By Eric Barger
We receive many letters asking for help on doctrine and for research on the topics I cover. Recently we received an email asking for my help in clarifying the teaching found in Matthew 25:31-46. That is Jesus’ “sheep and goats” parable. (Read passage here.)
The writer (Julie) had heard a sermon on this passage in a local church and was disturbed in the way the passage in Matthew 25 was used so as only to further the concept of social justice. She wrote: "I felt that the whole message was to make the point that those who do good deeds would be welcomed into God's Kingdom. I know that Christians are suppose to love thy neighbor and faith without works is dead. But I thought the reason behind the separating the sheep from the goats was about salvation - those that are saved and those that are not. People can reason that you don't have to be religious to help those in need. Some might argue that they see more non-religious people do more good things than some Christians they know. Anyone can put out food and clothes . . . . but what about the saving of the soul? Please explain this scripture to me. Is it being used for the cause of ‘social justice?’ Thank you.”
Here is my reply:
This particular passage in Matthew 25 is one of the foundations - if not the primary foundation - used by the social justice movement in modern Christianity. Most would say that this was the central point of division that aided in the once-biblical and truly evangelical mainline denominations (over 100 years ago) to divide and eventually crumble. Understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Matthew 25 but it is apparently easy for those mainly interested in social welfare to plant their flag there and sidetrack away from accepting or examining the whole counsel of Scripture. Matthew 25 provides a piece of the earthly mission for the Church. But it does not give us the complete mission. You have probably heard me say that when it comes to the Bible we cannot cut and paste or pick and choose as we so desire. When you get down to it, it’s actually all or nothing concerning the Bible’s teachings. Lots of folks don’t like that and that’s probably why many try to make the Bible fit their likes and desires. This is a spiritually deadly philosophy.
Once the liberals established their errant ideas about the Scriptures, they naturally then observed that the followers they were creating needed activities to occupy themselves with. Since being "born again" equated to the dreaded notions of "fundamentalism," good works to advance humanitarian causes became the replacement. If a person was carrying out social welfare, then it was accepted as a sign that they were all right with God. As the so-called "German Enlightenment" swept the seminaries, pulpits, and congregations two centuries ago, salvation for the sinner was supplanted with justice for the poor. This movement, and every movement of its kind since Adam and Eve were in the Garden, was made possible by first doubting and then boldly denying particular truths from God's Word.
Social justice crusaders, who have long sought to undermine the teaching of biblical Christianity, have now once again gained positions of authority and notoriety throughout evangelicalism. Those with liberal views of Scripture just kept coming back and for various reasons those in charge of minding who came in and what they believed - and worse, what they were determined to teach and impart - didn’t insist that liberalism and evangelicalism were incompatible. In fact, evangelicals had already rejected liberalism and had struck out on their own in the 1940’s. That’s what the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals was all about. Tragically, that organization and its leaders have ceased fighting for the Bible and for the sake of lost souls. Instead, they have initiated and supported the social justice poisoning of countless churches for the past twenty years.
Today’s social justice crowd and their predecessors - who have proven by their actions they do NOT believe the Bible - have for generations flourished in the old mainline denominations. However, as time has passed, evangelicals began to suffer from unsound teaching in our midst. The crazy thing is that many folks who should have simply known what was happening didn’t. This happened in part because the seeker-sensitive, purpose driven, and church growth ideas were simultaneously introduced to thousands of churches. As these programs and plans became chic, what accompanied them was a startling insufficiency of teaching and understanding of the doctrines of the faith.
Since the foundation was weak, the ideological takeover by the liberal-minded in churches in the past two decades was met with far less resistance. I’m not sure those in authority in your church fit the definition of postmodern or not but postmodern-age leaders appear to be generally clueless as to what they are actually now accomplishing. Most are just following the line uttered by the snake in the Garden which was of course, “Hath God Said?” and believe they can pretty much do and believe whatever they like and call it “church.” During this particular assault on the faith there has been a rejection of the historical past and an obvious redefinition of terms and teachings that have held the Church together for biblical Christians all of these centuries. This is, regrettably, understandable since postmodernism itself is built on a pedestal of rebellion and rejection of everything held dear by those who came before them.
Taking social justice alone as one's directive for spiritual life and thus ignoring other equally valid points of practice and doctrine found in the Bible is just as errant as completely ignoring what Christ taught in Matthew 25. We ere if by our grand efforts we feed the hungry and clothe the naked and do not communicate the absolute need for repentance from sin and surrender to the Savior. I have written that, if social justice and not the salvation of lost humans is our goal, then we are no better than a slightly more spiritual fraternal organization such as Kiwanis.
