In an ongoing dialogue I have with those of the Mormon faith and how it is dramatically different that what is taught in the Christian faith, there is a sharp disagreement on what is required for salvation. Mormons will reference to the story of the sheep and the goats found in Matthew 25:31-46 as proof that a person will be judged by their works in order to enter into heaven. I would like to take a further look into that passage.
In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, Jesus is continuing to talk to his disciples about the end of the age. He tells them three stories or parables for the purpose of teaching central truths. The parables of the foolish virgins and unfaithful servants sets the stage for the story of the sheep and the goats. In the first two parables, we find out that 1) we need to be prepared and 2) we need to have a faithful use of our talents.
These parables tell us that not everybody is going to heaven. There will be a separation also known as the “great divorce”. Man will be separated from God forever. Earlier in Matthew, Jesus tell us that “for wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction..” (7:13) This verse certainly suggests that there will be more who enter hell than those who go to heaven.
The Bible says that it is by faith that one enters heaven and in the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus tells us what saving faith looks like. A saving faith will feed the hungry, care for the sick and visit those in prison. These are things that are not impossible to do for most everyone has the capability to care for others in this way. Jesus is telling us that those who receive grace, become gracious. Those who have been given the gift of faith become faithful. As a healthy fruit tree can’t help but to grow fruit (John 15), a man or woman of saving faith can’t help but to carry out good works. They are distinguishing marks or evidences of a saving faith that carry these works out without any thought of receiving a reward in return.
To review, these parables tell us that an end time is coming when Jesus returns and that we need to be prepared, by not losing our faith, and at the same time, display examples of a sincere faith by fully exercising our talents and help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Without evidences of faithfulness, than true faith does not exist.
The question remains, can a person enter into heaven based on the amount of works they do? If this is true, then one has reconcile that position with several other passages that teach something quite different. There are numerous passages in the Bible that clear state that salvation is not by works in any way. By following the law and commandments, we cannot be justified before God. (See Romans 3:24, 11:6, 3:20, 3:27-28; 4:2, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:8-10 et al…) Grace, the free gift given to people who are undeserving or unworthy, really wouldn’t be grace if there was something we need to do to receive it.
So, when we combine these two teachings of the parable of the sheep and goats and by faith only are we saved, than we must come to the following conclusions: 1. By faith, we receive the full forgiveness of sins. Our works play no part in being justified before God and to receive full forgiveness. 2. Works accompany faith as evidence or signs of a saving faith. God performs the impossible (salvation) by granting us faith thereby allowing us to do the possible (works) that are well-pleasing to Him. By sharing this sharp contrast with Mormons, the discussion can continue as we take a look at key theological terms taught in Mormonism and what is taught in the Bible. As Mormons continue to claim that they are Christians, it is important to expose the truth that even thought Mormons appear Christian, they are far from the truth of the gospel message found in the New Testament.
The real reason for praying has little to do with asking for things. We pray simply because God wants us to pray. Prayer is talking to God.
Does He really need our prayers? No, God doesn’t need our prayers to bless us. The bigger question is, “Why does God want me to pray in the first place?”
Prayer is a means for us to build a faith-filled, loving relationship with our Creator. Asking for things is just one minor aspect of our relationship with God. He is already as good, concerned, informed and powerful as He can be. But since a loving relationship with Him is His highest concern for us, God constructs the order of things so that a loving relationship with him will be facilitated.
Because of this, God ordains that some things will only be done through prayer.
If God doesn’t need our prayers, then is prayer truly effective?
God commands us to pray for several reasons.
1. Prayer is a constant reminder that God is the only source for help and strength.
When we truly slow down and examine our lives, during good times and bad, it is God that receives all credit and glory.
2. We need to remember our relationship with God in our present fallen condition.
We have all heard studies and testimonies on the healing power of prayer, but God does not act like a cosmic vending machine. A person does not make a request, pull a lever, and have our request granted. People are miraculously healed and people tragically die. What’s the difference? What didn’t work?
There are billions of variables that go into God’s moment by moment interaction with the world. There is His overall plan for humankind and for the universe. There is His plan for each individual. There is the strategy of the spiritual battle with which He is involved. There is the degree to which He has ordained our prayer to have consequences in the world.
