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A friend told me a joke several years ago, the punch line of which included the question, “Is that your final answer?”  I didn’t laugh.  My failure to respond prompted him to say, “You haven’t seen the show, have you?”  I had not.  The show that I hadn’t seen was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  My friend was incredulous.  Everyone had seen that show!  How could I live in such a state of cultural depravity, and how dare I ruin his perfectly funny joke?

I eventually did see the show a time or two, but never became a regularl viewer.   However, Regis Philbin’s question “Is that your final answer?” became deeply ingrained in our cultural consciousness.  The question is reminiscent of a parable of Jesus in which a father asked something of his two sons.  Each of the sons answered their father differently; and, in each case, it was not their final answer. 

The parable is recorded in Matthew 21:28-32.  The chief priests and elders in Jerusalem had just attempted to entrap Jesus with a trick question.  As usual, Jesus quickly turned the rhetorical tables on them and silenced them with a question of his own.  He then told them this parable which contrasted their rejection of the good news of God’s kingdom with the joyful reception that it was gaining among tax collectors and prostitutes whose hearts were being touched and led to repentance.

In Jesus’ story, a man approached the first of his two sons and directed him to go and work in the family’s vineyard.  The son flatly refused.  “No,” the insolent little cuss replied to his father; rude, brash, disrespectful, and disobedient.  However, the young man later rethought his answer, regretted the shameful way in which he had spoken to his father, and went to work.   “No” was not his final answer.

The father approached his second son with the same instruction to work in the vineyard.  “Yes, sir!,” he replied.  “Right away; I’m on it; no need to ask me twice; I’m always happy to do my part and carry my share of the load; it’s never a burden or a bother; I count it a real joy to do what you ask of me.  Love ya, Dad!”  Nice words; but only words.  He didn’t go to the vineyard.  “Yes” was not his final answer.

Jesus asked his critics which one of the two sons did the will of his father: the one who said he that wouldn’t and then did, or the one who said that he would and then didn’t.  They answered His question correctly. 

By outward appearances, the scribes and Pharisees were talking a good game by their ability to quote long sections of the Law and the Prophets and by sporting broad phylacteries and long tassels.  But, by their traditions, double-standards, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy, they were ultimately saying “no” to God.  On the other hand, the tax collectors and prostitutes who had been saying “no” through their dishonesty and sexual immorality were sincerely and penitently saying “yes” to Jesus, just as they had positively responded to the message of John the Baptist.

No matter how deeply we have fallen in sin or how far we have wandered away from God, “no” does not have to be our final answer.  God graciously allows us time to rethink our response to His grace and mercy. 

If you have said “yes” to Jesus Christ, let that be your final answer!

In the previous post, we examined the question, “If God has testified that His children can know that they have received eternal life in Jesus Christ (I John 5:11-13), why do so many Christians still have doubts about their salvation?”  If, at the time our sins were washed away by the blood of the Lamb, we believed that we had been saved and were headed to heaven, at what point between then and now did we lose that confidence?  When did we stop “knowing” that we were saved and start “thinking so” or “hoping so?”

For me, it took less than 24 hours to move from confidence to doubt. 

I confessed my faith in Jesus and was united with Him through baptism in His name on a cold, January night in 1973.  My faith was very simple at that point: I believed that I was a sinner and that Jesus was my only hope of salvation.  That was faith enough.  My family and I were staying with my grandparents on their farm in Middle Tennessee at the time as we awaited our visas to move to Monrovia, Liberia.  During those few months, I attended the rural, K-12 school from which my father had graduated years before. 

On the bus ride to school the next morning, I made a comment that drew a quick response from a friend.  I have absolutely no recollection of what I said, whether it was grossly inappropriate or just mildly off-color.  But, I can never forget the reply of this young lady who was aware of my baptism the night before.  She said, “Well, it’s obvious that last night didn’t do you a bit of good!” 

Her comment stung me and stunned me; and nearly 40 years later I can still remember the tone of her voice and the expression on her face.  It was contemptuous. 

Was she right?  Was I really any different?  Had anything changed?  Had my sins really been washed away?  Was I really a Christian?  Was God mad at me?  Was I still going to heaven?  I didn’t know.  And just that quickly, doubt and anxiety replaced the joy and excitement that I had felt only 12 hours earlier.

My problem was that I had not yet worked out the difference between faithfulness and flawlessness.

The God who saved us through Jesus Christ expects, even demands, faithfulness and obedience as a demonstration of our faith and love for Him (I John 2:3; 5:1-3; John 14:15; et al.).  John Stott writes that throughout the letter of I John, the author repeatedly identifies three marks (or tests) of the new birth: belief, love, and obedience.

However, we know that the obedience demanded by I John 2:3 cannot mean sinlessness or perfection because of what precedes it in 1:6 – 2:2, an affirmation of our ongoing struggle with sin. 

Revelation 2:10 instructs us to be faithful until death; faithful, not flawless!

My imperfection is an inherent and understood part of my faithfulness, not a denial of it.

For 23 years I have been a faithful husband to Kim.  A perfect husband?  Are you kidding?  I’ll gladly let you call me a “work in progress” as a husband, but I will get in your face (metaphorically and rhetorically, of course) if you accuse me of unfaithfulness in my marriage.

I can know if I’m faithful.  I can know if I’m not.  Does that make sense?

This is getting long.  Part Three to follow…      

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