Does Matthew 25:31-46 teach salvation by works?

by Matt Slick
2/17/2018 

Does Matthew 25:31-46 teach salvation by works since Jesus is talking with the judgment day as judging people based on what they did?  In order to answer the question we must first look at the section of Scripture.

“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 “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 something to 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, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “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 the 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, ‘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, ‘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 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” (Matthew 25:31–46).

So let's break it down.

  • v. 31, This introduces the topic of the return of Christ and judgment
  • v. 32, At His return, Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats.
    • Sheep are Christians and goats are non-Christians. In other words, sheep are believers, and goats are not believers.
    • “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” (John 10:11).
    • “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep,” (John 10:26).
    • “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” (John 10:27).
  • v. 33, sheep are on the right and goats are on the left.
    • this is the judgment of God.
  • v. 34, The sheep are blessed and will inherit the kingdom that was prepared for them from the foundation of the world.
    • The kingdom is prepared for the sheep, not the goats.
    • They have proven themselves to be kingdom citizens.
    • “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love,” (Ephesians 1:4).
  • vv. 35-36, The sheep did good works.
    • The text does not say that they were chosen from the foundation of the world because they did good works.
    • The text does not say that they were to inherit the kingdom of God because of their good works.
    • The text says
  • vv. 37-39, the righteous sheep ask concerning when they did these good works.
  • v. 40, The King responds by saying that when they did good works to his brothers they did it to him.
  • vv. 41-43, Jesus condemns those goats. They did no good works.
  • v. 44, the unrighteous goats ask concerning when the failed to do good works
  • v. 45, The King responds by saying that when they did not do good works to his brothers they did not do it to him.
  • v. 46, judgment is pronounced.

Examining the text

The key to understanding Matthew 25:31-46 is found in verse 32 where it speaks of the separation between the sheep and the goats. The sheep are believers. The goats are not believers. We know from Scripture that people don't become believers by doing good works. They do good works because they are believers. After all, behavior is the result of belief, not the other way around. Similarly, people do not become saved by their good works as is clearly taught in such verses as Romans 3:28; 4:5; Titus 3:5, etc.) Furthermore, we know that Jesus' words cannot contradict anything taught elsewhere in Scripture. So, then what are we to conclude? It is simple. True faith expresses itself in deeds of righteousness. That is what sheep do, not what goats do. The righteous are rewarded in the kingdom for their good works, but their good works do not get them into the kingdom. But, to maintain that Matt. 25:31-46 teaches salvation by works is to go against the rest of Scripture clearly speaks to the contrary: Romans 3:28; 4:1-5; 5:1; 11:6; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:8, 24; Phil. 3:9; Titus 3:5.

  • Rom. 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law."
  • Rom. 4:1-5, "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."
  • Rom. 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, bwe have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
  • Rom. 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace."
  • Gal. 2:16, "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."
  • Gal. 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
  • Gal. 3:8, "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations shall be blessed in you."
  • Gal. 3:24, "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith."
  • Phil. 3:9, "and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."
  • Titus 3:5, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.