of the truth, try the Oxford Dictionary and see whether that will get you anywhere. I doubt that you will be much enlightened by such a definition. Here is the Oxford Dictionary definition of the truth, under the word ‘truth’ it says: “quality; state of being true, or accurate, or honest, or sincere, or loyal; or accurately shaped or adjusted.” Very enlightening! Isn’t it?

In fact, there is no other way to define truth. We need not ridicule the Oxford Dictionary. Truth is not something that you can define in this sort of way: “quality, state of being true, or accurate, or honest, or sincere, or loyal.” Actually, this definition is not too bad. It shows you that truth is something that you are – “the state of being honest, sincere and loyal” – rather than something that you know. And how do you become like this state of being? It is through your being conformed to the character of God. Truth is something that you know because God has revealed it to you; as a result of this spiritual revelation, you become – through experiencing the truth – the kind of person that can be described as true.

The point is: truth is something that is relative to something outside of itself. A thing is true when that thing conforms to a certain reality. For example, if you are looking at a photograph or a drawing, you would say that this is a true drawing or not a true drawing depending on whether the picture is accurate to the facts. You have seen, for example, in many shopping centers, an artist sitting there, drawing a portrait of somebody. So, you stand behind the artist, you look at his drawing, you look at the subject, and you see just how true to life, how accurate, how correct is this picture in relation to the subject sitting there. So, when you say that this picture is a true portrait, by this you mean that it conforms to the reality of the subject.

So, when you say something is true, you are speaking with a frame of reference outside the thing itself. This is very important to grasp. What is the frame of reference outside? Since truth is something that has a frame of reference outside of itself, what would be the standard of truth when you speak of the truth? All spiritual reality must conform to the reality of God. A thing is true or not true, depending on that reference to God. He is the truth.

Truth Will Be Known According to Our Response to God

In order to be true, how do we become true? How do we know the truth? In this passage that we are studying, it has to do with our response to God’s call. You will or will not know the truth, according to your response to God’s call. Now, have you responded to God’s call?

Let us look at this passage. We see a man who has two sons. The word ‘sons’ is actually ‘children’ but quite correctly, it can be translated as ‘sons.’ It is not the usual word for ‘son’ in the Greek, but it is the word ‘te,knon - teknon’ which means ‘child.’ But since they are sent to work in the vineyard, one can well assume that they are sons. “…and he went to the first and said, ‘Son,’ – again the word is ‘te,knon - teknon’ ‘child’ – ‘go and work in the vineyard today.

The first thing I would like you to notice is the word ‘today.’ The response to the call is not something in the future. God addresses us today, if He addresses us at all. God is, right this very day, speaking to us. Now notice the response of the first son: “I will not” or “I don’t want to go.” This is the response of the first son and it is rude. It is blunt. This kind of reply seems to invite some spanking from the father, but we do not see that here; “…but afterward he repented.

The Word ‘Repent’ in Greek

There are two words for ‘repent’ in Greek. One is the word that I often refer to as ‘the change of mind’ [μετάνοια - metanoia]. But here is the other word [μεταμέλομαι - metamelomai] which indicates a strong reaction of displeasure to one’s own conduct. It indicates a strong regret. The first son, when he stopped to think about it, he felt he had been very rude to his father and he felt very bad about this. So, the word here expresses a strong displeasure; a certain disgust with oneself. This son felt disgusted with himself that he shouldn’t have talked or behaved like this to his father.

This word [μεταμέλομαι - metamelomai] has one difference from the other word [μετάνοιαν - metanoia] for ‘repent.’ That is, this strong feeling of remorse or regret or disgust with oneself does not necessarily lead to the right action. This word stresses the feeling itself, rather than any action that necessarily follows as a second step. There is no action that necessarily follows. For example, this is the same word used of Judas when he had the sense of bitter regret and disgust with himself that he had betrayed the Lord Jesus. He felt disgusted with himself. He felt so bitter with himself that he went and committed suicide. This word [μεταμέλομαι - metamelomai] is used in this way in Mt. 27:3. So, the strong feeling may or may not lead to the right action. Now in this case, in Matthew Chapter 21, it does lead to the right action. But in Matthew Chapter 27 in the case of Judas, it does not lead to the right action.

