The question of good works and the final judgment is one that often perplexes the people of God. The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25 is relevant as it is a clear statement of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. There are several reasons why the traditional, Protestant understanding of justification by faith alone is consistent with Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 25:31-46. Protestantism has traditionally viewed good works as the consequence of saving faith, or the lively evidences that one does possess saving faith, which is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 25 –

The passage does not teach salvation by works:

  1. the sheep and the goats are already sheep and goats when they stand in judgment before Christ
  2. the sheep are called “blessed of My Father” which points to them having already been favored by God
  3. the sheep are called to “inherit the kingdom” – we don’t earn or merit an inheritance
  4. the sheep are given a kingdom that was “prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (the sheep were elected by God before the foundation of the world [Eph 1:4], and the good works they walk in were prepared for them by God [Eph 2:10])
  5. the good works are evidences of the presence of saving faith; good works are the consequence of saving faith in Christ
  6. the surprise of the sheep with reference to their blessedness indicates that they were not doing good works in order to be saved; they did them as a consequence of their salvation
  7. the continual emphasis in Matthew’s gospel is on salvation by grace through faith (1:21; 7:21-23; 9:9-13; 11:25-30; 20:28)
  8. the idea that Jesus taught salvation by faith plus works and Paul taught salvation by faith alone is absurd; it is a rejection of the one way of salvation and destructive of the unity of Scripture, among other things
  9. the words of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 2:21 which destroy the notion that a person’s works are involved in justification, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” J. Gresham Machen’s comment on Galatians 2:21 is helpful:

    This verse is the key verse of the epistle to the Galatians; it expresses the central thought of the epistle.  The Judaizers attempted to supplement the saving work of Christ by the merit of their own obedience to the law.  “That,” says Paul, “is impossible; Christ will do everything or nothing:  earn your salvation if your obedience to the law is perfect, or else trust wholly to Christ’s completed work; you cannot do both; you cannot combine merit and grace; if justification even in the slightest measure is through human merit, then Christ died in vain.”[1]

The passage does teach –

  1. the absolute certainty of judgment to come (cf. Jn 5:22, 27-29; Acts 17:31; Rom 14:10, 12; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15)
  2. the glory of Christ as the Judge to come (an allusion to OT texts ascribing judgment to Yahweh; the title “Son of Man;” the self-identification of Christ as the “King” who is the eschatological judge)
  3. the separation of the righteous from the wicked on the day of judgment and into eternity
  4. the truth that works give evidence to the presence of saving faith (Gal 5:6; Eph 2:8-10; Titus 2:13-14; Jas 2:14-26; 2LCF 16:2)
  5. the identification of good works (the talents of vv.14-30) – acts of charity toward God’s people (and the needy in general, cf. Gal 6:10)
  6. the necessity for God’s people to engage in such good works. John Calvin comments, “We must be prodigiously sluggish, if compassion be not drawn from our bowels by this statement [v.40], that Christ is either neglected or honored in the person of those who need our assistance.”[2]
  7. the two (and only two) places where persons will go for eternity
  8. the blessedness of the righteous (with Christ / a prepared kingdom / eternal life)
  9. the misery of the unrighteous (the goats are cast away from Christ, a punishment of loss; the goats will go away into everlasting punishment, a punishment of sense)

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Notes on Galatians, ed. John Skilton (1972; reprint, Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2006), 161.

[2] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XVII (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, re. 1996), 181.

The Bible often speaks about the “fear of God.” There are two types of the fear of God, the first is a slavish fear, and the second is a filial fear. Both are referred to in Exodus 20:20, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear [slavish]; for God has come to test you, and that His fear [filial] may be before you, so that you may not sin.’” John Murray described the fear of God (in this second sense) as “the soul of godliness.”[1] He also wrote, “The fear of God in us is that frame of heart and mind which reflects our apprehension of who and what God is, and who and what God is will tolerate nothing less than totality commitment to Him.”[2]

