28“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. (Matthew 21:23-30; Mark 11:27-33; 12:1-2; Luke 20:1-9)
There were many ways Jesus showed the religious leaders that they were not really right with God. In this parable He revealed who truly did the will of God. It was not the son who talked about it; it was the son who may have begun in rebellion but then repented and did his Father’s will.
These leaders had a form of godliness like this second son, but they were not doing the will of God. The publicans and harlots had no form of godliness, but when confronted with the preaching of John, many of them repented and began to do the will of God like the first son in the story.
These religious Jews, who sat in the seat of Moses, disqualified themselves from being God’s representatives here on earth because of their hypocrisy and hard hearts. Even the publicans and harlots who repented were ahead of them. There is no sin more frequent among religious people than that of self-righteousness: they honor the Lord with the mouth when their hearts are far from Him. (Matt. 15:8)
Terrible sinners were repenting and entering the kingdom of God ahead of the very religious Jews because they knew they were sinners and put their faith in Jesus. One of the deadliest things about religious self-righteousness is the deception that we will be saved because of our good deeds. We cannot save ourselves regardless of how good we act.
Remember how you were saved and who saved you. If you stay humble, knowing you are right with God because of Jesus, instead of being continually under pressure to prove yourself right with God, your heart will be filled with joy and praise for the One who has already made you right with God.