The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

For the past ten years I have hammered one nail again and again: Jesus not only saves you, he keeps you. The good work he began in you he will carry on until completion.

This good news is meant to free you from the anxiety of works-based religion. It’s meant to bring you peace and rest.

So what are we to make of Jesus separating the sheep from the goats, since he applauds the sheep for their good works and rebukes the goats for their inactivity (Matt 25:31-46)?

Some interpret Christ’s words as a recipe for self-salvation. “If I feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, I’ll earn my salvation. If I don’t I’m toast.”

There are so many problems with this, I don’t know where to start. How many hospital visits do you need to qualify? How many meals do you need to serve? One? Fifty-seven?

Okay, I’m being facetious. (I can’t help it. I can’t take the religious mindset seriously.) But if you think your good works impress the Lord, what do you do with Matthew 7:23 where Jesus says to good-workers, “Depart from me you evildoers”?

Good works cannot be the recipe for salvation, and they are not. Jesus is more interested in who we are than what we do.

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him; and he will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and he will put the sheep on his right, and the goats on the left. (Matt 25:31-33)

The sheep and goats are not separated on the basis of works but identity. The sheep go one way and the goats go another. Period. Full stop. What is the first thing the King says to the sheep?

Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matt 25:34)

The sheep are blessed by the Father, not their works. They inherit a kingdom, they don’t earn it. So the question we must ask is…

What makes a sheep a sheep?

If not works, then what? Instead of putting a religious spin on Jesus’ words, why don’t we let Jesus interpret Jesus:

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14)

A sheep is someone who knows the Good Shepherd and he knows them.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

Jesus knows his own. On that day Jesus will say, “This one is mine and I know them. They heard my voice and responded.” According to the parable, some sheep are going to be surprised, perhaps because they served Jesus without owning a Bible or going to church or hearing what we would consider the gospel. (That’s a subject for another time.)

Jesus says to the sheep, “I give them eternal life.”

Eternal life is a gift not a wage. It’s an inheritance. “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” If you’re involved in hospital visits or prison ministry, do it because you care for the sick and imprisoned. Don’t do it out of fear of hell. Take comfort in the words of the Good Shepherd: “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” One with the Lord you are as secure as can be. Because his past is your past, his future is your future (1 Jn 4:17). Period. Full stop.

What makes a goat a goat?

In Matthew 25 the righteous sheep are commended for their good works and in Matthew 7 the goats, or wolves are sent away despite their good works. Good works do not make a sheep and bad works do not make a goat. So what does?

You do not believe because you are not of my sheep. (John 10:26)

A sheep is someone who believes in Jesus, while a goat is someone who rejects Jesus, doesn’t know him, and doesn’t want to know him.

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt 7:23, KJV)

A goat/wolf is a worker of iniquity. The word for iniquity is synonymous with sin or unrighteousness. The Bible has some interesting things to say about it:

Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven… (Rom 4:7, KJV)

The Lamb of God carried the sins of the world, both sheep and goats, so we have all been blessed. Yet Jesus says the goats are accursed. How can you be blessed and cursed at the same time?

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Heb 8:12, KJV)

God remembers our iniquities no more, yet Jesus will say, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity.” How can he remember that which he is supposed to forget? Jesus remembers their iniquities because the goats are constantly reminding him. Their self-righteous lives are sin-conscious rather than Son-conscious. Their testimony is:

Jesus, I don’t need you as I am capable of blessing myself. You say you’ve purchased my sins, but I’m not done fixing them. You say you have forgotten my iniquities, so let me remind you. And together we can save me and bless me, because you need my help.

The surprised goats

And who are these iniquitous goats that prefer curses to blessings and who cling to sins that Christ has paid for? Jesus gives us an example:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (Matt 23:28)

There is no bigger goat that a self-righteous goat.

You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matt 23:33)

In Matthew 25 Jesus says the goats are hell-bound and in Matthew 23 he says the same thing of the religious elites. See the connection? Goats, like wolves, are self-righteous. They are convinced of their moral superiority which is why they will be surprised on that day. “Lord, Lord, we did all this stuff for you,” and Jesus will say,

You see, right there is the problem. It’s not about what you did for me, but what I did for you. Instead of reminding me of your sins, you should’ve remembered my blood. Instead of cursing yourself with rule-keeping, you should’ve received my blessing of grace. Instead of twisting my words into another gospel, you should’ve preached “Christ and him crucified,” for there is nothing you bring to my table, and no sacrifice you can add to my own. It’s like you don’t even know me.

Sheep and goats_table

A goat is not a sheep and a sheep is not a goat.

The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name.

He calls you by name.


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97 Comments on The sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46)

  1. linda orley // June 2, 2016 at 12:55 am // Reply

    I love your real plain view of what God really says and not what man tries to make of it. My righteousness is filthy rags. Thank God for Jesus righteousness given freely. NO STRINGS attached

  2. Wow, this is great, how awesome is the love of Jesus.

  3. It occurs to me when you say that they remind him of their sin, that maybe it goes a step further: they asked to be judged. The sheep accepts his unworthiness. The goat insists on his worthiness and asks to be judged on his own merit, and suffers the consequences. That could shed a light on all those verses that seem to suggest judgement even though the price has been paid for all. They insist on it!

    • Yes, that’s exactly the mindset of the self-righteous. It’s saying “Look at me! Look at how well I’ve done.” The praying Pharisee in the Temple comes to mind.

  4. Jonathan Childs // June 2, 2016 at 3:02 am // Reply

    Amen,Amen!! That’s why it’s Grace, and that’s the Gospel.