To understand all of this would be like walking into a theater in the middle of a movie. Would you be able to explain the whole movie after only one minute of viewing? Or, would you be able to teach a chemistry class after reading one page of a textbook?
Prayer is a means to give us confidence and peace that God is working out all things for good, even when he says no to our prayer. Faith and trust becomes the critical element of being sure in what we hope and pray for and certain of what we do not see.
Thoughts from this article came from www.gregboyd.org.
The heartbreaks of life cause us to ask the deepest of questions.
A young man is sitting across from me with pain etched deeply in his face. Only a few weeks ago he stood by an open grave with three young children watching the casket being lowered in to the ground. The stillness. The pain. The questions.
Where do I go from here? What am I going to do with my children? Oh God, if you are there, why me? Why me!?!
Life has a way of throwing a pebble into the smooth surface of a still pond. A chaotic splash and the ripples touches every part our soul. The wrenching pain of an exposed heart can cripple us emotionally, physically, even spiritually. The tragedies of life places on a precipice of either grasping for the reality of a Higher Being, or the cold rejection of a loving God.
Where can we find peace and solace in the depths of suffering? Where can we turn for answers when God seems far away on some distant planet? We need someone who understands our pain. To share our grief, embrace our hearts, to put a hand on our shoulder and say, “I am always with you. I will never leave you.”
We can never adequately answer why God would take a loved one in the prime of their lives. We don’t know why God chose to not answer our prayers — even the prayer of five-year girl kneeling at her bed. The cold concrete answer for death – any death on this world – is sin. If it wasn’t for sin, painful tragedies would never occur. But what is more important than this explanation is this understanding — God was suffering with you throughout the whole affair.
Jesus Christ is not our adversary in times of suffering, he is our cure. Jesus Christ suffers with us in our suffering. He is a God who weeps, too. His unconditional love is the only source for healing and peace. Through his participation in our pain, he redeems it. By his ultimate suffering on the cross, he heals our own suffering. He is not off on some distant planet, but is with us each step of the way. This truth alone reveals to us the magnitude of God’s love for us. A loving Father sent his only Son to a dirty, sinful world. Jesus experienced the hellish depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence on behalf of us. He loved the unlovable. He befriended the friendless. Finally, he suffered for a world that is at once so beautiful and so ugly.
Questions are going to remain while we deal with the pain and suffering of life. Jesus’ answer for us is to trust in him. Christ wins our love and trust through the healing compassion of his Word and the warm understanding of his silent embrace. He provides an understanding in the heart which the mind can never fully grasp. Our trust rests on the belief that God works the best result out of all situations, whether good or bad, for the purpose of bringing us closer to him. He wins our love in a way reasons could never do.
For some more good answer to tough questions, check out www.gregboyd.org.
How a person responds to hurt, disappointment and frustration in their lives is probably a Christian’s most powerful witness. It is truly during these times when we have the opportunity to expose or introduce Christ living in us.
So often, the need to be right dominates our life. We have an inherited the need to pursue being right and even demanding rights from others. If our pursuit is left unaltered, we inadvertently soil our opportunity to share and display the fruits of Christ living in us.
The pursuit of being right is really placing our self above all others. For this very reason, our faith journey with Christ must require a sacrifice. It requires embracing the principle message behind the cross. Jesus Christ bore the cross for us. It was a willing sacrifice for the sake of all people. The principle message behind the cross means the sacrificial death of our self. Did not Christ die for us, though we were so undeserving? In the same way, are we willing to sacrifice ourselves for other, even if it means the risk of being hurt, disappointed or surrendering our right?
The message of the cross guides us on how to respond to people and how we conduct ourselves, especially during the difficult circumstances in life. It is the sacrifice of rights and our personal battle to defend them at all costs. For Christ did not die on the cross to defend our rights. He died so we can be right with God.
The message of the cross is based on the perfection of our Heavenly Father. The Bible says, “You shall be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” By walking by faith in Christ, by receiving Christ in us, we are perfect. We are declared as God’s dearly loved children even thought we sometimes fail. Like children, we grow and mature in our faith and confidence. The message of the cross reminds us to imitate God and live a life a love because God first loved us. And during those times when we demand to be right, or the expectation in being treated right by others, we can offer a willing sacrifice of our self that is pleasing to God.
For isn’t that what Christ did for us?