As you have rightly pointed out, faith without works is dead. Surely, part of the Christian mission is to show compassion and kindness and to help those in need around us. But by no means is that the entirety of the Christian mission. However, one wouldn't know that if you followed only the teachings heard in many once biblically sound pulpits today.
If you take the Matthew 25 passage by itself and without the context of the rest of the New Testament teachings, then it appears to teach that people are eternally judged by God contingent only on the way in which they respond to the needs of the downtrodden. As powerful as the “sheep and goats” passage is, however, it is not a complete reflection of New Testament teaching concerning God’s eternal acceptance or rejection of individuals for eternity. It is simply an announcement that God is going to separate the sheep and goats and mete out judgment accordingly.
Biblical liberals have supplanted the clear teachings of John 3:3-7, Romans 10:9, 10, and 13, ignoring those passages in lieu of Matthew 25.
Most liberals and emergent/postmodern people I have interacted with want to hammer away with Matthew 25 and become irritated when I’ve asked them to consider two rules of biblical understanding. To comprehend what a passage is teaching (i.e. exegesis) we must examine when in time the teaching takes place and especially to whom the words are directed. In this case, it is Jesus speaking at the very end of the Old Testament age to people who have not been given understanding of salvation by grace.
There is much for us to gain from study of Matthew 25 but it must be understood that as Jesus spoke He had not yet shed His blood for the propitiation of mankind’s sins. Also, he is speaking directly to the Jewish people and often to the Jewish leadership in the book of Matthew. If we take what Jesus said and, in either not understanding or ignoring the context, then drag it into the Church Age, we’d have to stop right there and pronounce that salvation is achieved by our works. But of course this is not the case. We don’t do works to become saved. We do good works because we are saved. Praise the Lord!
I have noted that the idea of works as a means to be saved stems from our fallen Adamic nature that shouts, “If I am just good enough then God will accept me.” The truth is that no amount of good deeds can save us (Romans 3:23). Only the blood of Jesus Christ can redeem mankind and only faith in Him alone can save a lost sinner (Romans 6:23).
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
Here is a paragraph from GotQuestions.org and their discussion of the meaning of the parable of the sheep and goats and the Matthew 25 passage.
… Scripture does not contradict itself, and the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that salvation is by faith through the grace of God and not by our good works (see ; ; ; ; ; ; ; and ). In fact, Jesus Himself makes it clear in the parable that the salvation of the “sheep” is not based on their works—their inheritance was theirs “since the creation of the world” (), long before they could ever do any good works! (https://www.gotquestions.org/parable-sheep-goats.html)
Judging from our previous email exchange about the labyrinth, etc., it appears that your church leadership is fully embracing Emergent/Postmodern ideas, whether they are actually in that age bracket or not. I wish I had a better conclusion for you but I encourage you to ask questions and alert others when given the opportunity to do so.
One of the most disturbing things that happens during this current assault on biblical beliefs is a drip, drip, drip slowly poisoning congregations into submission - with leadership often doing their best to eliminate anyone that would challenge their activities, dealings, decisions, and especially their theology. This is a very difficult season for anyone such as yourself as you watch and experience a church imploding spiritually.
I have counseled and walked with many, including solid, outspoken leaders who have seen the same things take place that you are now witnessing. It is a sad and emotional strain. The Church itself is in an increasingly complex battle and we are certainly heading towards “remnant” status when evil is called good (Isaiah 5:20-21) and those who are actually following God are disdained as cultists. I believe Satan is working supernaturally with extraordinary effort to undermine Christian education, fellowships, and denominations to bring the believing Church to trust in their own ideas or to wander after those being birthed in the pit of hell. Again, this has all transpired because of an orchestrated, overt abandoning of the Bible as the sole arbiter of truth. But be encouraged…these events are no surprise to God. He knows who is faithful and who is His own. He’s aware of what we need and where we are. Hang onto Him, Julie. Be thankful that you are sharpening your spiritual discernment and that God and His Word are what counts. What is happening around us are all signs of one thing: He’s coming soon!
I promise that we will pray for you. Please let me know what is happening and if I can help in any way.
God bless you, Julie.
Subscribe to Eric Barger's Take A Stand! N E W S L E T T E R click here!
Take A Stand! Ministries - POB 279 - Spanaway, WA 98387
(c) copyright 2018, Eric Barger