Matthew 21:23-32 (ESV)
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. 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.
In verses 28-32, Jesus teaches a parable about two sons. He asked his audience to think about this one. A man asked his sons to work in his vineyard. The first son said, “No,” but later changed his mind and complied. The second son said, “Sure,” but he didn’t go. Jesus asked the audience, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” The crowd said the first son did the will of the father. Then Jesus made the parable more practical for his hearers. The religiously self-righteous listening to Jesus heard the preaching of John the Baptist. They went out to John and even agreed with what he said. But they didn’t do anything about it. The sinners, tax-collectors, and prostitutes, who were considered the rejects of society, heard the preaching of John and responded with repentance and faith. Jesus said the “wicked” were the ones who did God’s will. The audience must have been shocked to hear Jesus say that sinners were more obedient to God than the “righteous.” Jesus used this parable to teach the listeners that it is not enough for a person to say what she will do, her intentions must lead to action.
We can say all day long, “I am going to get a college degree,” or “I am going to get a driver’s license.” But unless we put the effort in and move on it, we don’t have a college degree or a driver’s license. In the same way, it’s easy for us to say what we are going to do spiritually: “I am going to read the Scripture every day,” “I am going to pray continually,” or “I am going to have a better attitude when I serve at church,” and so on. But until we actually do these things, saying what we are going to do benefits no one. What have you been saying you are going to do? How long have you been saying it? We can actually deceive ourselves into feeling like we have done something simply because we said we’re going to do it. Choose to put an end to simply declaring what you are going to do, and instead put what you are going to do into action today. Until you have actually done it, despite what you say you are going to do, you haven’t actually done anything at all.