  5. richard bradford // June 2, 2016 at 3:59 am // Reply

    Excuse me while I jump and click my heels, skip to my Lou, lift my hands and spin around. I know him, and he knows me! Delivered himself up……for me. Thank You, Yeshua! Gooooooooood Shepherd! Paul thank you for always bringing clarity to my Jesus words, where the religous muck up the simplicity that is in Christ and make it about their behavior and their own acts of atonement.

  6. Seems to me that as long as there is the possibility of one lost, there is no true security. As Abraham Lincoln, the lawyer and President once said regarding salvation, “It’s either all or none.” Case closed.

  7. Hi Paul! I have really enjoyed this site. I have been going through a difficult time and it has brought me a lot of comfort. I wondered if you’ve had any entries or posts on Isiaha 26:10? I searched the site but couldn’t find anything. Could you point me in the right direction if you do? Thank you!

    • “Let grace be shown to the wicked, Yet he will not learn righteousness; In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, And will not behold the majesty of the LORD” (Isa 26:10). Isaiah sounds very much like Jesus when Jesus said this: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Joh 3:19).

  8. Dorthy Salinas // June 2, 2016 at 5:36 am // Reply

    Hi, I was just sitting on my floor and had finished watching something on youtube, don’t know how I got on that subject, it was about a 2yr old little girl who was trying to tell her mama, “Abba come! Knocking at door! Abba up! Abba up! ” she even bowed 3 times and again she kept looking up and saying a lot of the same words… then I started to think how “I have done so little for Him” and your notification popped up on my phone…. I have in the last 2 weeks been studying and reading about “denying myself, pick up my cross THEN I can follow Him”. Seems to say, can’t follow Him without denying self. I am trying to recognize my “self” issues… Please help me to understand why after I read your post I now feel like a goat!!! I am not blaming you, I have read your postings before, great grace truth, but so many Christians have big self issues…. now I feel like bleating like an unsaved goat…. so sad…

    • Feeling like a goat is a natural consequence to walking after the flesh, which is exactly what one does when they focus on themselves and their righteousness. I encourage you to deny self which means to STOP looking to yourself and STOP trusting in your own efforts, and fix your eyes on Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, and receive his righteousness. As we behold the Lamb of God we are changed. You’ll feel like a goat no longer. Be blessed.

      • Thank Paul I so needed to hear that! Those words so resonated with me. Please pray for me!

      • It may also have to do with technicalities of language and logic, but really for me it could be confusion now that I expose it. I have many E2R grace gallery images and this one as well floating through my desktop wallpaper. (By the way the repentance one is so funny!!! haha!!). But if I’m coming to grace all the time and scripture says we need to just get on with life and not keep coming to jesus (those who don’t look will receive, while those who search won’t), then that contradicts other scripture that says we need to behold jesus and walk with him. But really it’s about different occasions that Jesus was speaking different medicines. All are loved. On the cross Jesus died for all. But not all respond the same for whatever reason, but God gives. I need these images everyday. And God is leading us to better pasture. Thanks for your posts.

    • Thank you for sharing Dorothy.

  9. Truth. Plain. Simple. I am thankful for you, Paul. Lord, help us to see your completed work and not feel the need to add our own to it!

  10. keep up the good work paul

  11. Salvatore // June 2, 2016 at 7:50 am // Reply

    I believe this Judgement happened when God destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD. God judged people according to faith those that believed Him and The Law condemned the goats because they didn’t measure up. God had to judged those under the Law in order to pass humanity to the New Covenant. Matthew 25 cannot be separated from its context, Matthew 24 talks about the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the Old Covenant. Matthew 24 and Matthew 25 are connected.

    Grace and Peace

    • I hear this a lot on Facebook and it is a real diminishing of prophecy. In the Bible it was common for prophets to prophesy about coming events in ways that had a multi-part fulfillment. Think of the prophet looking at mountains and describing what he sees. He sees nearby foothills and distant peaks. What he cannot see is the gap between the foothills and the peaks. The destruction of Jerusalem does not represent the end of history as Jesus described it, but it is certainly a prophetic foothill. Jesus did refer to the destruction of the temple (AD70). He also foretold his death and resurrection (AD33?), the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and his return in power (AD??). There are numerous significant events foretold in prophecy. They were not all fulfilled when a Roman general massacred the Jews. Jesus, not Titus, has the last word.

  12. This is a text that I seem to bring up alot in my sermons. Thanks for the table of comparison. That really lays it out well.

  13. God is merely separating the two because one knows Him and the other does not. Those who do not know Him are, no doubt, masquerading as believer’s. They think they have eternal life, like the pharisee did, but Jesus straightened them out with;
    “Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And you will not come to me, that you might have life…. But I know you, that you have not the love of God in you.’ John 5:39-42.
    The true believer has Gods love that motivates, no, activates, true faith, as “faith which works by love” Galatians 5:6.
    We certainly are saved by grace, but it is “through” this faith, which works by love. Its a faith that does work, James 2:18, as work’s show this faith.
    So to keep from deception, there must be both, show and tell. You tell (call Jesus Lord) , you then must show (that He is). Nothing religious about that. John made this clear in 1 John 3:7
    A goat is not a sheep and a sheep is not a goat, as 1 John 3:7 suggest.

    • Correction, as 1 John 3:10 suggest.

      • Sorin Turturica // June 4, 2016 at 2:40 am //

        Thank you Tom for bringing up such good points in those 4 verses you mentioned. It is not enough to believe we are accepted by grace apart from works – though it is the essential first step. Absolutely necessary but not sufficient. Once we receive Grace from the Spirit we must allow Him to activate in us works of love which we must bring forth in this physical realm. If we only believe we were saved by grace but fail to express love to one another by giving or doing something, we demonstrate we did not really receive grace.