  1. The fear of God is produced by the grace of God. The apostle Paul summarizes the natural man’s condition in Romans 3:18 by saying, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” By nature, man sees God as his enemy and therefore, man does not fear God as he ought to (Rom 8:7-8). If man is to be moved into a state of the proper fear of God, God’s grace must produce that fear in the heart of man. John Newton captured this sentiment in his famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”: “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…”[3] This accurately reflects the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 32:40, “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me” (emphasis added). As John Flavel wrote, “This fear of God is a gracious habit or principle planted by God in the soul, whereby the soul is kept under an holy awe of the eye of God, and from thence is inclined to perform and do what pleases Him, and to shun and avoid whatsoever He forbids and hates. It is planted in the soul as a permanent and fixed habit…To fear man is natural, but to fear God is wholly supernatural.”[4] 
  1. The fear of God affects our thinking. The Book of Proverbs often refers to the fear of God and it begins with a reference to this positive aspect of the fear of God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (see also Prov 2:5; 9:10; 14:26; 15:33). The great commandment of the law assumes the fear of God and demonstrates the effect upon the mind of man: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind(Mt 22:37, emphasis added). Believers in Christ have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) and Christ is described in Isaiah as One who had the “fear of the LORD” (Is 11:2).
  1. The fear of God affects our actions. This is another recurring theme in the Book of Proverbs, for instance, “Do not be wise in your eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil” (Prov 3:7; see also 8:13; 15:16; 16:6; 19:23). Though Genesis 39 does not specifically mention Joseph’s fear of the LORD, it does emphasize that “the LORD was with Joseph” (Gen 39:2, 21, 23). No doubt this fear of the Lord was an impetus in Joseph’s continual resistance against the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife and his wonderful statement in verse 9, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul commands the believer in Christ to perfect “holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
  1. The fear of God conditions our public worship. This lesson was vividly demonstrated in Leviticus 10 when Nadab and Abihu offered “profane fire before the LORD” (Lev 10:1), after having received specific directions on how to approach the Most High in Leviticus 1-9. The Lord who had previously sent fire to consume the proper sacrifice (Lev 9:24), now sent fire to consume these men who had perverted the worship of God. The Lord underscored the reverence (fear) that is due to Him in worship by saying, “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified” (Lev 10:3). The Book of Hebrews makes the same application for the New Covenant people of God: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). Much of what passes for Christian worship fails miserably at this point.

Conclusion

The people of God today must realize that the fear of God is not an Old Testament concept that was done away with the coming of Jesus Christ. It is not an outdated, antiquated concept confined to a primitive people serving their god among the nations serving their gods. Rather, it is “the soul of godliness” that is the result of the grace of God and which frames the heart and actions for service to God. It is that disposition of soul which should find expression in the church of Christ as the people of God gather together for worship. It is the right response to those who are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. David rightly recognized this: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Ps 130:3-4).

Book References

[1] John Murray, Principles of Conduct (1957; reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 229.

[2] Ibid., 242.

[3] John Newton, Trinity Hymnal (Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1961), 402.

[4] John Flavel, The Works of John Flavel (1820; reprint, Edinburgh/Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), 3.252.

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In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” There are several things the church needs to hear about this text.

In the first place, the Christian ministry must be populated by men who work hard. Like the farmer in 2 Timothy 2:6 who is described as “The hardworking farmer,” ministers are to labor diligently in the word and doctrine. Second, the Christian minister is to seek the approval of God, not men. This is not to say that he should purposefully try and offend men, but he should not cater to men by sacrificing the truth of God’s word. If God is pleased with the minister of the gospel, that is the minister’s greatest reward. Third, it is only as the minister is diligent and approved by God that he will have a clear conscience (“a worker who does not need to be ashamed”). If he is lazy, seeking the favor of men, and otherwise negligent in his calling, then he should be ashamed.

