“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which of the two obeyed his father?”
They replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins. (NLT)
It is not up to us to determine who will live forever in the new heavens and new earth, and who will miss out. Someone who faithfully attends church or knows their Bible back to front may miss out. Someone who has never darkened the door of a church and who struggles fitfully with addictions and petty crime may get in.
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Jesus is speaking to those who were proud religious leaders who looked down on others who were not so knowledgeable or pure. He reminds them that mere words or correct beliefs are not enough. Knowledge or status is not enough. Only a humble turning to God for mercy or grace will enable us to enjoy eternal life.
We may come to Jesus kicking and screaming. C.S. Lewis once described himself as the most miserable convert in England. We may come to Jesus and not be able to entirely shake off old habits. We may come to Jesus late in life as we realise just how much we need him.
The important point is to come. We “get in” by responding to the invitation God offers us through Jesus. And we may respond in different ways at different times. We may be very surprised at just who “gets in”. Best to avoid speculation and ensure we get in.