The First Step of Responding to God’s Call – a Sense of Unworthiness

There needs to be a certain strong feeling about oneself, when one comes to recognize one’s failure, one’s unworthiness. That is the first step in responding to one’s call. In Isaiah Chapter 6, for example, when God dealt with Isaiah at his call, he had a sense of utter unworthiness, a shame with himself. “Woe is me!” Isaiah said, “For… I am a man of unclean lips.” He had this problem of speaking in haste, of being a man of unclean lips.

Now this is exactly the problem, that when God addresses us, this is the kind of response that comes to us, we immediately feel, “I am so unworthy of God. I am unworthy to be His child. I am unworthy to be His servant. I have got so many faults, so many failings.” You could not have been very much of a Christian if this sense of unworthiness has not challenged you.

It Is Not What We Say but What We Do That Matters

Notice the second son, he responds quite differently from the first. In v30 when the father speaks to him about going to the vineyard, he said, “Yes, sir! I go, sir.” It can well be translated [like this]. It is quite surprising that a son addresses his father as ‘sir.’ He is so respectful, so polite, so cultured, and so apparently obedient. “Yes, sir! I go.” But he did not go.

So, the Lord Jesus says, “Which of these two sons did the father’s will?” Which do you think – the one whose “no” became a “yes” or the one whose “yes” became a “no”? The question is not what we say; it is what we do that matters. Here, it is precisely the problem of the matter. He said “yes” but he did nothing. Of course, even the Pharisees had to say, “Of course, the one who did the will of the father, not the one who said ‘yes.’ But the one who did the will of the father, that is the one.”

Then the Lord Jesus closes the passage in v32 in this conversation, and says, “For John came to you in the way of righteousness.” “The way of righteousness”! The Christian life (indeed the Gospel itself) is called “the way of righteousness” in 2 Pet. 2:21. Why do we have this sense of unworthiness, this sense of failing? It is precisely because we realize that we have not matched up to this “way of righteousness” that is required of us.

God’s Word Constitutes the ‘Call’

Let us get to the main points of this teaching here. The first point is: What is a ‘call’? I have mentioned earlier about a ‘call’ and you may say, “Well, I don’t see anything about a ‘call’ here.” Now, when the father approaches the son and speaks to him, that is precisely the ‘call.’ The ‘call’ in Scripture is when God’s Word comes to you, that is a ‘call.’ As you listen to preaching, as you hear the Word of God being expounded, you are being called. Do you realize that? Even if you are a non-Christian, at the very moment God’s Word is addressing you, God is calling you.

Why do I say that God’s Word itself constitutes the ‘call’? It is because God’s Word always requires a response. God’s Word is not a lecture on theology. God’s Word is not a lecture on any subject, like philosophy or literature, to which you do not have to respond. You can just listen to it and no response is required because it is simply knowledge that you put into your head. So, if you are studying mathematics, or studying physics or chemistry, whatever, there is nothing to respond to. It is simply knowledge for you to acquire and hopefully to do something with it in the future. But God’s Word is not like that. It always requires a response. And in not making a response, you have already made a response, for the non-response is itself a “no.” So, God’s Word constantly confronts us with the need to make a response. That is why God’s Word is always a ‘call.’ It speaks to us.

When you look into the Scripture, in the OT, for example in Isaiah Chapter 6, the very coming of the Word of God is, for Isaiah, a ‘call.’ It demands a response. The same is true everywhere in the OT. If you look at Hosea (1:1), or Joel (1:1), or Micah (1:1) and Zephaniah (1:1) and so on and so forth, you will see every time the prophet says, “And the Word of God came to me,” i.e., the Word of God addressed me. And that, in responding to that Word, is what made them a prophet. They became prophets of God because the Word of God came to them and they responded to that Word. That is what constitutes a prophet. This is how, in the NT, you are constituted a Christian, that is, when God’s Word comes to you and you respond to it. Or, if you reject it, then you have said “no” to God and shut yourself out from the kingdom, unless afterwards, of course, like this son, you repent.

