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Grace & Obedience PDF Print E-mail


Mat 21:28-32 “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.


“Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”


For many of us, our view of obedience has been shaped by our upbringing. The way we related to our parents, often shapes the way we relate to God, and things of God.


There are two camps when it comes to the subject of obedience. Those who stick by it no matter what, and those who look for ways to get out of it!


In our opening parable, both of these camps are represented. The first son, when asked to work in the father’s vineyard, flat out refused to go.


Which son did the will of the father?  The one who at first refused.


Verses 31,32. “Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.”


Who did Jesus compare this first son as --- the publicans and harlots, the ones who refused to give any interest in God. They openly refused religion.


And how, according to the parable, did they obey the father?  They believed.


Now, in our terms, the publicans and harlots were dis-obedient. Nothing in their lives could be construed as giving obedience to God. Yet this class are given the approval of God. How? They believed.


Which son did not do the will of the father?  The one who readily agreed to obey.


The second son is portrayed in the parable as who? (vs 23). And how were they portrayed as not obeying the father – they did not believe. “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not.”


Do you notice the obedience of the Bible, obedience in God’s eyes – is your belief when offered the way of righteousness. There is nothing mentioned in the parable of lifestyle or religious standards. Why? Such things are not our salvation, our righteousness, else God would have portrayed the son’s obedience accordingly. Obedience, according to Jesus’ words, is related to receiving the truth.


COL 97. “As the leaven, when mingled with the meal, works from within outward, so it is by the renewing of the heart that the grace of God works to transform the life. No mere external change is sufficient to bring us into harmony with God. There are many who try to reform by correcting this or that bad habit, and they hope in this way to become Christians, but they are beginning in the wrong place. Our first work is with the heart.”


Some years ago, my parents and I were invited to conduct some Bible studies in the United States. It was our first flight internationally, and everything involved in the process was fascinating. It was a long flight however, 30 hours in all, and by the time we have arrived in the small town airport near our destination, we were pretty tired. As we went down the steps of the aircraft and onto the tarmac, we wearily carried our hand luggage toward the glass doors of the terminal. As we went through the doors, a large group of people were waiting inside, to receive the arriving passengers. The lady who had arranged our flights and study tour was among the first in the crowd, and she rushed forward to greet us.


Now the lady was of a conservative persuasion, in that she wore long denim skirts, with long sleeves down to her wrists, and long hair. After she had greeted us, she turned to her right, and introduced a young lady. Now this young lady was wearing what you could describe as a 'prostitutes dress'; you know, the one that ends mid-thigh, bright red, sleeveless, tight-fitting. She wore red lipstick, coloured hair in steaks, and high heels. Our friend introduced the young lady, "and here is my daughter I would like you to meet."


We cordially greet our friend's daughter, and then we all proceeded down to the baggage claim area, and collected our bags. Then we were ushered to our friends mini-van, and were piled in.


Now our friend's daughter struck up conversation with us. As this was our first time in the USA, everything was different - different side of the road, different driver position, different road signs, different houses, different trees -- everything was different. Our friends daughter explained things to us as we drove along, acting as an impromptu tour guide. She did a good job, and it was an interesting drive.


Our friends daughter lived in a different town, and we dropped her off at her house, and then continued the rest of the way to our destination. We were very tired, and didnt take to long to settle into our sleeping quarters.


The next morning, part way through breakfast, our friends telephone rang. She answered it, and after a brief conversation, hung up the phone. Then turning to us at the table, she announced, "You've passed the test!"


Looking puzzled, we stared at her blankly. Laughing, she went on to explain.


Her daughter had heard that we were Christians, coming to teach the meaning of knowing God. She had deliberately dressed the way we had seen her at the airport, to see what sort of reception we would give her. If we were the sort of people that believed your acceptance was based on how well you followed the standards of good religion, we would have looked down at her, and even if not saying anything, would have acted in a way that showed we disapproved of her outfit.


But because God had been teaching us that we are all in need of grace, and that all are welcome at His feet, we greeted her cordially, and accepted her for who she was.


Our friends daughter had phoned to see if she could come over that afternoon and spend more time with us. She did come over, and we spent several hours chatting and comparing things between Australia and the USA.


But notice where God centers His work. It is not on the outward things of our life. He doesn't point out this failure or that shortcoming. How is the lump leavened? From within!


Lets draw this thought out further. Come to


Gal 4:4-7. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”


How many here work for an employer? Why do you go there, every day each week? What is your place there at work? What would happen if you came to work each day, and sat around, and watched the tennis, and chatted on your phone, and generally relaxed? Would you be welcome. Could you keep coming back each day?


No? Why not? Because your acceptance with your employer is based on your work, on whether you carry out the boss’s wishes satisfactorily. This is the place of a servant, what is expected of them.


You and I have grown up with a ‘servant’ outlook. Our acceptance with God, we base on certain standards, and our incorporation of those into our life. If we accept and follow these certain standards, we regard this as obedience. But if we slack, or deny them, or neglect any of them, then we fall away, we are seen as guilty, in trouble, frowned upon, and pitied for our weakness. It is generally perceived that how well we obey, decides our destination.


