Of Sheep And Goats
In Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and goat judgment (Mat. 25:31-46), he said he will say to people who had been doing all the right things in his name, “I never knew you”. These people were driving out demons and doing many righteous acts, yet Jesus did not know them. How is this possible? Because to know Jesus and accept him is to love God and others from the heart.
To be “in Jesus” we must “forsake all other” religions and gods, believe he arose from the dead and returned to heaven, and eagerly wait for his return for us. A bride who cares nothing for seeing her groom does not love him, and a Christian who’d rather Jesus didn’t come just yet does not love him either. The bride who yawns when someone badmouths her groom is not in love, and the Christian who yawns when the name of Jesus is dragged in the mud or God is called “bloodthirsty” is also not in love. The bride who demands her siblings-in-law always agree with her or suffer her wrath does not love either her groom or his family, and the Christian who will not tolerate disagreement on secondary matters but lashes out at them does not love them or Jesus.
How can the love of God be in anyone who spends their days blasting fellow believers over views they hold on the “mechanics” of salvation, which Bible version they read, what music they like, Old Testament laws, or some other thing? We are to unite around the truth of the gospel: that Jesus is God in human flesh, who died on our behalf and rose again, and that anyone who wants to be reconciled to God will be saved if they put their trust in the risen Jesus. Those are the non-negotiables. But if we have the Holy Spirit we cannot hate others or desire to control them.
And remember that disagreement is not hate; to argue secondary matters is not hateful. Neither is it hateful to guard against teachings that undermine the gospel. There is a time and place for righteous indignation, such as what we would feel if someone were to verbally or physically assault a loved one. We should indeed get upset if anyone tries to carve up the Body of Christ through teachings that promote lording over or hostility. But to be the ones creating division, to hate others just for disagreeing on secondary matters, or to elevate personal views to equal divine authority and blast anyone who doesn’t agree, is to know nothing of love.
Any teaching that puts a dividing wall between the believer and their Savior, or between one believer and another, is teaching heresy and division in the Body of Christ. A dividing wall can take the form of not only separation but also hierarchy. Is one part of the body the boss of another? Is one side of the body detached from the other? We are to be one Body, one Spirit, one substance, not many. Some doctrines divide by disagreement, but others by design; some merely result in dispute while others plan and intend to divide. It is the latter which is heresy because it is intentional.
Can heretics be saved? I’ve said before that people have an ability to go through life believing contradictory things, so they may in fact be saved because their heretical beliefs are due to misunderstanding or spiritual immaturity. But those who teach heresy, who divide the Body deliberately, cannot possibly grasp the gospel or know Jesus because they grieve the Holy Spirit. 1 John 4:19-5:5 says this:
We love because he loved us first. If anyone says “I love God” but hates others, they are lying, because whoever does not love those they can see, cannot love God whom they have not seen. And we have this command from God, that whoever loves him must also love other people. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Anointed is a child of God, and such a child must also love his other children as well. And this is how we know we love his other children: by loving God and carrying out his commands; that is the love of God. And his commands are not heavy weights to carry, because all who are God’s children are conquering the world— it is our faith that conquers it! Who conquers the world, if not those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God?There are many testimonies of people who were church-goers all their lives, who could debate with great skill and present a strong apologetic or did many fine works, yet were not saved until many years later when they realized there was no love of God or his people in them. We know that people of clearly false religions can be devout, well-behaved, charitable, law-abiding, and faithful-- yet they are lost because Jesus does not know them; they have the wrong God or the wrong Jesus. So we cannot assume that outward piety or knowledge of scripture proves salvation; we must love God, know the right Jesus and long to be with him, and love his people. We can be active in church for decades and still not have any real relationship with Jesus because we “went forward” in an emotional service to pray some words but never really felt God’s presence in our lives.
I’ve said before that genuine salvation is like a marriage proposal: to accept a ring means much more than accepting a ring-- it means accepting a person. It must be Jesus we want when we put our trust in him, not just what he offers. It must be his life we tap into, not just church activity (test this by removing the activity and see if the life remains). It must be a real relationship we have with God, not just sending prayers to the ceiling and singing songs. When we came to Jesus, was it him we wanted, or only a ticket out of hell or great social life? Was it him we accepted, or just a set of propositions? A good way to tell is to watch how you react to people speaking against Jesus or his people or his Word. Are you indignant or hurt or angry? If so, you probably have more than just a belief-- you have a relationship. If not, seriously ask yourself why not.
I see many Christians questioning their salvation these days, and many spewing hatred toward fellow believers who disagree on secondary matters. I hope that what I’ve written here will help to pinpoint any undertainty. Love and truth, as I’ve said often, must join together; one or the other alone is error. Make sure it’s Jesus you accepted and are reconciled with-- the Jesus who rose from the dead. His presence may not always take the form of the obvious thrill or euphoria, but you will know he is there all the time. You’ll be able to test that by observing how you view others, and how eager and willing you are to defend the honor of the One you claim to love.