        Both the sheep and the goat will do something for the Shepherd. One by the Spirit of love knowing it has already been accepted, the other by carnal effort out of religious selfish ambition.

        Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father.

      • Sorin, your choice of the word sufficient is interesting. Thanks

        2 Corinthians 3:5 (NKJV) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,

        2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

      • That’s right,
        “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that you affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men…….
        And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.” Titus 3:8,14.
        Good works may not be sufficient to save us, but as you point out and Paul, necessary. Also diligence is necessary to maintain (sustain) good works. We are not only under obligations to perform good works, but to be examples to others, just as Christ Himself the great pattern of good works.
        They are “not to make peace with God, or to atone for sins, or to procure the pardon, or to cleanse from sin, or for justification before God, or to obtain salvation and eternal life; but to glorify God, testify their subjection to him, and gratitude for mercies received; to show forth their faith to men; to adorn the doctrine of Christ, and a profession of it; to stop the mouths of gainsayers, and put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: and “that they be not unfruitful”; in them, and in the knowledge of Christ; good works are the fruits of the Spirit, and of his grace; they are fruits of righteousness; and such as are without them are like trees without fruit, useless and unprofitable.” John Gill commentary on Titus 3:14

      • Being obligated to perform good works does not sound like love to me. I would not tell my son, “you are unprofitable to me because your good works are insufficient in my sight”. What!? I am no where close to being as awesome as my Heavenly Father in works, and I would never do that. How can we say He’s a loving Father and believe these kinds of things about Him? If we embark on this mission of, “I must produce good works”, when is it enough? Who gets to determine how much is enough? I’ve tried whole heartedly and it was never enough. It produced no life – only death. Have you read the countless comments of sincere people on this site who experienced nothing but complete burnout from an obligation to produce good works? You can’t force fruit. Fruit is produced naturally and effortlessly. The fruit of the Spirit is produced by allowing the life of Jesus to work in you. You don’t work it. If there is no peace, no joy, no love, it’s not the right stuff. It’s death, not life. Peace, Tom

      • tonycutty // June 5, 2016 at 9:25 am //

        Yes, this!

      • Colleen G // June 6, 2016 at 8:06 am //

        By taking Titus 3:8 out of context you have lost the fullness of the message of Titus 3:1-8 Verse 5 says “not by works of righteousness” then concludes with verse 8 about good works. We are created for and saved for good works not by them. This passage in no way connects the obtaining or retaining of eternal life with works. It simply says that it is good for those who have been washed and redeemed to do good works. It is good for my children to do good things but they are no less my children when they do not. Good works are great but they do not earn, retain redemption or buy favors from the Father

      • Goodness buddy, do I sound Catholic? I am Protestant, like you and Paul.

        Nobody is perfect, so save us from the madness of churches holding us to such standards of perfection! Really? So, with this understanding, any admonishment of, not only to be, “… ‘careful to’ maintain good works, but also, ‘learn to’ maintain good works ” would only be meet with, “any superficial performance of such as that, is only madness, or a show?”
        Can’t see it. As Farragut, admirably said (‘Admiral’ in the U S Navy). , “Dam the torpedoes (of mans judgments) and full steam ahead (with faith unfeigned)”.
        As, true faith should (not earn, retain redemption or buy favors) be manifested. Let your light so shine..

      • Sorry you don’t see it, Tom, but thanks for your response. I was mainly asking you about the book because you share the same name. Thanks

      • Sorin Turturica // June 8, 2016 at 9:14 am //

        LJP, forgive me, I have not said Grace is not sufficient. What I said, was that the understanding that we were saved by grace is not sufficient. This knowledge about grace is necessary but not sufficient. What I meant was, if you read my post, that for this grace to save us we must allow it to manifest into works or we have not really received true grace.

        Grace is sufficient, God is our sufficiency no doubt, no contradiction with what I said. Grace is sufficient to save us but now that we are saved Apostle Paul says:
        “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work”(2Cor 9:8) Works in abundance are the consequence of true Grace. No works, and no sufficiency of things, not all grace received.

        We are saved by grace through faith, yes? This faith must be genuine faith which produces works otherwise “wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was (his) faith made perfect?” (James 2:20) Please take note of the order of this process: Justification leads to works not works to justification. Abraham was made righteous by faith before demonstrating the work of offering Isaac and this work in turn justified his righteousness. Jesus said that if you were Abraham’s children (the father of us all) you would do the works of Abraham. (John 8:39)

        Goats do dead works, sheep do works of righteousness. This is my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong.

      • According to Paul, grace, which is sufficient to save us through faith, has manifold (varied) functions, 1 Peter 4:10, This grace not only teaches us to live soberly and godly (Titus 2:11-13), but along with that, we also learn to maintain good works so as not to be unfruitful. Titus 3:14.
        Not only is it a learning process, but provocative one as well, Hebrews 10:24.
        The difference between the works of goats and sheep is all the difference between their source. The righteous one is derived from this manifold grace.
        As you said, Sorin; the only reason for works of righteousness is to glorify God and to show we have what we say we have. to manifest we have really,, received true grace.

      • tonycutty // June 14, 2016 at 7:50 am //

        Much of the time, works of righteousness are done *because they need doing*. There’s a blind man? He needs his sight. That’s the reason for that work of righteousness. Someone’s hungry? He needs food. So often , we assume these high and mighty reasons for doing things, motivation, who gets the credit/glory, but it’s much more practical and down-to-earth than that. The man needs a coat. The work of righteousness, flowing from a real relationship with Holy Spirit, and not from either a set of rules or a compulsion, is just to give him a coat. End of story. That God gets the glory is a by-product; when the Bible says the people glorified God, what does this look like? A few people say ‘Hallelujah!’ and within a few days they’re on to their next exciting thing. People have very short memories about God’s doings. Within a few short months those people were shouting ‘Crucify!’ God doesn’t need us to glorify Him; people give glory and then that’s it.