God’s Call is Always a Call to Serve

The second thing to notice is: God’s call is always a call to serve. The father comes to the son and says, “…go and work in the vineyard.” “Go and work!” So, God’s call to us to become Christians is never a call simply to be able to raise our hands to say, “I am a Christian.” That is not Christianity. Every Christian is commissioned to a task. There is no Christian that has no job to do. If you are an unemployed Christian, then you are in the wrong department; you are not in the church at all. The church – the church of the living God – is a place of service. Every Christian is called to action. “…go and work in the vineyard.” The vineyard is, of course, the symbol of the kingdom of God. We are called to serve God in His kingdom.

The Way We Respond to God’s Call Is Crucial

The third thing that we need to notice is that everything hangs upon the nature of our response. How you respond to God is absolutely crucial. You may respond at first in a very rude and antagonistic way, “I do not go. I don’t want to go.” But then you repent of it.

When I think of myself, when I first became a Christian, I had the same attitude. I had no time for Christianity. I felt myself completely hardened and rejecting the Gospel, not because I had any knowledge of the Gospel as such, but because of the Christians that I saw. When I looked at all these Christians, frankly they made me sick! Therefore I did not want to have anything to do with the Gospel. So, my initial reply was, “I will not. I don’t want to hear this stuff.” But as time went on, I began to feel a sense of disgust with myself, for my arrogance, my pride. I began to see that I needed to turn to God. Of course, after my experience of God in the prison camp in China, where God met with me, my whole life was then revolutionized and changed. I responded to His call in the prison camp. God’s Word addressed me, and at that time I said, “Yes, I will go.”

Not Just Hearing but Doing

The fourth thing to notice in this passage is doing God’s will. It is not just hearing that call, but doing it. It is not even just responding by saying “yes” or “no.” Doing it is not just saying “yes” or “no.” Doing it means actually getting into the substance of what it means to serve God. And this is what we need to look at in some detail.

Let us ask ourselves this particular question: What does it mean to say “yes” to God’s call? We know that the first son, that is, he who said “no,” represents the tax collectors and prostitutes, the moral and social scum of society. The second son represents the Pharisees and the religious leaders. They are the ones who said, “Yes, sir!” Yet, they do not do God’s will.

Who Are the Spiritually Most Promising?

The thing to notice here, something that we too often have failed to learn, is that the spiritually most promising people are the people that the world regards as the immoral and the social down-and-outs. Tax collectors and prostitutes were not the poorest people in society. In fact, many of the tax collectors were very wealthy and quite well-to-do. Prostitutes were not beggars; they were engaged in a very repulsive profession to the morally-minded people, but they were certainly not necessarily poor. But they were certainly morally poor, morally down-and-out.

I have discovered the truth of the words of the Lord Jesus, that the most promising people are not at all the religious people. It is not the churchgoers that are going to be the great foundation of the work of God in the future, much to our surprise. All these moral people have a strange way of resisting God’s will. Very strange! So much so that you will find as Wesley discovered when he was kicked out of his church by the Anglican establishment, he began to preach upon the streets. And there, the multitudes turned to the Lord. His work began to blossom in a way that it never happened before; setting forth a revival, in fact, the likes of which England has not seen since that day.

And so, I say to you as a Christian, not only should we never despise those outside the folds of Christianity, much more you should recognize – and we should all recognize – that there is the real potential for the future development of the church. Never come around and look at prostitutes as non-entities, as disgusting, revolting people. We do not know why they are in prostitution. Many of them are in it simply because they have to make a living and that is the only way of making a living that they know how. Let us not be so superior in our moral judgments of other people.

The Lord Jesus is spoken of as the “friend of sinners and tax collectors.” [Mt. 11:19 & Lk. 7:34] It is this kind of people that he particularly had compassion for. The tax collectors were hated by the Jews because they were regarded as traitors to their nation [because] they were collecting taxes for the Romans from their own people. We may find this very revolting. As I was brought up in the notion of nationalism, of loyalty to my country, and therefore, I do find this kind of people very revolting. But, we too easily judge people by our human standards and this would be wrong because we do not know why they are doing this. Are they greedier for money than anyone else? They have to make a living, too. We do not agree with their standard of morality, but we are not here to be judges. We are here to see that it is the sick who need a physician, not those who are well.

