By Rachel Johnson, Preteen Pastor
There is a famous parable, told by Jesus in Matthew 25, which we know simply as The Sheep and The Goats. In this particular parable, Jesus transports us into the future when he comes again “in all his glory” to sit on his throne. In this scene, all the nations of the earth are gathered together, in front of the throne, and Jesus begins to separate them into two groups – the sheep and the goats.
Jesus places the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The sheep are blessed by God the Father and given an inheritance, while the goats are cursed into the eternal fire “prepared for the devil and his angels” (v 41). Those on the right are redeemed and saved, and those on the left are cursed and lost. So what was the deciding difference between these two groups? Why are some blessed and others cursed? The answer lies in their actions:
“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” – Matt. 25:35-36
The ones who are blessed are the ones who lived lives of love and compassion, and it showed in their actions towards the people around them. The ones who are cursed did not act in such a manner, and they are condemned because of it (vv 42-45). This parable shows us that both the righteous and the wicked are affected – in an eternally significant way – by their actions.
It is at this point that we sit up a little bit straighter and think, “But what about grace? Our salvation is a gift offered to us, it isn’t something that can be earned!” The good works (or actions) that the sheep display in the parable are not the cause of salvation but the effect of salvation and the manifestation of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we should act different because we are different!
The Apostle Paul exhorts us in Galatians chapter 5 to “live by the Spirit” and not to “gratify the desires of the flesh” (v 16). The Spirit and the flesh, he goes on to say, are at odds with each other. The flesh desires that which is opposed to the Spirit; it desires sexual immorality, impurity, extravagance, idolization, hatreds, conflict, jealousy, anger, disagreements, rebellions, divisions, bitterness, drunkenness, and riotous behavior (vv 19-21). The Spirit desires that which is opposed to the flesh; it desires love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (vv 22-24).
What we do matters. As Christians we are to become like Christ, we act as ambassadors to the world on behalf of Christ. When the world looks at us, they should see sheep. They should see people who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger and the foreigner, clothe and care for the sick and needy, and show compassion for those who have fallen so far as to wind up in prison. Faith and worship are not exclusive to an hour on a Sunday morning – they should be evident in every aspect of our lives.
A.W. Tozer has this to say:
“Remember, there is no magic in faith or in names. You can name the name of Jesus a thousand times; but if you will not follow the nature of Jesus the name of Jesus will not mean anything to you. We cannot worship God and live after our own nature. It is when God’s nature and our nature begin to harmonize that the power of the name of God begins to operate within us…We cannot pray in love and live in hate and still think we are worshiping God…
God won’t dwell in spiteful thoughts, polluted thoughts, lustful thoughts, covetous thoughts or prideful thoughts. He will only dwell in meek, pure, charitable, clean and loving thoughts…Make your thoughts a sanctuary God can inhabit, and don’t let any of the rest of your life dishonor God. See to it that not a foot of ground is unholy. See to it that every hour and every place is given over to God, and you will worship Him and He will accept it.”
The fleshy desires of our hearts need to be overridden by the desires of the Spirit. These changes may begin inward, but they will ultimately ripple out into the world and to the people around us. Our lives are a testimony of who we serve. Do our lives serve to further sin and death, or do we live to serve in obedience to Christ who leads us to righteousness? In Christ, we are free – not free to sin or to live in hate or selfishness, we are instead free FROM living in such a way.
So let us live lives of compassion and love. Let us not be afraid to do good and to stand for what is right. “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). Let us go bravely forward into the world as God’s representatives, to be His hands and feet and to continue the work that Jesus began while he was here on earth. Let us pray, daily, that God’s will be done here on earth, as it is in heaven. For the Kingdom of God is near.
 Excerpts selected from Tozer on Worship and Entertainment, by A.W. Tozer and compiled by James L. Snyder. Wing Spread Publishers, 2006