      • This might sound like nitpicking but the purpose or good works is not SHOW that we have what we say we have. It is EVIDENCE that we have what we say we have. The difference to me is that the first way of putting it suggests that if I go out and do good things (my own effort), it proves something. I believe the apostles were trying to say that if I am in Him, I WILL do good works; I can’t help it. So I can look at my life (James’s mirror) and have a sense that I’m on the right track because He flows through me (good works). In the first way of putting it, it is too easy to slip into putting in my own effort to prove something. The second is an expectation that as I fill up with Him it will well out into my life. If it doesn’t, then I reflect on what is stopping the flow of the Spirit and draw closer to Him.

        Besides the only actual “good works” are things that He does through me; nothing I do on my own can be considered “good.”

      • tonycutty // June 14, 2016 at 5:29 pm //

        Allen, I wonder if you can help me here. You wrote, “…nothing I do on my own can be considered “good.” “; please can you explain why you believe this? I am just beginning to think that actually this idea (which I too have believed all my Christian life) is actually incorrect; Jesus seemed to think that even just someone (“anyone”, in fact) wgo gives you a cup of water because you are His disciple was worthy of a reward, and therefore (in my opinion) good, whether a believer or not. Jesus didn’t seem to differentiate. Can I therefore respectfully ask why you think this, and/or (if you know) why this seems to be such a widespread view? Cheers bro 🙂

      • Hi Sorin,

        We are not responsible for working up works and we are especially not responsible for holding people responsible for working up works. What really matters is having a heart that is resting in your Father’s love. This is the place where we are receiving His life. His life will produce fruit – the fruit of the Spirit. It may manifest as “good works”, but that is the Vine’s responsibility. Your responsibility is to abide in His love.

        Wasn’t Martha doing a “good work”, serving the Lord? Jesus said, “Hey Martha, Mary has chosen what is ‘good’. The only thing that is needed is to rest and allow Me to love on you.” (My wording) The one thing that Jesus said is needed is the very thing that drives the “works” crowd nuts. But it also happens to be the one thing that produces the fruit the “works” crowd is looking for.

      • tonycutty // June 8, 2016 at 7:17 pm //

        I love this: “The one thing that Jesus said is needed is the very thing that drives the “works” crowd nuts”. These people have it back-to-front; Religion wants us to make ourselves acceptable to God in some way, so it produces works. But Grace says that we are already acceptable, there is nothing else we can do to make ourselves more acceptable since Christ has done it all. And so, our good works – whatever they may manifest as: fruit, service, worship, whatever – these flow from our existing acceptance and love for God.

        Anything else cheapens Jesus’s sacrifice, since by trying to produce good works we are saying that there is something we can do, something that we can add to Jesus’s already perfected work. In this case, we have not let the Law do its job properly; the Law was given precisely to show us that there is nothing – nothing! – we can do of ourselves except simply to realise our need for a Saviour and to turn to Him and allow Him to rescue – save – us from the pointless efforts of our own religion. And that’s where we find our freedom.

      • Sorin Turturica // June 9, 2016 at 2:17 am //

        Hi LJP,

        So you agree with me then. We rest in the Father’s love and receive His grace, His life, His Word, His Faith, His righteousness, etc. This is the only thing needed. This is sufficient. Period.

        Now there must be a reaction, a response. Mary sat at Jesus’s feet and received His word. This is where we start. Martha was doing the work, which is not how we approach God. But Mary responded to Jesus’s love by doing work worth much more than Martha. She gave Jesus the work of one year in one night by pouring that expensive perfume. “She hath wrought a good work on me” Jesus said in Mark 14:6.

        So we must check ourselves for fruit, to see if we respond to God’s grace and love by what we do or, we haven’t really received genuine love in our hearts deceiving ourselves.

        We are not responsible for holding people responsible for their works, true, but we are responsible for how we respond to God’s grace. We do have a mission on this planet after we got saved by grace, which was prepared for us from the beginning. We have a course to run and the victory is already given to us only if we follow through. Paul said about this mission God gave him: “whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily” Col 1:29

      • Sorin, How can it be sufficient period, but their “must” be an appropriate response? Does everyone’s fruit have to look like Paul’s? Is it not the Father’s love that was working in Paul mightily? If it is God’s life that produces fruit, shouldn’t we be trusting Him to do it? If we do trust God to produce fruit in us, and His grace is sufficient period, and abiding in His love is the only thing needed, and Jesus did declare “it is finished”, why must we add to that?

        This is my point. What is profitable? The message that people must have a proper reaction (that men inevitably get to define) is one that condemns, not one that produces good fruit. Since it is the Father’s love that works mightily, produces fruit, changes lives, causes us to love, makes us like Him, sets people free and the list goes on… then the Father’s love should be our message, period.

      • Sorin Turturica // June 11, 2016 at 6:58 am //

        My dear brother, you understand correctly the message of grace but you are selling it short in my opinion. If I am not allowed to say that grace prompts to works because it’s condemnation then remove every verse where we are told what we must do from the Bible. “But one thing is needful, and Mary chose the good part” is not limited to the message of grace but to every Word that Jesus speaks. (like John 14:12 for example)

        What we do is not adding to His work, but we must allow Him to work through us. God will not do our part automatically -as you imply- by simply hearing the message of love. Paul called this effort “labour, striving according to His working in me”. And no, our fruit does not have to look like Paul’s, we have our own purpose as unique “organs” in the body of Christ.

