Matthew 25:31-46 and justification by faith alone

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by MichaelNZ, Mar 27, 2013.

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  1. MichaelNZ

    MichaelNZ Puritan Board Freshman

    I read Matthew 25 tonight as part of my 6 month Bible reading plan. I remember years ago having a book that provided Roman Catholic responses to Protestant teachings (I am an ex-Romanist), and the first passage quoted to "prove" that salvation is by works was Matthew 25:31-46.

    What would the Reformed response be to this?

    My ESV Study Bible states that the righteous will inherit the kingdom not because of their righteous works but because their rigtheousness comes from their hearts which have been transformed by Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom. I can't see that this is inferred from the passage, which seems to be quite vague.
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Let us answer them in the follow ways:
    1. What do we confess? What saith the Scripture?
    There will certainly be a judgment that reckons with works. The question is: are works the basis for eternal life? Mt.25:31ff doesn't say that, only that the destiny of each group is consistent with the imputed value of such works as they performed. The "for..." (γαρ) in vv35 & 42 is an extremely common and versatile copulative, and testifies to a relation between the statements before and after, but does not promise causation, or any proof of "order" to this relation. Given the nature of things, what each was (sheep or goat) preceded all their activity as sheep or goat. Their work did not make them a sheep or a goat. The separation did not make them either. The kingdom was prepared for them (specific) before the foundation of the world, certainly before anything they had done.

    2. Who is focused on works in the passage?

    Remember first, the nations are not separated because of what they've done, but because of who they are: Sheep and Goats.

    The King (the Son of Man) welcomes the sheep on his favorable hand, and "thanks" or "approves" them regarding their solicitude on his behalf, which is basically the same as recognizing their love for him who invites them in. Interestingly, the sheep seem somewhat taken aback by the King's comments. "Works, Lord? What works?" they seem to say. They must be reminded of their thoughtless love that wrought this pleasure in him. Apparently, they also took no thought for this future commendation at the time they were loving the Lord's brethren. It isn't as if they were doing the work out of any expectation of reward: kingdom and eternal life as opposed to fire and everlasting punishment.

    The Goats, on the unfavorable left hand, are cursed and dispatched--once again, because they are goats, and on the left; and not because they failed at working, though they did fail at working. But again, interestingly, they seem shocked and taken aback at the harsh judgment respecting their works. "Works? O LORD! when did we not work for you?" It was their lack of love for those whom the Lord loved that he censures. Whatever they might have done for their own brethren may have been very important to them; such work, if done, may have even led them to think they should someday be rewarded. But the Lord counts everything they did as nothing, and everything they did not (for the least of "these") as personal despite.

    So in the end, those who have works don't need them. And those who think they have them have nothing.
  3. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    Pastor Bruce, is the above an approximate quotation from inference of Matthew 25 or did you get this quote from somewhere else?
  4. dudley

    dudley Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Michael I am like you an ex Roman catholic and now a Reformed Protestant, I am a Presbyterian. I can understand how a catholic can get caught up in works. I do not any longer accept the RC teaching of faith and works. I still do good works because of my life in Christ but I and no one can save themselves. I was loosing my faith because of that teaching by Rome. Sola fide (by faith alone), also historically known as the justification by faith, is a doctrine that distinguishes Protestant denominations from Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, Restorationism,and Mormonism in Christianity.
    The doctrine of Sola Fide or Faith Alone asserts that it is on the basis of God's grace through the believer's faith alone that believers are forgiven their transgressions of the Law of God, rather than on the basis of any good works.
    The doctrine of sola fide, as formulated by Martin Luther, is accepted by most Protestants, including Lutherans, Reformed and Baptists; and as ordinarily articulated by Protestants, it is rejected by Catholics, who say through God's Grace, and our response to that Grace through our faith and works, we are saved. They also add a distinction between the good works, as those in Matthew 25, and the works of law.

    Jesus Christ never taught a works' salvation. He condemned it (Matthew 23:25-26). Works' salvation cleans only the outside; salvation by grace cleans the inside.
    The terminology of Matthew 25:31-46 underscores that the salvation of individuals is a gracious gift of God, not something merited by the deeds described in verses 35-36. Before the "foundation of the world" God chose men for salvation and ordained them to be holy (Ephesians 1:4), chosen by God to be conformed to Christ's image (Romans 8:29). So, the good works commended in verses 35-36 are the fruit, not the root, of the believer's salvation. The deeds are not the basis of their entrance into the kingdom, but merely the manifestations of God's grace in their lives. They are the evidence of saving faith, not the cause (James 2:14, 26).
    The Holy Spirit, through Paul, penned, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10). Salvation is God's gift to anyone who believes that Jesus Christ died on Calvary's cross for his sins and that God raised Him from the dead to show God accepted His death as sufficient payment for his sins. Man's "works' righteousnesses" are "filthy rags" that clean up only the outside he is still lost, on his way to hell (Isaiah 64:6).
    Reformed (Presbyterian)
    I. Those whom God effectually calls, He also freely justifies; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ's sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
    Chapter XI. Of Justification -- Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I'm looking at a NKJV. v44 reads,
    "Then they also will answer Him saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minster to You.'"

    So, I've simply shortened their comment (the bolded portion), and approximated/abbreviated the rest.
    I tried to make the "sheep" comment and the "goat" comment still sound similar.
  6. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    Thank you. Though I read this as saying the goats simply are denying ever seeing Jesus and thus they did not feed Him. In other words, they did not make the connection that to feed those that are hungry should have been done for His sake first and the needy second. There are many unbelievers who feed the hungry but since they do this without the proper end in sight (His glory) that work will be judged as nothing or even worse judged as a work done for selfish motives.
  7. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Here's what I wrote in the first post:
    That much sounds similar to what you got out of the passage.

    For my part, I don't think it accurately portrays the mind of sheep or goats, that either one really misunderstands the Lord's commendation or accusation as a statement about his literal presence. I do admit that's one way to read their verbal reactions; but this being a parable, I'm looking for profundity. The similarity in the form each side asks their question does not mean they both mean substantially the same thing by them.

    The sheep were loving one another (the Lord's brethren), and while doing such things they weren't banking on the connection between that and Jesus' commendation. So, his statement surprises them. Their question, "When?" shows they weren't concerned to tally their deeds. Their kindness is a habit of Holy Spirit within.

    The goats don't know how they could have missed the King, since they rang their bell to make sure the Omniscient One paid attention. Whenever they did anything "good" at all, they were banking on it paying off in some way; that God, "karma," or whatever was keeping a tally going. So the Lord's statement to them surprises them too, as in "How could you not be checking me off?" Nor did they have any special love for the sheep or even the least of them. Might even have thought ill of the whole lot. But it was specifically neglect of those that the King found especially offensive. He didn't "count" any of the "good" they did, not even of the least of their own; for as you note, it had no pure, unselfish motive.
  8. KPcalvinist

    KPcalvinist Puritan Board Freshman

    Bruce, thank you for sharing. Your explanation of this passage is very helpful.
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