The Two Halves of Salvation: Matthew 25:31-46

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After sharing some end-time parables with the disciples in the large discussion about the time of His return, Jesus shifts His focus out of speaking in parables, and He returns to teaching about His return. In this grand conclusion to His end-time message, Jesus shares one of the most practical truths in the entire Bible, and it is a truth that is easy to see while also being easy to miss.

Let’s read how Jesus concludes His message for these disciples, and how this message has challenged believers throughout the centuries stretching all the way to today. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, and we will be reading from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Starting in verse 31, Jesus continued by saying:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

35 For I was hungry
and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in;
36 I was naked and you clothed Me;
I was sick and you took care of Me;
I was in prison and you visited Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

40 “And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41 Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!

42 For I was hungry
and you gave Me nothing to eat;
I was thirsty
and you gave Me nothing to drink;
43 I was a stranger
and you didn’t take Me in;
I was naked
and you didn’t clothe Me,
sick and in prison
and you didn’t take care of Me.’

44 “Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’

45 “Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In this passage, we see one of the most startling challenges we have on the subject being saved. This passage seems to indicate that our salvation hinges on something we do rather than on the One we believe in. However, narrowing our salvation down to be exclusively based on the truth in this passage only shares half of the truth.

The full truth is that our salvation is based on faith, but our faith is only valuable when it is visibly helping others.

In this passage, I find it interesting that both groups of people are surprised to find out that Jesus was among the least of these people. While I don’t believe that Jesus was literally present in each of these situations, I believe that Jesus shares a powerful truth based on how God wants us to focus our love for Him. Within this passage, I see God, through Jesus, challenging us to love Him by loving and helping those in society who cannot help us in return or repay us for our help.

While the list of help that Jesus shares is probably not exhaustive, I believe it gives a tangible theme of the type of help God values. When someone is hungry or thirsty and we give them food or drink, they cannot repay us. If they had money, they could simply buy food or water, and if they had food or water, then they wouldn’t be hungry or thirsty. Helping others in this way is help that introduces us to the theme of helping in a way that cannot be repaid.

Next, we discover that helping a stranger by giving them a place to stay also follows along the same theme. If someone had money, they could rent a room in a hotel, and they would have a place to stay. Without money, when we take someone in and give them a place to stay, there is nothing they can really do to repay us. While they might help around our home, chances are good that their “repayment” is really a way of saying thank you more than trying to earn their right to stay.

After the stranger, we discover the same theme within being naked and being clothed, sick and being taken care of, and in prison and being visited. All of these examples represent help that is giving without expecting any type of repayment, and it is help in situations where payment cannot be returned.

So why does God value this type of help to base our salvation on? In my mind, I see this type of help being God’s type of help. This type of help is what God has done for each of us.

By sending Jesus into this world, God chose to step down and help the human race when we didn’t deserve help, and when we could not do anything or repay anything back to God. It is as though God gave us a million dollar gift and the best we could return is a penny.

But Jesus didn’t come to collect the pennies of humanity. He came because God is interested in sharing the millions and billions in gifts because of who He is and how much He loves us. The best way we can say thank you to God, continuing our metaphor, is to pass our pennies on to those who cannot repay us.

While it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that money is the best gift, money is also the most repayable gift. When we are called to help others, we are called to help in ways that are not repayable.

God values humanity so much that He gave Himself for us. While anyone could help another person out, only those who help others because they love God, they have placed their faith, hope, and trust in Jesus, and they have chosen to show their love for God through loving others will experience salvation. The motivation of the heart matters and the reason for our love is crucial.

People can love and help others with self-serving motives, and people can love and help others without having faith in Jesus. These people will have only carried out the visible half of salvation while missing the hidden part. Others can place their faith and trust in Jesus but be cruel and mean to everyone they meet. This second group will have only carried out the hidden half of salvation while missing the visible part.

In order to be welcomed into heaven, we must be saved internally, because of our faith is in Jesus, and we must display our faith and thanks to God for His gift by helping others in ways that are not easily repaid. This is living out God’s character in the world, and it’s His challenge to each of us!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Be sure to have your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus’ sacrifice to cover your sins. Believe that His sacrifice is enough and show your thanks to God for what He has done for you through helping others who cannot help you in return. Pay God’s love forward in the world around you!

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your connection with God strong. We need a strong private connection with God to truly know His level of love and sacrifice for us. We cannot out give God, and the closer we are to Him, the more we know this to be true.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 19: When Jesus finishes describing the end-time, He describes separating sheep and goats on one visible criteria. Does this mean salvation is based on works, or can we learn something about the visible half of our faith?

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