by Matt Slick
Roman Catholics sometimes use Matthew 25:31-46 as scriptural support for good works being necessary for salvation, but is that what Jesus is actually teaching? Let's take a look.
Matthew 25:31-46, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they themselves also will answer, saying, ‘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?’ 45 “Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Notice that in Matthew 25:34 Jesus said, “the kingdom prepared for them.” This means that the people are already believers. In verse 37 Jesus says, “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink?'" They are righteous. They are believers who have the righteousness of God (Philippians 3:9). It is the righteous, the believers, who do the good works. It isn't doing the good works that makes you Christian or righteous. Those who are already sheep are doing the good deeds, and they inherit eternal life.
Furthermore, inheritance is for those who are children of the King - by birth; hence, they are already born again and don't become born again by doing good works. They do good deeds because they are sheep. Jesus said that his sheep follow him (John 10:27). That is, they follow him because of what they are - sheep. In so doing, they feed the poor, visit prisoners, etc. Doing these things are works of charity which is covered in the Old Testament Law, such as feeding the poor (Lev. 25:35); giving to the needy (Deut. 15:11); showing love for the stranger (Deut. 10:19); bearing another’s burden (Ex 23:5); to wrong no one when buying and selling (Lev. 25:14). Jesus is not teaching righteousness by faith and works. He is teaching on the coming judgment, and that those who are truly sheep will have done the things that are right, and they will inherit eternal life - because they are already his. Those who don’t will be judged by that law and be damned.