“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. Matthew 25 vv31-40)
To the consternation of many a theologian, Jesus’ sheep and goats parable has to be regarded as the NT’s definitive passage on final judgement. In the past I also regarded this passage as an almighty fly in the ointment as far as my earlier (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 much of chapter three of my book** to delineate the matter; also to demonstrate that neither Paul nor any other contributor to Scripture contradict this teaching. It pertains to the context of justification, gospel salvation and the Church within broader benign providence. This is the central theme of “The Little Book of Providence”. So for blogging purposes I’ll just quote a brief passage from the aforementioned chapter three “Faith and Justification” which may give a clue to the solution:
Final judgement (Matthew 25)
Re: passage on final judgement (Matthew 25). “It will appear to some that Jesus is here teaching justification by works. Rather, Matthew25:31-45 is demonstrating justification through faith with reference to works. The passage makes no mention of how consistently or perfectly the “sheep” showed compassion. They just demonstrated they possessed it. The sheep 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 if it be merely a passive belief, trust or reliance on someone or something is dead if it does not result in positive action. The “sheep” had not been passive; they showed compassion because they had responded positively to their “heart” motivating them to act in such a way out of sympathy, empathy and to be at peace with themselves”.
Salvation DEPENDENT on grace
Jesus’ sheep and goats parable was thereby affirming that final salvation is not ALL of grace; there must be fruit. Yet it is entirely DEPENDENT on grace since the “sheep” are accepted by exercising the quality called faith; being an innate faculty provided through common grace, rather than having perfectly fulfilled God’s law or lived a sinless life. That would be justification by works. Thus at the universal level justification is granted on the basis of such common faith. It is a positive response to conscience (the light of Christ in the spirit). It is 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.
[Excerpt from The Little Book of Providence chapter three]
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Related post: The gospel of the kingdom & My 95 theses & Reap what you sow
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