In the area of response, I have found more and more that when speaking to non-Christians, they are so much more definite and positive than Christians. Christians have all kinds of superiority notions, all kinds of built-in arrogance under the form of humility and courtesy, that they are so much better than everybody else when they are often much worse.

So, when God speaks to you, what is your response to His call? A polite: “Yes, sir!” Very polite! Very cultured indeed! Very admirable, externally! But do you do God’s will? Let us continue our analysis of this matter of why we say “yes” and do not do God’s will? I can think of four different possible reasons.

Willful Disobedience – Saying “Yes” but Not Intending to Do God’s Will

Did the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel think that they were not doing God’s will? I do not think so. We could analyze this to say that the Pharisees and the religious leaders were willfully disobedient. They said “Yes, sir!” tongue-in-cheek. They did not really mean to do God’s will, but they still said “yes.” They were willfully disobedient to God’s will. But I think this is the least likely of the reasons.

This is what scares me about responding to God’s call. If we could say that we are not like these religious leaders because we do not speak with tongue in cheek, we do not willfully disobey, then, we can put ourselves in a class superior to the Pharisees. But let me say this to you: the more I study the Scriptures and the more I know about the Pharisees, the more I find that we are just like them. They are not worse people than we are. I found that as I look and study the life of the Pharisees and their character, that in fact, in most cases, they are far superior to us.

We are being told that the Pharisees are just a bunch of hypocrites, play-actors; that is not true to life at all! All you need to do is study some scholarly works on the life of the Pharisees and you will see that they are very admirable people, and indeed, very sincere people. They certainly did not lack sincerity. And that, for me, was a striking discovery! In the past, I would always be able to say to myself, “Well, I am not insincere and I am not hypocritical; therefore, I am not a Pharisee.” Wrong! The Pharisees were not in the least insincere. And therefore, if they are sincere, then something else must be the reason for their disobedience.

Self-Deception – Thinking That Saying “Yes” Is Already Doing His Will

So, this takes us to the second point of this analysis. We may say “yes” to God’s call, as I suppose most Christians have done. And by ‘call’ in Scripture, we are not talking about full-time service. In the NT, in the Word of God, the ‘call’ has nothing to do with full-time service. The ‘call,’ as I have already made plain, is that every Christian is called. All you need to do is study the use of the word ‘call’ in the NT and you will see that we are all, as Christians, called.

The word ‘call’ in a specific sense – called to a particular ministry – is virtually not to be found in the NT. That is a Christian invention. We have done quite a bit of work like the Pharisees; we have imposed our own meaning on words. And when I first studied the word ‘call’ in the NT, I was astonished that the usual use of the word ‘call,’ like being called to full-time service, is nowhere found in Scripture. I could not find it. I discovered that in Scripture, the call is always God’s Word addressing every Christian, every person who has responded to that Word. If you have responded to His Word, then you are called. That is it! Therefore, every Christian has been called. You cannot pass the buck to say, “Only those people in full-time training, they are called. We are not called.” That is a misuse of the term ‘call’ in Scripture.

So, the reason is this: we might suppose that in saying “yes” to God’s call or saying “yes” to God’s Word, we have already done it. This is a piece of self-deception that really scares me. For example, you may feel that you have already done what God requires of you, when, for example, at a meeting somebody says, “Will you respond to God’s Word?” and you say, “Yes!” You say, “See, I have responded.” You think that the response is equivalent to doing His will. Now this is very easy to understand, but very, very dangerous. Very dangerous indeed! That is, the Pharisees and scribes may think that they have done God’s will when they have said “yes” to God’s Word. This son may think that in saying “yes” he has already pleased his father and nothing really more needs to be done. Whether he actually goes to the vineyard or not does not matter all that much, seeing that he has already pleased the father by saying “yes.”