There is, unfortunately, a common misunderstanding concerning the ministry of the word that is associated with Jesus’s words in Matthew 10:19. Jesus said, “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak.” In the context, Christ gives specific instructions to the apostles for their missionary endeavors. Verses 16-23 deal specifically with the persecution the apostles would face when they preached the gospel to unbelieving Jews and later in the Roman Empire (note Acts 4:8-12 for the specific application of this promise in the ministry of Peter). It should be obvious that Christ is not giving universal rules for the normative conduct of gospel ministers, but He is giving an extraordinary promise of the Spirit’s aid for the coming persecution that His apostles would face. France writes, “As in [Matthew] 6:25-34, the assurance is not an excuse for failure to make responsible provision for foreseeable needs; to take this assurance as an excuse for lazy preachers, insisting that all Christian utterance must be spontaneous and unprepared, is to take it seriously out of context.”[1]

The normative instruction for gospel ministers is found in our text, for Paul says the minister of the gospel must rightly divide the word of truth. This is consistent with Paul’s emphasis on sound doctrine throughout the Pastoral Epistles (cf. 1 Tim 1:10; 2:4; 3:2; 3:15; 4:6; 4:13; 2 Tim 1:13; 3:16-17; 4:3; Tit 1:1; 1:9; 2:1). For the minister to rightly divide the word of truth (or, handle “accurately the word of truth” NASB), he must study; he must prepare; he must strive to accurately expound the Scriptures. He does this, of course, with prayerfulness and with dependence on the Holy Spirit, but he must “Be diligent to show [himself] approved to God…”

It is not an either/or scenario: godly ministers will only depend on the Holy Spirit, or godly ministers will only study. Rather, it is both/and: godly ministers will give themselves to the study of God’s word and do so in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Only then will they be able to prepare sermons that will feed the sheep of Christ.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 392.

The Bible teaches what has been commonly referred to in the history of theology as “Calvinism.” The second point of the Five Points of Calvinism is called “unconditional election,” which means that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) according to His good pleasure (Mt 11:26). He did not choose us because we were “holy and without blame,” but so that we would become “holy and without blame” by virtue of our union with Christ (Eph 1:4). As John Gill wisely commented, “Election does not find men in Christ, but puts them there; it gives them a being in him, and union to him.”[1] The comfort this doctrine affords is obvious: If God had not chosen men unto salvation, they would have never chosen Him and would have perished under the just judgment and wrath of God forever.

The challenge this doctrine affords is also obvious: How does a sinner know that he is elect? In 2 Peter 1:10, the Apostle Peter writes, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure…” This text, however, does not address the challenge concerning election, for Peter writes to Christians, those already saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and he essentially calls them to live in light of the salvation they already experience. As far as unbelievers are concerned, the Bible never calls on them to determine whether or not they are elect before coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather, God in the Bible calls sinners to come to Him immediately, without first trying to determine whether or not they are elect. For instance, in the Prophet Isaiah, the Lord God declares, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Is 55:1) The Lord does not call men to look inside to see if they may or may not be elect, He calls them to come and live. In Matthew 11:25-30, the Lord Jesus highlights the sovereignty of God in salvation (including election) in verses 25-27, and then calls sinners to “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (verse 28). The Lord Jesus does not call sinners to determine whether or not they are prepared to come to Him, He calls them to come to Him and He will give them rest (verse 28). In Acts 16:25-34, there is the situation of the Philippian jailer who fears judgment at the hand of the civil authority for what would have been considered dereliction of duty in his part if the prisoners had escaped (verses 25-26). Instead of facing the wrath of his superiors, the jailer reckons he will commit suicide (verse 27) but is thankfully interrupted by the Apostle Paul (verse 28). When the jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (verse 30), Paul and Silas do not respond, “make sure you are one of the elect” or “make sure you are prepared to meet God.” Rather, Paul clearly tells the man, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (verse 31).

A good rule of thumb concerning the challenge of election: On the way to the cross, sinners should not concern themselves with it, they should simply look to Christ in faith for the salvation that God promises to those who believe. After having come to the cross, believers should endeavor “to make [their] call and election sure” (2 Pet 1:10) by living in a manner that is consistent with their salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

[1] John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (reprint, Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 2007), 181.

 

The Bible often speaks about the “fear of God.” There are two types of the fear of God, the first is a slavish fear, and the second is a filial fear. Both are referred to in Exodus 20:20, “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear [slavish]; for God has come to test you, and that His fear [filial] may be before you, so that you may not sin.’” John Murray described the fear of God (in this second sense) as “the soul of godliness.”[1]
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