“It is God who justifies.”
Today we have the big crescendo of Romans 8. Honestly, one could take a lifetime mining the depths of this chapter and not get to the end of it. The good news is that we have all eternity to do so. I envision Jesus teaching us, as he did Mary, all the truths that are wrapped up in our bibles. Can you imagine how cool that will be?
All this dependent on one thing – that God is the one who justifies. I can imagine that some of you roll your eyes and think, “Here he goes again….” The plain truth is that the whole idea of heaven and the forgiveness of sin is based upon what God, three in one, has done for us, not what we have done for him. It’s a gift. A gift of mercy.
You may ask why I am making such a big stink about this. You may believe that your infant baptism and your efforts have earned your spot in heaven, and as long as you don’t really screw it up by some serious infraction, you’re good to go. To be honest, if you are genuinely saved, some doctrinal differences will not keep you out. Of course, there are big ones, like faith in Jesus and belief in his resurrection, and repentance, are mandatory. Others, like the rapture and the preservation of the saints, are not. Still, we really have no excuse to refuse to learn all we can of the bible, especially when presented with topics that can really make a difference in how we carry out our daily walk with Jesus.
Let’s face it. This world stinks. It really does. Life is terribly difficult. I say that while writing from a desk and observing rural beauty all around me. Yet, people all around me are experiencing pain of one sort or another, some self-inflicted, some the result of someone else, and others through nobody’s fault. Our nation seems to be crumbling before our eyes, and the world seems closer to nuclear war than ever before. Even so, all of us in the US are standing in tall cotton compared to billions across the world who don’t enjoy any of the material possessions we do. We are fortunate. We happened to have pulled the lucky straw in life, right?
Actually, no. The richest ones of the richest nation in the world face the same criteria at the end of their lives: Does Jesus consider you a sheep or a goat?
Matthew 25:31-33 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Got that? Some people hope that this is a figure of speech, but I wouldn’t bet on that. What I find fascinating is the criteria Jesus uses to separate the two. First, let’s compare the reward of each:
Sheep: v. 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.
Goats: v. 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
As you can see, the stakes are very high. What does Jesus seem to use for his criteria? He compared our actions to his need.
To the sheep, he said that they provided for his needs. Get this, that we provided for JESUS’ needs. And, of course, they knew full well that they didn’t and were completely dismayed. Remembered what Isaiah said when he saw the Lord in a vision? “And I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” I think that will be our mindset. We know our good deeds won’t count for squat in comparison to our sin.
So, the sheep then question Jesus by asking when they provided to him. You know what he answered? Now, pay attention, because this should surprise you. Jesus said:
v. 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Huh? Did Jesus basically say if I ever fed a hungry person, I did it to Jesus? Yes, he did. And, incredibly, that’s all it took (or takes) for eternal life (v. 46). One person.
Now, imagine what the goats are thinking. They just heard all this, presumably, and Jesus levels the verdict. They are cursed and condemned to the eternal fire. Why? Because they didn’t provide for Jesus’ needs. That’s exactly what Jesus said. Of course, they protested, asking him to show them when they DIDN’T! Afterall, who hasn’t fed someone who was hungry, etc. Do you know how Jesus responded to that? Now, pay close attention:
v. 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
What?!?! Jesus requires the goats to feed, water, welcome, clothe, and visit EVERY SINGLE person? ALL PEOPLE? And, at the same time, requires the sheep to do something nice to ONLY ONE? I know, folks, that sounds crazy, but read it for yourself. Take your bible out and read it carefully. That’s exactly what it says.
How absolutely unfair is that? And now that I say this, maybe you are thinking of this passage:
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Certainly, this wasn’t what you were taught in Sunday school as you sang, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” Right? Right.
Folks, this criterion isn’t fair. It isn’t fair at all. It’s not meant to be, at least in what we consider fair. Could it be that we are reading this with a pre-conceived conclusion in your minds? Are these needs (and whether or not we meet them) actually the requirements to gain heaven? Or, are they simply used by Jesus to demonstrate what is made plain throughout the bible – that your actions only serve to keep you OUT of heaven by the one who judges perfectly? Furthermore, could it be that his criteria for clemency is based solely on his discretion alone? “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” (Romans 9:15)
Folks, I think if you really study these things, you’ll find what we all already know – that our salvation is a gift. It is not earned, even a little bit. Now, here’s the takeaway, if God is the one who picked you, who selected you, can you settle it in your minds that nothing, absolutely nothing, anywhere, anyplace, or any time, can change that, that you are blessed beyond comprehension! And, according to scripture (Jesus himself says so), there are riches beyond our imagination waiting for us as we are welcomed into his presence. I tell you what, if you don’t have joy in your life, it’s because you haven’t come to accept this as true.
This should change your life even if you already had a huge born-again experience. Yes, we do forget all this from time to time. Remind yourself regularly. Make Romans 8 a regular part of your devotional time with the Lord. He will bless you for it. Trust me.
Father, wow! “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Amen!
Copyright © 2019 Scott Powers