Strange as this may seem, I have found when I talked to various Christians that this is exactly what they think. They think that when they said “yes” at a meeting – whether it was to an altar call, or whether some preacher has asked, “How many of you will dedicate yourself to serving the Lord in the future?” and they raised their hands and said “yes” – they think that in doing that, they have already obeyed God. That is it. What else do they need? Now it is up to God to do something else with them. So their “yes” effectively becomes a “no.”

Procrastination – Serving God “One Day!”

There is a third reason why a person may say “yes” and not be willfully intending not do God’s will or to disobey God. I have known so many people, and I have often wondered to myself, are these people really willfully disobeying God? I shudder to think of how many meetings I have been at, where the preacher says, “How many of you will raise your hands to commit yourself to the Lord for full-time service?” Whoa! So many hands went up! But where were these people when it came to full-time service? They were nowhere to be seen. What were they doing at these meetings? What went through their mind? Did they willfully deceive themselves and the preacher? Why did they raise their hands if they did not intend genuinely to enter God’s service?

Well, I guess, they raised their hands with the intention of serving the Lord in a full-time sense somewhere in the future – not today, not tomorrow, not the day after, but some day – they will serve the Lord. They think that in saying “yes” in this way, they have already fulfilled what is required. They feel good about it; they feel that they have pleased God, they have pleased the preacher and they have pleased themselves. But were they being dishonest? No, no! They do mean that one day – whenever that day will be – they will be serving the Lord. But that fatal “one day” is constantly pushed ever further into the future. Maybe that “one day” will come when they retire; then they will have a lot of time on their hands. Then they can serve the Lord full-time, after they are 65, assuming they live till then. If they did not live till then, presumably it was not God’s will for them to serve the Lord full-time. Now I cannot understand this thinking unless this is their reasoning. I have many times questioned people about this and they would say, “Oh, yes! One day! One day!” But when that “one day” is, one does not know. It is forever being pushed still further away.

The Deception of Serving God but in “My Way!”

There is a fourth possibility why a person may say “yes” and it still turns out to be a “no.” And it is this: “Yes, I will do it but I will do it in my way.” Frank Sinatra sang [the song] “My Way” – “I did it my way!” That’s it! The whole key is doing things your way. So, it is saying “yes” to God with the understanding of serving God in “my way.”

For example, I was speaking to one person, just lately. I said, “Did you not make a commitment to full-time service?” He said, “Yes.” So I said, “Well, then, are you not in breach of that commitment?” [He said,] “Oh, well, but all my spare time I am serving the Lord!” Now I cannot understand this reasoning. Is this deliberate self-deception? Does he not know that this serving the Lord in one’s spare time is not a definition of full-time service? Then why did he make a commitment in the first place? Why is the “yes” becoming a “no” or has become a “no”? And yet, people like these do not seem to have their conscience bothering them, and this really bothers me. I do not understand this. I am very troubled by this, that Christians can practice this type of deception upon themselves. Do they think they have really deceived God? Why not simply say “No, I will not!” – that is an honest answer – and not say “yes” and it turns out to be “no”? So, this brother is doing it his way, thinking that by doing a lot of Christian activity, he is more or less serving the Lord full-time.

Are You Doing God’s Will? Is Your Life Glorifying God?

How can we do these things? This is what frightens me. Have you really responded to God’s call to be a Christian? To serve him? Are you living the Christian life as God requires you to live it? If not, in what way is your “yes” a “yes”? In what way is your response to God the kind of response that He should be receiving from you?

Let us take it down to everyday life. For example, do you lose your temper quite often? If so, how is your “yes” a “yes” to God’s call, because did God not call us through the Lord Jesus to take up the cross and follow him? Did the Lord Jesus not call us to be meek and lowly of heart? Did he not call us to glorify God in this world, to shine as light? Now do you glorify God? If not, how is your “yes” a “yes”? Is not your “yes” a “no”? Does your life truly glorify God that in your office, in your school, in your home, your life is so glorifying to God; you are shining as light in the world. But if not, what happened to your “yes” to God’s call?

