Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40
I was reflecting on Matthew 25 today, and something struck me: When the king addresses those on his right hand, commending them for feeding him, those on his right hand give an interesting response:
‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’
They don’t say, “Yes, Lord, I did as you commanded.” They don’t say, “Yes, Lord, that was a demonstration of my faith.” They don’t say, “Yes, Lord, I did good works expecting your reward.”
No, they ask, “When did I do that?”
If these people didn’t do it to please Jesus, or to get into Heaven, why did they do it? One could argue that they did it because it was right. But I think there’s a more important reason that we can find elsewhere in the Bible.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10
We were born again in Christ precisely to do these things. Or, put another way:
They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts… Romans 2:15a
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds…” Hebrews 10:16
Those on his left do these things because grace causes God’s law to be written on our hearts. We’re not looking for wiggle room. We’re following God’s law because it is the inevitable response to grace.
What can we say, then, when we claim to have received God’s grace but we don’t do as Jesus commanded?
I know my response: When I don’t do as Jesus commanded, I haven’t fully accepted God’s grace. And I want to fully accept it.
Matthew 25 seems to be a benchmark for our grace. It would be easy to run around doing works to prove that we’ve received grace, but that’s not the point. God knows our hearts, and he knows when we’re lying. The point is that when we fully accept God’s grace, we do these things automatically. There’s no thought to reward or glory.
There’s another paradox in the passage: Jesus came to save the world, and yet he rebukes (and condemns those who haven;t done as he commanded:
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:45-46
There is no expectation here that everyone will be saved. Not everyone has the will to be a Christian.
Now I’m going to make a radical suggestion– radical because we don;t want to hear it, not because it departs from the message of the Bible:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21
Contrary to what I’ve sometimes been told, just professing Jesus is not enough. If we fully accept God’s grace, his law will be written on our hearts and we will behave accordingly. We’ll confess our sins, repent and renounce them. And we will serve the Lord and no one else.