I’ve rewritten this post, and am deleting the other that I published by this title. I should have meditated on it longer before writing. The Holy Spirit wants me to challenge you to go beyond what you now know, but not to condemn. So, here goes!
Matthew 25:37-39 (NASB) Then the righteous will answer Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?”
Matthew 25:44 (NASB) Then the accursed (v. 41) will answer (Jesus), “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?”
It looks like everyone will be surprised when the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, comes in His glory. But how can that be? Why would some be surprised to find that they had served Him, and why would some be surprised to find that they had not served Him?
If I organize a food bank so starving people are fed, pass out bottles of water to the thirsty, invite strangers into my own home when they need shelter, organize and oversee a clothing closet for the poor, participate in a prison ministry, and visit sick people, I will know that I did these things. I would say that those are good deeds, indeed. But there are those, according to Jesus, who will be surprised because they feel they’ve done all these good things, and believe that’s what He wanted in Matthew 25:31-46. The surprised ones address Him as “Lord” when they ask, “When didn’t we . . . ?” Calling Him “Lord” indicates that they have removed themselves from the throne in their hearts and have enthroned Him. So why does Jesus call them “accursed?”
Conversely, if in the name of Jesus (that is, having His nature and acting as His representative) I feed the Word of God to people, if raging torrents of living water come from my belly as Christ promised to those who are baptized in the Holy Spirit, if I invite into His household those who do not know Christ, if I speak His words so they see the the truth of them and become clothed with His righteousness, if by Jesus’ words I free those who are in prisons both with and without bars, and heal the sick, will I know that I did these things? Yet according to Jesus, those who do these things are also surprised, asking, “When did we . . . ?” Why does He call them “righteous” and call “accursed” the others who know the good deeds they have done?
You know, I’ve been a Christian for ten years, and I really don’t know who I myself have affected with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have seen some fed by the Word of God from my mouth, but I didn’t feed them — it was His Word. I have seen the spiritual thirst and hunger of some quenched, but I didn’t do it. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. I have watched them join the household of God, drawn by Him, but I didn’t draw them — the Father did. I have seen them saved by the gospel (it is the power of God for salvation) and thus clothed with Christ’s righteousness, but I didn’t save them or clothe them– the power of God did, through the gospel of Jesus Christ which I spoke. (Sometimes, I have uttered no words at all and people have come to salvation, so I would KNOW it wasn’t anything I was doing!) I have watched people be set free from sin by Christ’s words and His power, but I didn’t set them free — He did. While present with some, I have seen them healed by Him. But I didn’t heal them — He did. “Yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Do you see? Though I am ministering, I myself have done none of these things. So, when I stand before Him, He may say, “Truly, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” And I will be surprised, because I believe I myself have done nothing, really, except proclaim the excellencies of Him who brought me out of darkness and into His wonderful light. I have watched Him work, not me. All I have done is what I am compelled to do by the very love of God with which He Himself filled my heart. All I have done is allow the Lord to make my feet beautiful so the good news of His freedom can go forth as I walk.
Conversely, all of the things which I agree are good — all the food banks, clothing closets and so on — can be done without the involvement of God at all. Many secular organizations do these things. Maybe there’s something Jesus is warning us about. Maybe He wants us to do the things only God can do — the spiritual things. And at the same time, I believe we are to give actual food to people and actually clothe and shelter them, and all of the other things of which He speaks. But we must do them in His name, and speak His wonderful, life-saving truth while we’re doing it.
The “accursed” call Him “Lord.” I want to be very careful here. I am quite sure they feel they have done the good deeds Jesus describes in these passages, but they are surprised to hear Jesus say they have not done them to Him! Why does He say that? There’s something about the nature of their deeds that, according to Jesus, was not identified with Him. If they love Jesus, they will do everything in His name (having His nature and being His representative). Maybe the ones Jesus calls “accursed” did all these good deeds and when they were finished with them each day, they sinned willfully against God. If they disobey Him, they do not love Him (John 14:24). If they disobey Him and therefore do not love Him, they do not have His nature but still have the nature they were born with. They cannot represent Him, they cannot do deeds “in His name.” Their deeds are those that anyone could do, Christian or not.
I could never in my own power swap my nature for His. It was done by Him, so I do not boast when I say I am filled with the Holy Spirit — He did it when I cried out to the Father in obedience to Him. He empowers the obedient, filling them with the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32). Jesus calls us to do what He did when He walked the earth, and greater (John 14:12), but we can’t do those things unless we have His nature in us. The disobedient will not be empowered.
I want to do good deeds; it is important to feed hungry people! I do these myself, out of a sense of their moral “rightness.” But I believe these passages teach us that we must be empowered and purified, so we can do God deeds because we love God with God’s actual love and obey Jesus because we love the Father and Him. I believe this truth runs all through Matthew 25, from the wise virgins who brought oil in vessels and the foolish who did not, to the two servants who multiplied the treasure given to them by God and the one who buried it. Either we do deeds in His name or we don’t.
Those who do deeds in His name (having His nature) are found righteous by Him. I do not believe works save us from being under the wrath of God — the Bible says we are saved by believing in Jesus Christ, and the faith to believe is a gift from God. But Jesus clearly says that if we love Him, we obey Him. I have no capacity in myself to obey Him. But when He filled me with the Holy Spirit, I was filled with God’s actual love so I could love Him and believers and the world as He loves. And in that empowered state, by the grace of God, Jesus can do His deeds through me and I can do not just good deeds any moral person can do but good deeds as His representative, having His nature. I believe that’s what He’s getting at in this passage of Scripture.
Now remember, I can only do these things because He’s purified my heart and made me able to love Him with His love. I can do them and then obey Him the rest of the time, too, because of what He has done in my heart. He can work His miracles through me because of the miracle He has worked in me. He fed the thousands miraculously with a few loaves and fish, but not until He had declared the gospel to them, with attesting miracles. I don’t know about you, but I want Jesus to do His miraculous physical and spiritual feeding through me. It’s easy to tell which works are His. They’re awe-inspiring, unexplainable by natural laws and reasoning and range from salvation from the wrath of God to healing of diseases.
Join me as I think about all of this. I’m praying that He may give me greater and greater faith to step out and do His works more and more. Take me from one degree of Your glory to a greater degree, my King! Take me from one degree of looking like You to a greater degree! Oh, may I be Your witness here, and may we all be!