I do not mean that you have to be perfect, but does it grieve you when you do these things that are ungodly, when you let your passions run away with you, does it grieve you or does it not? If you have failed, do you have this painful sense of self-disgust which causes you to change your direction, that you do not do this again? We are so quick at seeing the faults of the Pharisees. We see the great big splinter in their eye, when all the time this great beam is sticking out of our own eye. Many times I heard it said, and it cut me to the heart, that Christians are not even ordinary, let alone extraordinary. We fail again and again; and yet, we think that we have said “yes” to God. The question is not whether you have said “yes,” the question is whether you are doing God’s will.

Our emphasis has to be right. I must ask myself constantly, “Is my life glorifying to God – at home, or in the church, or out in the streets, wherever I go – is it glorifying to God? If not, then my “yes” is also a “no” because I am not doing God’s will. And we know what God’s will is! Let us not say we do not know what God’s will is [and say], “I don’t know what I am supposed to do.” Well, start by glorifying Him; that is what you can do. Start by living such a life that your friends say, “Huh! Now I have seen with my own eyes what a true Christian is. I only need to look at this brother; now I know. Nobody has to give me a definition of Christianity. I look at this man and I say, ‘That is Christianity. That’s what being a Christian is about.’”

When I talk to various people, I often hear people say, “I did not want to become a Christian because the Christians behaved in such a way that they disgust me.” Now, if anyone can say, “My knowing you has put me off from knowing Christianity for good,” then even if you did say “yes” to God at some time, your “yes” is a “no.” It is a disgrace to the Gospel. It is a disgrace to God, no matter how politely, how nicely you said, “Yes, sir!” to God.

Do We Call Jesus “Lord” but Do Not Do What He Says?

What is more, the word ‘sir’ translated here in v30 is the same word as ‘Lord.’ It reminds us of the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke Chapter 6, for example, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things that I say?” [Lk. 6:46] “Why do you call me, ‘Lord,’ and then you lose your temper with your wife (or your husband)? Why do you call me, ‘Lord,’ and you get irritable with people? You do not do the things I tell you to do? I said that you are to be light; you are to be meek; you are to be salt of the earth. The whole Sermon on the Mount tells you how you are to behave, and you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and you do not do anything that I tell you to do. Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and you do not love your neighbor? Why do you call me, ‘Lord,’ and you do not help those in need? Why do you call me, ‘Lord,’ and you have no compassion upon the weak?”

Are we better than the Pharisees? I think not! I do not think we are any better than the Pharisees. I think we might be worse than they. We too readily congratulate ourselves when our lives are marked by constant failure in every department. Do you manage as young people, for example, to keep your sexual desires under control? Oh, that is an area where young people fail again and again and again. It is so hard, so difficult to keep one’s sexual drive under control. And then do you do things that dishonor the Lord Jesus? “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

In these days of opportunity, as it is called, the opportunity for sin is on all sides, waiting for us. When I think back, I think with fear of how many times I came near to making a disaster of my life. Today, as young people, it is so easy to have your own rooms; it is so easy to be alone with somebody. I shudder to think how nearly I myself came, in my student days, to falling into sin. Just so near! But for the mercy of God, I would have wiped out my witness altogether.

Therefore, I do not say this by way of condemning any of you. If you are struggling and feel weak in the struggle, let me tell you, I am just as weak as you are. I am no superman. Maybe you are a lot stronger than I am. But beware! One little mistake, one little slip, and you have the rest of your life to be sorry for it! And then you will find yourself a lot worse off than the Pharisees. If you think that they were hypocrites, just wait till you see what kind of hypocrite you have become, trying to put up the front of being a Christian and living in sin. Alas! Your “yes” is really a “no.”

Saying “Yes” but Finding God’s Will Unattainable

The fifth reason why a person’s “yes” is a “no,” it is when the person says “yes” with the intention of doing it, but then he says, “I couldn’t do it!” “ I really meant ‘yes,’ but in the last crunch, when it came to the bottom line of the matter, I couldn’t do it. I did not mean to be insincere but your teaching is too difficult for me. It is too high for me. My temper is bad! I can’t help it that my temper is bad. I have tried to control it. I really meant to say “yes,” but I couldn’t do it.” And we hope that God will have pity upon us.

