The Journey of Salvation

(Mat 25:31-46 NKJV) "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. {32} "All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. {33} "And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. {34} "Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you 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 food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; {36} 'I was 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} 'When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? {39} 'Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' {40} "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' {41} "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: {42} 'for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; {43} 'I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' {44} "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 minister to You?' {45} "Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as 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 everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

"Saved" is one of those words that we toss around often, without really thinking about what we are really saying. Many would say, "I was saved on..." and then give a date, or special moment when they went to the alter, or made a commitment to Christ in privacy, or with a friend who had just shared the Gospel with them. Salvation, in this context, is seen as a transaction that happens in a moment of time, when we turn to God in humility and repentance for our sins, and we are forgiven by His mercy and sacrifice on the cross.

Unfortunately, for many in the Christian world, this is the sum of what salvation means to them. No doubt this arises from the emphasis placed upon salvation by faith alone, not to include works of any kind. Many coil from the idea that our own works might have any place or bearing upon our salvation. Thus, salvation is seen as total and complete in that moment when we hand our lives over to God in response to His grace. And in a certain sense, it is; that is, if we died within the next few minutes or hours! If we are like the thief on the cross, then salvation is accomplished and made complete.

The reason for this is that the Church, even from very early times, saw salvation not confined to that moment of conversion, not just a transaction, but a journey and relationship with God. Is it any wonder that in the early Church that salvation was not seen as complete until the person passed from this life into the next? The salvation of a saint was even recorded as the date of their death, not their baptism or conversion, though that was important as well.

The above story illustrates this concept beautifully: the balance between God's grace and mercy and our cooperation with it on a daily basis. There are some interesting points to consider about the judgement day that our Lord describes above.

First, what was the basis for dividing the ones that were to be saved and those who were not? It was based upon who they were, whether they were sheep or goats. Sheep are often mentioned in reference to those saved by God through Christ, because they are meek, humble, repentant, and realize their need of a Shepherd to guide them. Goats, on the other hand, tend to be pushy, self-reliant, proud, and want their own way.

But how did we get these sheep? Does not the Bible, in effect, say that we are all goats? (Rom 3:23 NKJV) "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." How did these goats become sheep? Only by the grace of God. At conversion, we were "transformed by the renewing of our mind" (Rom 12:2), we were conveyed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:613), we died to the old man and were raised a new man (Rom 6:3-10). To put it in terms of this story, we died a goat, and were raised up as a sheep. Based upon that, we are in a state of salvation.

Not only were we saved at that point, however, but we are being saved on a moment by moment basis (1 Cor 1:18), and we will be saved (1 Cor 3:15, 1 Tim 2:15). Salvation is a life long journey with God, and we are saved on a daily basis by the grace of God. In other words, we must respond to God's grace given to us. That is the message of the parable immediately preceding this story. The master gave his servants talents to invest while he was gone. To one, five, to another, two, and to the third, one. When he returned, the one with five had doubled his. So did the one with two. Both were given the same praise and blessing. Both were received by the master. However, the man with only one talent buried his in the ground. He failed to even invest it in the most simplest ways. The "unprofitable" servant was cast into outer darkness, away from the presence of the master. If we take the grace that God gives us, and bury it in the ground of our lives without investing it, we will receive the same fate as this servant. Salvation is more than a one time event, it is a moment by moment experience with God.

Take also the parable of the unforgiving servant. (Matt 18:23-35) The master had forgiven a debt so large to this servant that it would have taken several lifetimes to pay it off. The servant then goes out and throws a fellow servant into debtors prison for his inability to pay off a relatively small sum. What did the master do when he found out?

(Mat 18:34-35 NKJV) "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. {35} "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

That last statement of Jesus should send chills down our spines. How many of us carry around hatred? How many of us have been wronged and we have never really let go of it? How many of us have come to God to offer our gift on the alter yet have not forgiven our brother? Such a one is in danger of not receiving the forgiveness of God for the great debt we own Him as well. Salvation is played out on a day to day bases as we interact with people, those who God places in our path.

