“In truth I tell you in so far as you did this (act of kindness) to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (cf. Mt25:31-40)
I have come to recognise Jesus’ teaching here to be the definitive teaching on final judgement. In the past I regarded it as an almighty fly in the ointment as far as my particular (Reformed) understanding of gospel salvation was concerned. For a start there is no reference to religious faith or practice whatsoever. What’s more it appears to be teaching justification by works. Actually it isn’t as such, but it would take the forty or so pages of chapter three of my book to explain exactly how that can be the case and also demonstrate that this teaching is not contradicted by Paul or any other contributor to Scripture. It pertains to the context of justification, gospel salvation and the Church within overall providence, which is what “The Fellowship of the secret” is ultimately about. So for blogging purposes I’ll just quote a brief passage from the aforementioned chapter three entitled “Justification and the faithfulness of Christ” which may give a clue to the solution:
(Regarding the Matthew 25 passage): “It might appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works. Not as such; Matthew25:31-45 is demonstrating justification by virtue of faith with reference to works. No mention is made of how consistently or perfectly the “sheep” showed compassion, they just demonstrated they possessed it and were justified by exercising it regardless of measure. They therefore demonstrated they possessed the quality called faith whose product is agape, being the essence of true humanity. On the other hand “faith alone” (sola fide) if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on someone or something is quite dead if it does not result in positive action; it can be possessed by devils (cf. Jam2:17-19KJV). The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their conscience motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and indeed so as to be at peace with themselves. Jesus was thereby affirming that final salvation is not “all of grace” for fruit must be produced, yet it is entirely dependent on grace since the “sheep” are accepted on the basis of exercising the quality called faith (being an innate faculty, i.e. freely provided so nothing to boast about) rather than having perfectly fulfilled God’s law or lived a sinless life. So at the universal level justification is granted on the basis of such common faith, being a positive response to conscience (the light of Christ in the spirit) evinced by compassion, through the kindly favour (grace) by which pardon for sin has been granted to all producing the fruit of faith through the all-sufficient merits of Christ’s atonement.
Illustration courtesy of historeo.com