Will God have pity? Well, yes and no, depending on how we respond. It is because if we say that the Christian life is unattainable, then we mean that the Lord Jesus has asked us to do the impossible. God has given us through the Lord Jesus a teaching which is impractical, pie-in-the-sky and cannot be implemented. Now that is to say, if we failed, it is because God made no provision for us. He gave us unrealistic teaching that we could not fulfill. It was simply impossible to do it. [It is as if the person is saying,] “So, I did say “yes,” and I meant “yes,” but I could not do it. I am sorry I could not do it. But still I am saying “yes,” even though I am in fact failing all the time. And I hope that God will have pity upon me.”

Now, let me tell you, this will not be good enough because God has given us the power to do it, unless you are passing the buck back to God saying, “Lord, you gave me this teaching that is impossible to fulfill, so it is really your fault, not mine. My intention to do it was there all the time. You know my heart; I intended to do it. But I can’t do it! And because I can’t do it, so, it is your fault asking me to do the impossible.” No, unfortunately, we will not get away with that!

God Gives Us His Spirit to Empower Us to Do His Will

That is why the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost; that is why God gave us His Spirit to empower us because He knew we could not do it. That is why I say, truth is to be experienced, brothers and sisters. Experience it to see whether God’s Word is true, whether it can be fulfilled; otherwise you are saying God’s Word is not true and it can’t be done.

In previous messages, I talked about the moving of mountains. God gave us the power to do it. He gave us the power that we do not have to lose temper or to be nervous and jittery. I am sorry for those who are nervous and jittery. I am sorry for those who lose their tempers; but do not put the blame on God or on the church or on anybody else.

God provided us with the power so that one can say, “I do not go down, even though I may have broken down before, I can rise again, because God’s power can lift me up again. My youth can be renewed again as the eagle, if only I will so repent.” It is not a perpetual repentance – losing one’s temper and repenting, losing one’s temper and repenting – a perpetual cycle of never-ending repentance, but a repentance which drives me so to take hold of God that I do not go down again. I will not fall again, not on that particular point at least. Repentance cannot be true repentance if we keep saying sorry and keep doing the same thing. That is not true repentance. True repentance is one that experiences God’s power, God’s reality and God’s truth in our lives.

I wonder which of these categories you come into. I asked right at the beginning that you question yourself, whether you have responded to God’s call. If you have, ask yourself very honestly, whether your “yes” has truly been a “yes” or whether it has turned out to be a “no.”

Our Entering the Kingdom of God Hangs upon This

Let us come to the last point. It is important because whether or not you enter the kingdom of God or whether you enter into God’s eternal life, hangs upon it. In v31, because the Pharisees’ “yes” turns out to be a “no,” they shall not enter the kingdom of God. Whereas for these sinners and harlots (i.e., the prostitutes), because their “no” became, through repentance, a “yes,” so they enter into the kingdom of God. Notice this: “…the tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom… before you.” This does not mean the Pharisees will follow later. It means simply that the sinners and harlots have gone in ahead of the Pharisees. The Pharisees have themselves shut out of the kingdom.

We see this even more specifically stated in v43, “…I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” “The kingdom of God… taken away….” Think of it: if your “yes” becomes a “no,” then God’s “yes” will also be a “no.” The kingdom of God was already theirs! That is, how can you take away something that they never had before? But the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to others. It is absolutely essential that we get this thing straight. How we respond to God’s call – whether or not we do God’s will – is the crucial issue about whether or not we will enter the kingdom of God.

So, brothers and sisters, truly examine yourself before God as your eternal welfare depends on it. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that you have said “yes,” when for one of those five reasons you have actually said “no.” This is the most important decision that you have to make. And if you have said “yes,” then you must understand the “yes” in terms of going out everyday and doing His will, living the kind of life that glorifies God, and depending on God’s strength to do it. Then, you will experience God’s truth.

End of message

This is an edited transcription of the message. The editors accept full responsibility for arrangement and addition of Bible references.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise specified


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