I have had this parable in front of me for several days now. It is the story of two sons in Matthew 21:28-32:
28“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29” ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
It seems like there are always discussions among Christian brothers and sisters about “doing the Lord’s work.” Some seem to suggest that the only way you can know you are saved is by doing work and others suggest that if you are working for the Lord all of the time it is a sign that you are trying to “earn your salvation.” It seems to be that there must be some sort of middle ground in there. The extreme of either end of the work scale is going to amount to the worst fears of the other end. With people who insist that all work is vain becoming obsessed with sipping Pina Coladas and feeling comfortable in their “justification apart from works” and others working themselves to death scared that it will never be enough, what is the right answer?
The funny thing is that neither is exactly right. Yes, it is true that you cannot “earn your salvation” or anything else from God. There is a reason the song says, “Jesus paid it all,” and that reason is that He really did. When He said, “it is finished,” He meant it. You can’t “do” anything to earn God’s favor. If you try to “do” things to earn God’s favor, you might as well stop now. There is a reason why God said, “enter My rest”(Hebrews 4); because it is available to enter.
But there are some warnings to all of those who wish to “kick back” and prove that they belong to God through inactivity as well. It ain’t possible. Not only is there this passage in Matthew warning those who say, “you betcha Lord” only to kick off and do their own thing. There are plenty of others where it comes from. The Christian life itself is “work.” Sorry if I am dropping a bomb, but life ain’t easy and the Christian life is abundant life. (which means it is abundantly “uneasy” if you get my drift) Ministry is hard work and just life as a believer and follower of Jesus is hard enough. So if you think you are superspiritual somehow by not doing any “religious work”; you need to think again. Paul is the biggest proponent of spelling out the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works, but he still understands that work isn’t done away with afterward.
12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14)
This may sound like some kind of weird doublespeak, but it is no such thing. It is very simple. If you are “working to be saved,” you don’t get it and can’t earn it. If you are “saved from doing work,” you misunderstand God completely. If you are “working because you are saved,” well now I think you have got it. If none of this makes any sense at all, then maybe you should comment why and help me straighten it out.