        “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies (grace) of God, that YOU present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is YOUR reasonable service.”(Rom 12:1) God will not make us sacrifice our bodies, it’s our job. Would you call our sacrifice adding to His works? Is Paul putting condemnation on us to work for God? No, he is exhorting us to serve Him in a reasonable manner which is a privilege not a condition for acceptance.
        Jesus honors our “labour of love”: “I know your works, and your labour, and your patience, and how you cannot bear them which are evil[…] And have endured, and have patience, and for my name’s sake have laboured, and have not fainted.”(Rev 2:2-3) He called it “our” works not His.

        Understanding the message of grace is fundamental, but when we mature we learn we have a responsibility to express this love that was shed in our hearts, to shine it out in this dark world in a tangible way. We work our salvation OUT (Phil 2:12).

        Please do not listen to me, but as you seek revelation I pray the Holy Spirit will guide you in all truth. May God bless you richly.

      • I hope my son never feels like it’s his job to strive and labor in response to my love. As a matter of fact, didn’t Jesus say, “My yoke is easy”? I don’t know if you have a son, but I imagine you would probably feel the same way. Yet, we talk about the most loving Father as if He expects His sons and daughters to respond like slaves. I understand that you believe the way you do because that’s what you see in these verses. But if it does not fit the image of a loving Father, our interpretation of those verses should be questioned before the character of our loving Father is put into question. I’m sure that’s not your intention, but shouldn’t any understanding of our heavenly Father make Him at least as loving as earthly fathers? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the Bible, but maybe it could, and even should, be understood in a different way. Maybe He would be more glorified by an understanding where He puts the burden on Himself rather than on His children. Blessings to you, Sorin.

      • Sorin Turturica // June 15, 2016 at 1:26 am //

        LJP, do you encourage your son whom you love to do his homework? Why don’t you do it for him so he never feels like he has to strive and do good? Why don’t you chew his food and push the pedals on his bicycle? Is it not for his own fulfillment that you would exhort him to study, be generous, keep himself from evil and so on? Our Father does not expect us to do good works for Him but for our own good, for our brethren and for whoever happens to be our neighbor.

        Jesus Christ is my example and I want to be and do what He did (and still does today through His body by His Spirit). He sent us in this world the same way the Father sent Him (John 17:18). The Father was pleased with Him before He did anything (Matt 3:17) so why did He do so many good works? The answer to that question is why you should have works LJP.

        I think the way I think because I know the Father’s love. He already translated me in the kingdom of His dear Son. He loves me exactly the same way He does Jesus (John 17:26), so it is my pleasure and privilege to do the same works Jesus did. There is nothing more fulfilling for me than giving to the poor, casting out demons and laying hands on the sick and see them recover. It is not hard at all to do works of righteousness, as you said His yoke is easy. It is no burden to offer my body as a living sacrifice to the One I love. My labor of love is easy and joyful when I offer it to my brethren whom He loves.

      • When love – which is Christ, comes into you, you just love naturally. His spirit prompts and guides you. You give from joy. I have done good works from being pushed to do so by church goers and felt very tired. But when the Spirit fills me and leads me, good works just gently and naturally follow. And no one needs to announce that they are doing good works! We are actually to do our “good works” in secret. Then we will be rewarded in secret by the Father not from man. People are so afraid that the grace message will make people not care, be selfish, but the opposite is true. Grace produces a security in our Father’s love. We can relax and rest and enjoy loving others. Instead of working feverishly to please a God who might condemn if we don’t do what we’re told. We can give the love we have freely received from Him. His glory.

  14. andrew hughes // June 2, 2016 at 11:02 am // Reply

    I used to be a goat,even an an old goat.It’s so much nicer and less exhausting being a sheep.It still is taking a while to let the Great Shepherd take care of me and not think it is my efforts which are important.Thanks Paul

  15. I always look forward to your new blog posts. Once again, thank you!

  16. Rob Runyan // June 3, 2016 at 5:02 am // Reply

    Thank you Paul. What a great revelation of what Jesus accomplished on our behalf!

  17. Its not a matter of good standing before God. rather, which side are you seated. 🙂

  18. L. huston // June 4, 2016 at 8:19 am // Reply

    Hey, I love your posts, they’re all really good and really help me out a lot. But I am really struggling with this bible verse right here in regards to this article.

    1 Timothy 5:8
    But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    What do you make of it? Thanks for your hard work in Christ!

    • “Anyone who doesn’t care for his own family is acting in an unChristian manner.”

      • If Love and care of one’s own fails, as an obligation , then there is, according to this word a failed faith, or denial (abrogation, forsaking) of the faith . Thus “worse” than an unchristian manner, for even unchristian do these things, without said faith. Timothy was displaying this diligence of care as essential. James 2:17,18, backs it up.

      • tonycutty // June 6, 2016 at 9:02 am //

        This whole argument (both sides!) sounds awfully complex! Surely it’s much more simple than that?

      • Tom, what you say then would strengthen the case that our Heavenly Father takes care of His children unconditionally. because He would not deny this principle. If good works are for men to see, then they are a superficial performance; men putting on a show for men. This also puts men in the judgment seat; making determinations on whether enough good works were performed or whether the works performed were good enough. The fact is, our works never truly meet any of the requirements because the only acceptable standard is perfection. We all say in common conversation, “nobody’s perfect”, yet so many churches hold people to that standard. We need Someone to save us from this madness.

        We have been trained to read the Bible as a sin manual. I don’t believe Paul is outlining sin in this chapter, but just sharing some common sense from his experience.

