13 February 2017

Sheep and Goats and the Righteousness of God

In Matthew 25:31–46, we read what the Judgment at the Second Coming of Jesus will be like and what will occur. Jesus will sit on a throne and He will separate humankind into two groups: the sheep and the goats; He will tell the sheep to inherit the kingdom because of their merciful deeds, and He will tell the goats to depart into the everlasting fire because they lacked mercy.

Many of us who are the sheep, i.e., baptized believers, can be scrupulous. Those of us who are scrupulous have this thing about worrying over the amount of merciful deeds we have done in the past and lately. We might fear that our Shepherd will put us among the goats because we were not merciful to the right number of people the right number of times. Need we continue being that way?

Original photo by Catzovescu
Just as no amount of works can make us righteous in this life, no particular amount of merciful works is required for us to be residents of the kingdom that will have no end. Righteousness is not earned but received from God by faith (Rom 3:20–22), and the kingdom is an inheritance for those who have been born from above through faith in the risen Messiah (1 Pet 1:3–5). Ultimately it is the righteousness of God given to us that is necessary. Knowing those things, we ought not to be scrupulous! However, we are expected to love and to be merciful, for we are holy!

The thief who was crucified next to Jesus most likely did nothing merciful between his conversion and his death, nay, he was the object of mercy. Infants who are baptized and made members of God's family and then die are not condemned for their lack of deeds, nay, they have been saved. But what of the self-proclaimed Christian of sound mind whom God grants years to in this life but who refuses to forgive others, refuses to give to the beggar when he has pennies to spare, and refuses to rejoice with others but envies them instead? That is the person who isn't true of faith but is an infidel and belongs to the goats. And what of the Christian who longs for Jesus and finds that he has done some merciful deeds such as rejoicing with those who rejoice, giving to the beggar, and forgiving others their trespasses? The Lord will say to him, "Well done!"

According to Jesus, we bear fruit in various quantities. For some it is a hundredfold, for some, sixty, and for some, thirty (Matt 13:23). Perhaps in your case it is seventeenfold? The amount of merciful deeds is nothing meritorious. On that day, the good you have done will be proof to the goats that you really do belong to the Shepherd. What of the number between your seventeenfold and whatever the maximum is? That is how much you should increase your trust in God's promise of salvation!

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