It is too easy to fall into the attitude that we are saving ourself from hell and earning our way to Jesus. We have been called to good works, it is part of the character of Christ that the Spirit is producing in us. Doing good, being kind, demonstrating love to others should become as natural as breathing and that is where the problem can come. Without realizing it, we begin to lean on the fact that we are faithful, good and obedient. The truth these things are being produced in us in abundance is great news because it is the fruit of God's righteousness but the fruit is not our salvation. Good works cannot save us. Only faith in the work of Jesus, the work of salvation which causes God to declare us righteous, saves us. Only God's righteousness saves but it must also provoke the fruit of good works and we must keep these two things clear in our understaning.
This is an important point for me to make and for you to understand because Jesus taught a lot about the fruit that is produced from this righteousness, to the point that many people have fallen into the trap of good works. It is like putting the cart before the horse, it's just backwards and will not work. God's righteousness provokes good works but good works cannot produce salvation. We are saved by grace and grace alone. We do not deserve it. We cannot earn it. It is a free gift to those who turn back to God and cry out to him. It is also natural for us to want to earn our way but we have to fight against it because that route was tried, it's called the law, and everyone failed:
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)
Now, accepting this as truth, we need to consider these good works because we are in trouble if they are not being produced in us. The Scripture says:
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17)
We read that God has raised up trainers to help us mature through acts of service:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
"To prepare God's people for works of service" is the reason we understand the five-fold ministry to be trainers and servants to the Body. Remember though that we are not saved for good works but instead that our salvation, our faith, produces good works and works of service. I write all this as a preamble for the Scripture we are considering this morning, found in Matthew 25.
The parables we find in Matthew 25 are taught on the heals of Jesus' teachings on the end times. We should consider these parables as warnings as to what condition Jesus expects to find us in when he returns. The most powerful message comes from the separation of the sheep and the goats. The sheep have allowed the fruit of God's righteousness to be produced through them:
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 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 invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:34-36)
Now look at this carefully, any of these things can be done without Jesus Christ. Any person with any compassion at all will do these good works. However, these are not good works simply for the sake of doing something good, these were produced in people declared righteous by God and so have a greater power and purpose. It wasn't so much what they did but instead the condition of the heart that provoked these things to happen. It is always about the heart, the fact these things came from the motivation of God's love. Works of righteousness have a seed quality about them and produce a harvest beyond measure:
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.'
The blessed of the Father are those who have trusted in his unfailing love; those who do not only love him but love him to a depth where they allow his righteousness to change them and produce through them. Faith in Jesus Christ changes things. It transforms our hearts and minds, it changes the course of our life, it turns attitude around, changes perspectives and values and causes us to see humanity in a much different light. However, we can never allow these changes to take the lead, they must always follow our faith and God's declared righteousness over us. We can never allow them to usurp the fundamental truth that we are saved by grace, not by works:
And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
We are getting to a time that we must be clear in our understanding and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We must daily check ourselves, our heart and our thinking. We cannot afford to be confused about these matters and we must set it straight in our living. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and this faith provokes us to action. We have freely received love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and so much more, now we must allow ourselves to be provoked to freely give all that we have received to others. Go ahead, spend the wealthy of the Kingdom on others and see what further things will be produced in you. However, do not let go of Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith and make sure everything we do is centered on him and is because of him.