        By the way, Tom, are you the same Tom Howard who is the author of “On Being Catholic”? Thanks

  19. Thank you for the words of encouragement. I’ve come out of a strict works based church that has created much fear in my heart of God because of my failure to live a “holy life “. I have been trying to make myself acceptable to God by their standards for years and lost my faith and joy.Salvation is a gift I can’t earn.

  20. Please post and explain: This doesn’t make sense to me why does this work when you first say we need to be sick to see correctly. This has been my experience. But how can that feel like fun. meaning why does jesus endorse this message of getting sick first and learning this lesson and it being grace and faith and not works.?

  21. Nympha Garrett // June 5, 2016 at 2:03 am // Reply

    Amen – Jesus has the last word.

  22. I love the Sheep/Goats chart. This post was helpful to me because, in the past, I had almost worn myself out doing “good” works of “ministry,” sometimes writing over three letters a day (every single day) to prisoners because I didn’t want Jesus to call me a goat on the Last Day and say to me, “I was in prison, and you didn’t come visit me.” I was spending time and money I didn’t have, and there was no joy in it. Now that I’m under grace, I still write to someone who’s in jail, but it’s not out of fear of being a goat, and it’s balanced–no obligation or obsession that if I don’t send Bible verses in the mail the person will suffer, and it would be all my fault. I write about once every 7-10 days, and God is accomplishing more because I have something more valuable to offer–the genuine love and grace of Jesus Christ who set me free and can set the prisoners free, too. Paul’s right! How many “ministry” visits or letters does it take to qualify you as a sheep? The problem is you never know when you’re under the law.

    • tonycutty // June 5, 2016 at 7:59 am // Reply

      In fact it reminds me of the Islamic thing where fasting/prayer/etc performed on their sabbath (whatever it’s called in Islam; I can’t remember) is worth three times that performed on a normal day. Prayer offered on a day during Ramadan is similarly worth more, and as for prayer on the sabbath during Ramadan, well then you really hit the jackpot of course. And in the similar Christian points-system of helping people or passing by on the other side, well, who knows how many points you lose for ignoring someone in need, nor how many you get for prison visiting or hospital ministry. And you put one foot wrong, well, maybe the bubble bursts and it all counts for nothing immediately! Who knows? No way a just God would institute such a worthless system as this!

      • Beatrice // June 5, 2016 at 2:37 pm //

        So well said! You’re so right! Before I was saved by grace, I was literally walking on eggshells never really knowing what would ultimately await me on the “Last Day.” Would I be accepted as a sheep or rejected as a goat? Sadly, none of the preachers could offer me any assurance. I was so insecure and felt totally unloved and unworthy. No matter how hard I tried, it was never enough. I also felt guilty for saying “no” to people in need–the Lord might tell me that He was actually the one asking for the help, and that I denied the Son of God Himself (i.e., “If you didn’t do it for the least of these, you didn’t do it for me”). I periodically feared earning the “goat” title. Thank God for the peace I have now!

  23. I enjoy reading, I hope you will consider using Messiah – Jesus Messiah
    Thank you

  24. Warren (South Carolina, USA) // June 6, 2016 at 1:57 pm // Reply

    Great post Saint Paul.

    When you state the problem with the goats: “Instead of reminding me of your sins, you should’ve remembered my blood”. . . . . I started to wonder if that is why religion has twisted the true meaning of “confession” to mean ANYTHING other than: “agreeing with God about what He says happened to our sins”?

    When we “confess” our sins the way religion defines it, it seems to me that we are constantly reminding God of our sins, rather than thanking Him for what the Blood of Jesus did with our sins and iniquities.

    It seems like religion has gone out of it’s way to redefine the true biblical meaning of words like confess, repent, chastise, etc, etc, etc.

    Warren (South Carolina, USA)

  25. 1Jn 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

    And all the sheep said Amen !


  26. The sheep and goat are the good example for Jesus limit of believers and is ABBA Father is fully content ..Reply as I have little understanding problem as Jesus is son of God Abba.

  27. Great posting Paul. Very helpful, especially when I have heard a msg of condemnation and us all being sinners, at church this morning. Second last paragraph, should be ‘preached’ I think. Bless you. leanne

  28. To tonycutty: Couldn’t figure out how to respond directly to your post, so I hope you see this.

    First, you might be oversimplifying the verse you quoted about giving water to the disciples. But leaving that aside. I guess I would start with Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The good works are prepared by Him and we just have to look for them. The goal and idea is to listen for his voice saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” If I instinctively give you a cup of water, didn’t that come from Him? I just took the opportunity He placed there for me.

    More important, is what I hope to avoid. If I, in my self, determine a plan of action to go out and do good works, then they are at best nothing, at worst harmful. We are surrounded by examples of people who have taken matters into their own hands to do God’s work. (I call them Ishmaels.) The problem is that God didn’t ask me to do it, and so it is not part of his plan. Anything outside of his plan cannot be good.

    Just as a further thought: I don’t actually think that actions in and of themselves can be characterized as good or bad. For instance, murder is wrong, not necessarily all killing, because murder is killing for the wrong reason. That’s why Jesus focuses on the heart: looking at someone lustfully is adultery, yelling “raca” is murder. It’s not the giving of the cup of water , it’s why you did it. So, I still think it comes back to Him as the source of all good.

    • Hi Allen – yes, I found it, as you can see 🙂 I think there’s a limit on the comments as to the number of reply/reply levels, and this is set by the site admin.

