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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, October 29, 2006
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

“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” (Matthew 21:29-30).

The parable of the two sons gives a striking example of true and false conversion. The two sons in the parable show perfectly the difference between true conversion and superficial “decisionism.”

This text explains the condition of the whole mass of unconverted people. It divided the unconverted into two classes, two very distinct classes. And so we plunge right into the sermon by showing the difference between the two kinds of unconverted people, and the two distinct ways they respond when they hear the gospel of Christ.

We will look at both of these sons and their responses. Remember that these two responses actually divide everyone who hears the gospel. The two sons represent the only two possible responses to the call of the gospel.

I. First, the person who says he will not,
but afterwards repents and obeys.

Remember that this is a parable, a story Jesus told to reveal a certain spiritual truth. The “father” in the parable refers to God the Father, rather than Christ, as Dr. Gill points out. The “vineyard” represents the kingdom of God, “the Gospel church” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume I, p. 247). “Men were called to embrace and enter into [it]” (ibid.). “To work in it signifies to hear the word preached, to believe in the Messiah…embrace his doctrines, and submit to his ordinances, particularly the ordinance of baptism, which was then the principal [main] ordinance…The time of working is to-day.”

“Son, go to work to day in my vineyard” (Matthew 21:28). The “vineyard” represents the place where God works in the world, in and through the local church. The first son gave a stubborn answer. He simply said, “I will not.” Some people like this say “I will not” because they are lazy. They know if they are converted they will have to work for the Lord, and they are too lazy to do so. Others have their hearts set on their own ambitions and want to do their work to benefit themselves, rather than Christ. They are not willing to concentrate their lives on working in God’s vineyard, the local church. They love the business of the world better than the business of the church. They are not willing to lay aside their personal plans and goals to work for Christ. They see that, if they were converted, they would have to put the kingdom of God first in their lives, and they don’t want to do that. So, when Jesus calls them to come, they simply say, “I will not.”

I wonder if that may be your case tonight? I wonder if you hold back from obeying Christ because you are caught up in material pursuits of your own, and don’t want to be pulled away from your worldly goals and pleasures to work in the church for Christ? If this is your case, no wonder, when the gospel is presented, you say, “I will not,” or at least that is what you think. You may think that, but be too polite to say it out loud. Putting your whole heart and life into Christ and His work may seem to be a hindrance to the plans you have for your own life, and so you say, either with words or thoughts, “I will not.” You may say “I will not” in your heart without speaking the words audibly. Or you may say it out loud. That’s what the first young man in the parable did. When he heard his father’s call, he said, “I will not.”

God calls people through His Word. Through the words of the Scripture, and through the preaching of the Word, God calls sinful man to Christ. But man in his natural state says, “I will not.” This statement, “I will not,” reveals the animosity and rebellion of the human heart to God. It reminds us of Cain who, although he knew he should bring a blood offering to God, said in effect, “I will not.” Cain’s nature was ruined by the fall of Adam. His ruined, depraved nature was inherited from his father. God told Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit, but rather to eat from the tree of life and live for ever. But Adam said in effect, “I will not.” This act of rebellion destroyed his relationship with God, and the heart-rebellion against God by Adam brought a curse upon mankind. Cain also said in his heart, “I will not. I will not bring a blood sacrifice.”

All down through the ages mankind has an inherited rebellion in his heart against God.

In the seventh chapter of Acts, Stephen gave a sermon which recounted Israel’s rebellion toward God throughout history. Toward the end of Stephen’s sermon, he said,

“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51).

Most of the Jewish nation at that time was acting upon its inherited depravity. When Stephen pointed out their rebellion against God throughout their history, they stoned him to death. By their actions, they were saying, “We will not! We will not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Their attitude of “I will not” resulted in them stoning Stephen to death. The rebellion toward God, inherited from Adam, revealed that they were enemies of God in their hearts through the depravity that had been transmitted to them from the disobedience of the first man. The Apostle Paul, a Jew himself, said of the main body of the Jewish people,

“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies” (Romans 11:28).

