Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Best Intentions ...Are As Filthy Rags

 28 "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.' 29 And he answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, 'I go, sir,' but did not go. 31 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 prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him." -Matthew 21:28-32

Well ....what'dya think?? You can relate with this story ....especially if you're a parent. At the end of the day "simple obedience" out-does all good intentions. We want our children to learn that, and we expect them to live by such logic. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

 I love parables .....and coming from the Master Story-teller no less. There are soooo many lessons we can learn, as ministers of the gospel, from Him whom we minister "for"! Let me be careful not to fail to state the obvious. This is the Lord, Himself; Creator of all things, God in the flesh, manifest in flesh. Why wouldn't His stories be perfect? These are not ambiguous, arbitrarily designed visages of one's imagination. They are specifically targeted, Master-crafted, visions of the One who invented imagination.

What lessons can we learn from the Master Story-teller?

Lesson #1:
Beyond even the story at hand ...Jesus' use of parables (earthly story with a heavenly meaning) spoke to people in relative terms, involving the culture around them, and "meeting them where they are". Don't mistake this, in relation to modern evangelicalism, for "bending" to man's means. This is the essence of becoming all things to all men that, by all means, some might be saved! (1 Cor. 9:22) If you can't find logic, or reason, in developing a missional mind-set, going into the highways and byways to reach the lost ....then consider Jesus' methods of "reaching the world with the gospel".

Lesson #2:
In any of Jesus' parables the imperative nature is usually obvious. "Son, go and work...." is not wishy-washy, nor without demand. Don't miss the focus here. Relate what Jesus is trying to get across ...within the details of the story. If we are to "be saved" then it isn't going to be by our own means or methods ...and certainly not by our good intentions. It will be according to "His" means.And don't confuse a parable stating "go and work" with any form of working your way to salvation. It cannot be done. He was speaking to men who understood "work", in terms of lifestyle as well as Mosaic law. They understood "literal obedience" to the law. Jesus simply wanted them to understand simple obedience Him!

Lesson #3:
"Repentance" is seen in verse 29. Regardless of this son's original intentions, or his sinful, disobedient nature ....he, ultimately, changed his mind. This is what true repentance is!! It is not lip-service or only good intentions. Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), says the Scriptures, and there are none righteous ....not even one (Romans 3:10). Our hearts are deceitful and wicked ...who can know it?? (Jeremiah 17:9) If our good intentions will determine our salvation ...we are damned already. Nor will our actions, alone, propel us toward the Father. It is "grace alone" that even opens the door to salvation. The only positive "action" we can perform is that of choosing, by faith, to trust and obey Christ ...resulting in a changed mind / intentions (Romans 12:2) ....repentance.

Lesson #4:
Let's assume, just for a moment, that our intentions are pure. Maybe not even what we would deem pure, but basically "good". Good by who's standard.... ours, yours, mine? What is our heart-felt, inner-most intention ....with most anything?? I'd dare submit it is anything but self-less and pure, or even basically good. Good for us maybe, and just maybe even our selfish intentions can provide some worldly good as a by-product ...but are they "good" according to a standard of sinlessness? Mine aren't. This 2nd son mentioned gave immediate, obedient, "lip-service", but his actions proved to be otherwise. By the way.... (not that this is a side-bar) this only indicates that his original intentions were probably just as disobedient. There was no intention of going to work. Just lip-service. The picture Jesus paints here is that of one who either is a liar from the word "go" ....or a foolish son who doesn't even stop to consider the "cost" of his response. Either way ...disobedience was the result. Yet "grace" would be available to him as well ...if he "chooses" to change his mind (repent).

Can it be said that prostitutes and tax collectors are more righteous than the upstanding citizens of the world (no offense to either profession)? Well, at least speaking of the hypothetical prostitutes and tax collectors Jesus spoke of ...I'd say the answer is YES!!! Not because of anything they had done, or what they "do". For all have sinned and have fallen short of God's glorious standard (Romans 3:23). But the decision to "repent", to change one's mind about Christ, invites righteousness, by God's graceful standard, to be bestowed upon them.

I'd rather be made righteous, than to be righteous, any day.