That is really what is being said in this story of judgement day. Jesus gives as the reason for the division the fact that the sheep on a day by day basis showed they were sheep by the way the interacted with those God sent their way. Even in the little things, like a cup of water, feeding a person, visiting a prisoner. And the neat thing is that the sheep didn't even realize that these things were defining criteria in who they were as sheep. They just did them because of what God had created them to be! Because they were humble and repentant and receptive to God's grace, it got invested in the lives of other people and produced fruit.

The goats, however, failed to do these things. Why? Because they were goats. Jesus said;

(Mat 7:16-23 NKJV) "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? {17} "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. {19} "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} "Therefore by their fruits you will know them. {21} "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. {22} "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' {23} "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

I think the goats are like those in the last two verses. We could say, "Lord, but did I not always give my tithe? Did I not always give towards missions, did I not sing in the choir, did I not teach a Sunday School class, did I not win several people to Your kingdom?" Yes, you did, but did you do what God wanted you to do? That is the question, for Jesus clearly says that those who "do the will of My Father in heaven" will enter into the kingdom of heaven. In our story, we see what God's will is, that we interact with others as sheep, not as goats. That we pay attention to the little things as well as the other items. Strangely missing from this list is the mention of how many were won to the Lord, how much money they gave. Rather, it was from the heart of a goat that they sought out those things which gave them glory and honor, rather than those insignificant and bothersome things which no one would notice but God alone. Sheep do the will of God, the goats do their own will. If you find yourself as a goat, you first need to go to God for a nature changing relationship with Him. Once He makes you a sheep, then you can begin to put forth the works of a sheep.

Now some may argue, "But isn't this a salvation by works?" That all depends upon what you mean. Salvation by works means that you are saved by your own efforts and abilities without the grace of God necessary. That is the type of salvation which Paul defends against; rather, that we are saved by grace alone, through faith, unto good works. (Eph 2:8-10) Without the grace of God, we are sunk. There is no good works which we could possibly do that could ever gain us entrance into God's kingdom. On the other side of the coin, neither does salvation by grace alone exclude our works from the picture. It simply means we are not saved by them, not that they are not needed or necessary. This is the type of salvation which James preaches against, someone who says, "I was saved on such and such a date, and though I've lived like a heathen in sin for the reminder of my life, I'll get into heaven." Faith without works is dead. Paul even says,

(Rom 6:1-2 NKJV) What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? {2} Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

To continue to live in sin is evidence of the goat that you are. That is not salvation. Good works must follow, or the faith is dead. It is for that reason that Paul talks about "pressing toward the mark" (Phil 3:14) and

(1 Cor 9:24-27 NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. {25} And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. {26} Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. {27} But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Because we are saved by grace through faith does not do away with the need for us to press toward the mark and run the race in such a way as to win. Salvation is a journey, a destination to reach and not just a transaction that is made at one time. We must cooperate with the grace of God in our lives day by day.

The feeding of the five thousand so beautifully illustrates the relationship of what we have to give to God to God's grace that makes it sufficient. (Mark 6:25-34) Jesus ask them, "What do you have?" All I've got are these few "good works", but what is that when they could never earn me a place in heaven? How can my measly works possibly be sufficient to feed the multitudes? They can't, no more than those five loaves of bread and two fish could have ever fed 5000 men with their women and children. Why did Jesus need those five loaves and two fish? Why didn't he just create them out of thin air? Because God's grace, by which we are saved and by which the multitude was fed with that little food, always takes what we are, what we have, what we can do for God, and makes it sufficient and pleasing in God's sight. By His grace, our works are multiplied and fulfill the Law. Not because we are able to, but because God's grace is able to make them sufficient to do so. But He does ask us to give what we do have and bring it to Him. For without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:5) With Him, we can do all things. (Phil 4:13)

It is for this reason that Paul comes to the end of his life and says,

(2 Tim 4:7-8 NKJV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. {8} Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Are you saved? Are you being saved? Will you be saved? Do you deal with God on a family level or a business level? Is He your Father or your banker? Did you make one transaction with him way back when, or are you on a journey with Him right now? Are you pressing toward the mark? Are you running the race set before you with endurance? Are giving to Jesus what you have so that He can make it sufficient to accomplish His purposes in you and others? Are you looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come? Salvation includes all these things.

(Rev 2:10 NKJV) "....Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.