I will tell you a story about a man who had two sons. Then you can tell me what you think. The father went to the older son and said, “Go work in the vineyard today!” His son told him that he would not do it, but later he changed his mind and went. The man then told his younger son to go work in the vineyard. The boy said he would, but he didn’t go. Which one of the sons obeyed his father?
“The older one,” the chief priests and leaders answered.
Then Jesus told them:
You can be sure that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you ever will! When John the Baptist showed you how to do right, you would not believe him. But these evil people did believe. And even when you saw what they did, you still would not change your minds and believe. (Matthew 21:28–32)
Words are cheap. Saying and doing are entirely different sorts of things. When we get married, we make promises to one another. It is easy for our mouths to say the words. It will be a lifetime’s effort, sometimes an enormous struggle, to live up to the promises we made.
Jesus told a story—a parable—about two sons. One who told his father “yes” and one who told his father “no.” What mattered in the end was not the words spoken, but the deeds done. It is always possible to go against what we have uttered, either good or ill. The disobedient son, the one who told his father no, later thought better of his answer and went ahead and did what he’d been asked. Faith is not just words; faith is action. In the end, we will do what we believe. Our faith—what we really believe about God and his word—has real world consequences that everyone can see.
Jesus point was that the “sinners” that the Pharisees believed were lost causes, had in fact repented of their deeds and turned to God. They had heard what John the Baptist had said and in droves came out to be baptized. But the religious establishment—those who thought of themselves as the “good son”—had refused to believe. Belief is not about what we say, it is about what it leads us to do. Belief is not just words on our lips, but the works of our hands.