      Thank you for your comprehensive reply, and I am pondering your words carefully. It all makes sense and I paricularly liked your take on the water 🙂 If I might add a little more clarification to my initial question, the question originally came from a conversation I had with a friend who claimed that all works outside of faith are in vain; the conclusion he had reached was that ‘unbelievers’ (no doubt according to his definition!) could do nothing that was of lasting value. Personally I think that is quite denigrating to those people who despite being ‘unbelievers’, do good works from the purest of motives. And especially those works which benefit the Kingdom; God can use all kinds of people (or even, famously, Balaams’s donkey 😉 ) to further His purposes and I must put it to my friend the next time I see him that God’s purposes involve agencies we never even suspect 🙂

      So the reason for the question was really to ask if you knew what Scriptural (or other) basis a believer might have for such a belief – that about things not having an everlasting value. However I see now, having re-read your post after which I asked the question, that actually you are not referring to the works of the ‘unregenerate’ at all; my apologies. But even so, if you have any clue as to where that belief might come from (and I appreciate it’s probably not your belief) then I’d be interested to hear about those ideas. If it’s any help, my friend was originally from a Calvary Chapel background…..

      Thanks again and bless you 🙂

      • Tony,
        Sorry it took so long to reply. I had to think, and then I got busy.

        In another context, a friend was making the argument that the U.S. is God’s country in some sense, and part of his proof is that God raised us up to stop Hitler and help reestablish Israel. Here’s the problem; by the same logic, then Hitler helped God too (as did Judas).

        Lots of people do things that seem beneficial, but there is no reward for it. Paul was on some level ok with people who were preaching Christ for selfish reasons, since at least Christ was preached, but they would receive no reward for it (Phil 1:18-19). Remember the idea that if you do your good works before men, you have received your reward and will not be rewarded in heaven (Matt 6:1).

        In God’s understanding, good is not determined by the outcome, but by other things including motivation. If the motivation is selfish, it doesn’t matter how “good” we think the act is, you have actually done harm to at least yourself. If the motivation is God, then it is good.

        My current understanding (1 Cor. 13:12).

    • Yet,”things done” are actions and we will be judged on them whether “good or bad”. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10.

      • 1. I still think we need to be careful about judgment being based on actions. Why you do something is far more important what you did, in terms of you might be judged for it.
        2. Tom, you should check out this blogs explanation of the judgment seat of Christ.

    • Oh thank you for clarifying this! He prepares the works we are to do! I was so works oriented. My self worth came from how much I could accomplish. I did good works out of insecurity – Am I doing enough for Jesus yet? As a recovering person who has struggled with saving, pleasing and fixing people, it is so sweet to sit at His feet and enjoy being loved. After that filling up, I just easily and naturally give love to others around me! What a relief it is not be driven to perform! Loved your comments!

    • I accidentally replied to the wrong post. I meant to thank Allen W for this beautiful clarification regarding works. Yes – He prepares the works. I am a recovering burnt out woman who needs to sit with Jesus and listen. When I rest in His love, I have more love to give. I am relaxed not stressed out, at peace. And He has a lighter load for me than I have for myself. Once I heard Him speak these words in my spirit ” I care more about you than what you do for me”
      All this performance, burden bearing, over achieving has to come to an end. More Mary less Martha.

  29. Allen thanks for your answer, I’m having to type this reply that’s not strictly correct in the hierarchy 🙂

    That is indeed the kind of thing I was asking about; thanks for giving me your take on it. I will continue to ponder your reply as part of my gathering of ideas on this subject, and see if I can understand this viewpoint better. Although I may not entirely agree with it, I still would like to understand others’ viewpoints. That way lies better understanding! I appreciate the time you’ve taken on this for me, so thank you most sincerely once again 🙂

  30. It never fails when certain individuals attempt to inject some sort of work or action on ones part to validate (or in some cases, activate) the grace of God in their lives. “Yes your’e saved by grace, BUT!” The only BUT clause (to my knowledge) is found in Gal 5:13. Other scriptures advise us to be led by the spirit and not the flesh. When you insert any action to the grace of God your’e creating a spiritual insurance policy instead of resting in who and what he’s already done. i gave a homeless Vet my last 10 bucks, the other day, without so much as blinking an eye. no amount of prompting of my flesh was neccessary. Im not boasting, just trying to give a small but significant example of effortless grace! When we allow (not force) the spirit to lead us, our acts of kindness or anything we are doing to help others which includes leading them to Christ, it becomes an effortless task that does not need prompting by those who are afraid that we would fall short!

    • If that be the case, then why would Paul tell us (that believe already) to be sedulous to good works in both “maintaining and learning”? Titus 3: 8 and 14. Referring not merely to acts of benevolence and charity, but to all that is upright and good – to an honest and holy life, as these “things are good and profitable”.
      Could this be related to Paul saying, he “fought the good fight” and “Kept the faith”, as “faith without, corresponding, works is dead”.
      To say none of these relates, is a stretch!

      • There is a difference between doing something because it is a good thing God wants us to do and adding it in as a “But”, bargaining chip(I gave money) or like he said to buy a spiritual insurance policy. Letting the Spirit lead can be quite the battle for some of us who have only had outward rules, pressures and fears doing the leading

      • This “is” the leading of the Spirit! As Paul had this self same Spirit, and by that Spirit expressed this diligent pursuit of learning to maintain good works, as being profitable.
        As I was responding to koolconserv’s comment; those who attempt to, “..inject some sort of work or action on ones part to validate (or in some cases, activate) the grace of God in their lives”. To which I see Paul expressing (injecting) this! But why?
        It seems he is following in more of a “validating” stance as was John in 1 John 3:7, to tell us righteousness is doing, as he further explained in verse 18, that, again, we are to show our love for God by both “word and deed” Interesting, this same disciple said something similar in john 3:21, “But those who ‘do’ what is right come to the light so others can see that they are ‘doing’ what God wants.” NLT.
        For a belief, no matter how sincere, if not reflected in reality isn’t a belief; it’s a delusion, thus deceptive.
        As Paul also speaks of the importance of both “word and deed”, as this was how he brought the truth (gospel) to the obedience of the Gentiles, showing forth this reality. Romans 15:18.