But what does the Scripture say…”God sent forth his Son…to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons….Wherefore you are no more a servant, but a son.”


Now if you are the son of the employer, you are in a different position to the boss than are the employees. The son has no need to work in order to be accepted. He is accepted because of his father. He belongs because of an act of love by the father.


That act of love by the father is the terms of our redemption. It is what the Bible calls grace; and the Bible says it is by that grace that you are saved. And the Scripture concludes, “and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” Through Christ, we receive everything that the father has. A servant does not have a part of this inheritance. He is not part of the family, but an outsider connected to the family by his actions and good works.


How does the Bible say we are made sons? By the act of God sending His Son. And what does Jesus teach? If we receive the adoption as it is given, then we are part of God's family, without the need for good works from our past or present life.


We come from a generation that believes you must be good in order to receive good. This is the outlook of a servant - you must do the work, before you receive the reward. But the problem is, we cant do good; we are not good. We cant obey in view of the law. Our intentions are sincere, we want what is right. But our life doesnt reflect what we believe or want it to contain.


But a servant is not part of the family. Nothing the family members enjoy, is available to the servant. That is why nothing but the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Our entrance into the family of God must be an act of love by the Father. A son is not a son in any other way. That is why the obedience of God is related to the gospel - will we believe. If we believe, then we obey. By Jesus, we are children, accepted by God, as an act of love by the Father.


One who believed this is the woman at Simon’s feast. Her life, in the estimation of those in the room, was one of disobedience; nothing in her lifestyle could be construed as obeying God. And yet listen to what Jesus says of her…


Luke 7: 44-48; 50. “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.  Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.  My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.  Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven…. And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.


She obeyed. She believed. She cherished her Saviour’s words. She loved him much, because she was forgiven much. Not because she tried to believe, in order to receive the gift, was she obedient…no, no. She accepted what she was given. An act of love by God Himself, saved her. She was forgiven. Her belief was her obedience.


You know, lets go to John 14:15...


John 14:15 “ If ye love me, keep my commandments.”


What comes first....the outward, or the heart?  The heart is won -- "you LOVE me...."


The word “keep” here is translated from “teros”, which in the Greek means “to watch, to guard from loss or injury, to cherish.”  And 'commandments' here, is translated from the Greek, “entole”, which literally means, “what I have told you.”


How beautiful! When I was courting my wife, she and I would SMS back and forth to each other several times a day. As the SMS storage on her phone got more and more filled, my wife would take the SMS's and write them down on pretty coloured paper. She still has them today, years later. She CHERISHES them...why? Because she loves me. She keeps my communications to her.


Jesus wants us to keep His commandments -- in other words, cherish what He has told you.


So why then all the talk and stress about getting and keeping your life in order according to God’s standards? Isn’t the importance of aligning your life with God’s requirements what we should be teaching, specially to the next church generation -- our young people? Isn’t this the obedience we should be encouraging?


This was the feeling among the people that were gathered around Jesus as he spoke the parable that we opened with today. They felt their salvation, their entrance into heaven, rested on maintaining a life in accordance with God’s law.


John 6:28,29 “Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?  Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.”


Those standing listening, believed they entered heaven according to their obedience -- by their correct decisions, their actions, their religious resolve. They were inspired by Jesus and his teaching, and desired to know what they had to do to have what Jesus had. In answer, Jesus disappointed their self-based righteousness, and revealed how they would have the things of God..."that you believe on Him who He has sent."


In just the previous breathe, Jesus had uttered the same thought: --


John 6:27. “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.”


It’s not by introducing more strict requirements and closer observances that our lives are made fragrant and beautiful. The yeast is mixed in with the dough, and works from within to affect the whole lump. Only by love is love awakened. Only through love are we brought close to God.


The people about Jesus that day were echoing the sentiment expressed by their forefathers, centuries earlier. After witnessing the proclamation of the ten commandments by God Himself from Mt Sinai, the people said,


Exod 19:8 “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do.  And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.”


In sincerity, when asked by the Lord to obey His covenant, the people confidently answered, “I go sir.” But did they go? What were they doing not 3 weeks later…..they declared a gold calf, a work of their hands, as their way to lead them into Canaan.


They pledged obedience in full sincerity. But obedience was not what kept them near to God. Their obedience was not the way of salvation.


What did Jesus commend over and over again during his ministry, as various ones interacted with Him…"Go in peace, your obedience has made your whole"…Is that what He said?


No, it was faith, belief, that pleased the heart of Jesus. Jesus is wanting a response from your heart, an appreciation of the grace given you as a gift. He isn’t looking for a sweaty, toil-worn hand extended to Him with, “Here Lord is the rightly aligned life you asked me to give.” If this is what you offer, Jesus can only say as He did so long ago in the parable… “depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you. You never let Me.”


For so long, our obedience has been no more than self-righteousness—your attempts at being right. This is not the obedience of God, nor is it the way of righteousness. God is looking for responses to His grace, candidates for His goodness to transform as He wants them. Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous. There is no back-slapping and 'you did such a good job' in heaven. Those who are forgiven much, love much. Their faith is their obedience. They follow the Lamb wither soever He goes. They are the meek, the poor in spirit; and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.