But those Jews who rejected Jesus were not the only ones who said, like the young man in the parable, “I will not.” Adam’s inward rebellion against God was also engrained in the hearts of the Gentiles.

Paul preached a famous sermon on Mars’ Hill to a largely Gentile audience. When these Gentiles heard Paul preach the gospel, the Bible says,

“Some mocked” (Acts 17:32).

They mocked at Paul and rejected the gospel of Christ, because these Gentiles also had rebellious, depraved natures inherited from Adam. When Paul finished speaking to these Greek Gentiles, they mocked, because they too had rebellious, depraved natures, passed down to them from Adam. So they mocked, and said in their mockery, “We will not. We will not come to Jesus and believe on Him.” Each of those mocking Gentiles said by their actions, “I will not! I will not believe on Christ!”

So, in reality, most Jews and Gentiles said “I will not.”

Therefore the young man in the parable is a picture of every man and woman on earth – because apart from God’s enabling grace all mankind, when they hear the gospel of Christ, say with this young man, “I will not.” They reject Christ, and will not come to Him in humbleness because they are committed to the world, to spending their lives and efforts on food, and money, and earthly things. The Apostle Paul said,

“Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” 
      (Philippians 3:19).

Their purpose and choice is to set their minds on earthly things, and the first part of Philippians 3:19 gives us the result of doing this,

“Whose end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19).

The only important thing to men and women, “whose end is destruction,” is to have good food, is to have earthly glory, to set their minds on earthly things. Their end is destruction in Hell because they say in their hearts, “I will not.” They will not come to Jesus because their minds are fixated on the world, and they see no reason why they should bend their knees to Jesus. They say, “I will not” come to Jesus. “I will not.”

Another passage of Scripture, which teaches the inward rebellion of the unconverted toward Christ, is found in Romans 8:6-7.

“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God…” (Romans 8:6-7).

The mind of an unconverted person is dead. But the mind of the converted person is a mind full of life and peace with God. The sinful, unconverted mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s laws, because in its natural state it cannot submit to God’s laws. In fact the unconverted mind cannot truly love God. The heart of an unconverted man or woman is more or less hostile to God.

When God first calls a man to do His will, every lost man says to God in his heart, “I will not.” “I will not pay much attention to the Bible or the preaching of God’s Word.” “I will not examine my own heart, to see the rebellion and wickedness in it.” “I will not seek for the Holy Spirit to bring me under a sense of conviction for being such a rebel against God.” And, most of all, “I will not come to Jesus wholeheartedly and find rest for my soul.”

“He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went” (Matthew 21:29).

II. Second, the person who says he will, but doesn’t do it.

Please look at verse 30.

“And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not” (Matthew 21:30).

The publicans and harlots said they would not, but they changed their minds and went to believe in Christ.

However, the Pharisees and chief priests said they would obey God, but did not. Notice what a stinging rebuke Jesus gave them in verse thirty-one. Please stand and read that verse good and loud.

“Whether of them twain [two] 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” (Matthew 21:31).

You may be seated.

Now, without going into any further explanation or exegesis of the passage, may I ask you – which group best describes you? Do you take God’s question seriously, and after thinking it over deeply, say, “Yes, I will”? Or do you give a light-hearted “yes” to the question when it is asked? I am very much afraid, if you are in the second group, you are in great danger of losing your soul.

This is a very serious question – the most serious in all of life. I hope you will give it deep thought, and then truly repent, truly have a change of mind given by God, and then come with full force to the Lord Jesus Christ. He will save you as He did the publicans and harlots. But those who give a light-hearted answer will remain as lost as the Pharisees and chief priests. Amen.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 21:28-32.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: “Come Unto Me”
(by Charles P. Jones, 1865-1949).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“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” (Matthew 21:29-30).

I.   The person who says he will not, but afterwards repents and obeys,
Matthew 21:28; Acts 7:51; Romans 11:28; Acts 17:32;
Philippians 3:19; Romans 8:6-7.

II.  The person who says he will, but doesn’t do it, Matthew 21:30, 31.