  31. I think if Jesus wanted to say what you’re saying, he could have said something that at least implies that. I confess that as a “liberal” I want to take this story more literally. I believe Jesus was stressing the crucial importance of works (empathy validated by responsibility), notwithstanding other scripture – particularly that from sources other than Jesus himself.

    • I’m not sure what you mean. To me it’s very plain that Jesus was speaking of two types of people – sheep and goats. True, religious folk have twisted his words into a graceless doctrine of self-justification for hundreds of years, but his words are plain for all to see. The shepherd knows his sheep.

      • Thanks for your honest feedback!

        I don’t believe in a separate spirit world (God, the devil,…). I don’t feel that basically I need to be saved, by works, or any other way, although I have experienced some spiritual change and well being (I suppose that could be thought of as “grace”) from reading the gospels. So, no, I’m not interested in either self-justification by works, or redemption, in the sense discussed by Paul.

        The meaning of this “The sheep and the goats” to me seems simple, clear, and obvious. He’s making it plain that his sheep are expected to nurture and protect each other (and any other human beings) as he nurtures and protects them. Why complicate this with other ideas?

      • Let me try another angle. Putting aside whatever expectations Jesus may or may not have for his sheep, what makes a sheep a sheep in the first place?

      • (By the way – by “Paul” I mean “Paul of Tarsus”, not you.)

        Many things. I guess you’re referring to e.g. that they’re cooperative, and get along with, a shepherd, which might be a metaphor for people who are receptive to Christ’s message?

    • Lifeform. Under law there are good incentives and harsh “comfort” to encourage taking care of widows and orphans. But like everything else about the law covenant, there is fault with it. It produces the opposite effect. Widows and orphans die.

      Under the rest of grace, more is expected – all of Jesus. But the more that he expects, He gives. And widows and orphans are taken care of outstandingly.

      Paul writes this in one of his not late posts.

      • In my opinion Christ was not preaching against the Mosaic laws, But he did say that there are those two commandments (love God, and love your brother as yourself?) and it seems that in this story he’s making it clear that his “sheep” are expected not just to love their brothers, but to follow through in actions.

      • Christians don’t need the sheep dog of the law. Mr. Law does not have an iota on Mr. Grace. Try jumping through your own hoops.

      • Actually, you’re absolutely right – I confess that I personally take very little responsibility for others – so really I’m not coming from a position of following Christ myself, and I might not really understand exactly what I’m talking about here. And if I did donate a lot of money or whatever I wouldn’t feel like it made me more worthy in any way, or that that’s true for anyone else.

        Since reading the gospels I have tried helping others in very small ways, without really putting myself out hardly at all. I’ve found these small acts of giving to be win – win situations. I like to think that most people, you included, if they saw that someone needed help, would at least wish that something was done or could be done.

        I might not understand Christians very well, because I don’t feel that I really need to follow Christ’s admonitions anyway – I don’t believe in an afterlife so I don’t feel that my future lies in the balance, so I don’t feel under any pressure really at all.

  32. Peter Hiett, pastor of The Sanctuary, made a card with all the characteristics of the Sheep in one column and Goats in another. Then he asked his members to check off all the things they did and didn’t do in their lifetime. He asked those qualified to be sheep to go to one side of the sanctuary and those qualified as goats to go to the other. No one moved. Why? We all have sheep and goat characteristics.

  33. Hi Paul
    You said “A sheep is someone who believes in Jesus, while a goat is someone who rejects Jesus, doesn’t know him, and doesn’t want to know him.” The sheep in Matt 25 don’t know they have done righteous deeds as unto the Lord. They said “when did we do these things unto you” (my abbreviated quote) They did righteous acts to brethren of the Lord, Matt 12:50 tells us who the Lord’ brethren are. My point is this.Though we read that these are “Blessed of the Father” inherit the kingdom (predestined for them) and enter into eternal life. We don’t read that they believe in Jesus. But as with Matt 10:42 they receive their reward for ministering to the Lords brethren. Appreciate your response.

  34. Does anyone think there’s a possibility of people being able to accept Jesus in their last breath? I have siblings who are so kind and loving yet don’t believe in Jesus. They just think there is a higher power and are unsure of what that is and said they will just accept whatever it is when they die. Is there hope they could be saved that way? Otherwise i dont see how i can have peace or joy in this life knowing they could potentially suffer for eternity.

    • YES! The clearest example of a last-second acceptance of Jesus is the thief on the cross [Luke 23:39-43]. One of the thieves on the cross realized that his punishment was just and that Jesus did nothing wrong that merited the crucifixion. Then the thief asked Jesus to remember him after coming into the kingdom. Jesus replied by promising that the thief “will be with [Jesus] in paradise” [Luke 23:43]. The thief on the cross serves as an example that anyone who comes to Jesus during life — even on the last possible second — can be saved.

  35. Thank you for explaining the difference and directing our focus to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

  36. Dylan Alberroth // May 2, 2023 at 1:59 pm // Reply

    Good day Mr Paul,
    I can’t help but feel John 10:26 (refusing to believe because they are not the sheep ) talks about predestination. But if that were true, it would render John 3:16 meaningless, like how could he have loved them if he destined them for destruction already?

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