It’s Personal: The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
This song by Keith Green is one of his most famous. Yet this parable is one most people shun. It’s uncomfortable and disquieting. It’s convicting and penetrating. And it brings us to a place of careful self-examination, which is precisely what Christ desires, and precisely what the Word of God is meant to accomplish. This is where and how sanctification begins.
So how do we know if we’re a sheep or goat?
What is interesting to note in this parable is that neither the sheep nor the goats understood the judgment they received from the Shepherd, although their works gave clear evidence of their faith, or lack thereof. Both were surprised. Let’s find out why.
Christ teaches us that identity is found in who we are in relation to Him, and who we are is clearly revealed by consistent behavior – the fruit of a believer’s life. A good tree will bear good fruit, even as a bad tree will bear bad fruit. And just to clarify the matter for those of us who may erroneously think otherwise, Christ conversely says that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (see Matthew 7:14-23).
Why does this surprise us? Such behavior is natural for a sheep, a goat, or even a tree. They cannot behave inconsistently with who they truly are.
In this day and time the Church fails to teach these basic elementary principles of true Christlike faith, which is evidenced by love for one another. Christ made it clear that we will be known by our love for one another. Despite all such teachings of Christ, the Church has instead emphasized other things such as prophecy, power, notoriety, big titles, numbers, money, self-gratification, and even entertainment. The Church no longer majors on love, holiness, repentance, and sacrificial service. That’s just too boring, and quite frankly it’s too hard. It demands too much. It doesn’t line up with our Western culture. It doesn’t conform to our modern lifestyles. It’s not fun. It doesn’t reward us with those fancy titles, a great reputation, or lots of money. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick are not considered “great works”.
Because it demands self-sacrifice. And such works do not bring any notoriety by which man can attain any glory for himself at all — quite the contrary. These types of works demand that you be willing to empty yourself as well as your pockets. But more than that, what we need to realize is that these are the most ordinary works that any human being – regardless of their means – can perform. These works minister to the most basic and fundamental needs of all humankind. These works are not difficult. They require no special training or spiritual gift. Nor do they necessitate extraordinary means. Anyone can do them. These merely require one thing: a willing heart that demonstrates the LOVE of Christ in becoming a living sacrifice, which He commanded His followers to become before a lost and dying world — and even bestow upon their enemies.
But that’s too unpopular. It’s too painful.
The Church today is not interested in sacrifice. Other qualifiers must be met instead:
I. It has to be entertaining and fun. It has to appeal to the flesh: both the five senses as well as our emotions. We can no longer be genuinely moved by the Spirit and intimately changed and transformed by Him. We now rely upon the flesh to know if the Holy Spirit is truly “moving”. We shake. We tremble. We twitch. We laugh. We may even cry. But we don’t change. It’s important to note that Jesus Christ was the fullness of the Godhead bodily and He never did those things — nor did He endorse them. In fact, when such behaviors were manifested before Him, He cast out demons instead. As for those who fell prostrate before the LORD, these were men of God who were fully submitted to Him. I speak of Isaiah, John, and Daniel to name a few.
II. It’s got to feel good. It has to be self-soothing. It glorifies our aspirations, goals, desires, and needs. The Church doctrine is totally self-centered. This is where Paul talks about a form of godliness that denies the power thereof. We’re there, folks. We have officially arrived.
III. If we can win a title, a position, and some popularity then we are considered true ministers of the Gospel of Christ. These become our Christian credentials by which we win the accolades of man. But God? Think again. When we glorify ourselves it makes Him want to vomit us out of His mouth. What is important to note is that God does not esteem any of these things, and it is not by these things that God approves or ordains anyone.
The Church today is not interested in the mundane which awards them no specific attention, special glory, or personal recognition. The Church is interested in prestige, pomp, power, and position – all which are driven by pride – and all which bring a gross perversion of the Gospel of Christ to a lost world, which perpetuates its pathetic message to the masses.
If we know what is important to Christ – and these works certainly are – then why don’t we focus on doing them? Why do we denigrate what is so highly esteemed by Christ among His elect? Why do we, as Christ says to the Pharisees, neglect the weightier matters of the law such as love and mercy, yet strain at those things for which He has so little regard? We strain at the gnat, yet swallow a camel.
Evidence of Faith
The Church has drunk the Kool-aid. It has been duped into believing that the greatest works are those which are difficult to do, hence requiring a supernatural power or means. The great works the Church emphasizes are those that come only by gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why? It brings us a measure of glory and personal power that elevates us. Therefore, we favor the supernatural over the mundane. We have made the Holy Spirit our personal pedestal instead of the means by which we live an obedient and holy life which is sanctified before God. The Holy Spirit of Truth is the One by whom we are convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment (see John 16:8). According to this parable, the Church has entirely misplaced its priorities. Christ made it very clear that we will know them by their fruit – not by their gifts (see Matthew 7:12-23 and John 15:1-27).
If we want what is truly supernatural, then we must give priority to what Christ does: LOVE. That is the most excellent way. Love is the greatest of all the spiritual gifts which fulfills the Law and the prophets. It is the greatest command. And to walk in love as Christ taught us requires an infilling of the Holy Spirit. Love is not our spiritual default. It is something entirely contrary to our carnal flesh, and therefore requires an extraordinary power from God. The only way we can bear such fruit is through dying to self and walking in the Spirit. When we take up our cross daily and follow Christ we see a picture of a crucified life. And that is not a message taught in today’s Church.
Christ consistently prioritizes the FRUIT of His Spirit over and above the GIFTS of His Spirit.
It’s time to lay down our lives. If people would focus on laying their lives down before God, He wouldn’t have to “slay” them by His Spirit. For decades the Church has looked to this phenomenon as evidence of the Holy Spirit moving upon an individual. To be “slain” (by God or anyone else for that matter) is what happens when someone must be forced to assume a position of humility and surrender. They are not yielded. Therefore the subject must come under a greater power that subdues them. But when we lay down our lives as sacrifices for God, and we bow before Him in reverence and humility, He settles on us and soaks us, and we become transformed into the image of His Son to a lost and dying world. That’s powerful!
A real move of the Holy Spirit will ALWAYS be evidenced in repentance, holiness, and personal transformation that bears the image of Christ to a lost and dying world. It will never tickle the flesh, exalt man, or glorify our own works.
— STOP SEEKING TO BE SLAIN AND START LAYING DOWN —
These works which Christ so highly regards require no special gift whatsoever. What they do require is sacrificial love – which is what Christ commands every true disciple to embrace wholeheartedly. Paul said it best:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing, (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, KJV).
As we can clearly see, Paul gives examples of self-sacrifice – even that of martyrdom. But God is not looking for sacrifice and it doesn’t impress Him. He’s looking for obedience. And obedience is motivated by LOVE, which is the highest command upon which all the law and prophets hang. And although love demands sacrifice, which Christ certainly taught us, clearly it is with the heart that we offer ourselves, our services, and our means to God. God always looks upon the heart, and the sacrifices that are pleasing to Him are only those offered in obedience — not pride and presumption.
Love bears all things. When everything else passes away, love will remain. Love is the greatest of all the gifts God could possibly give.
Knowing the Difference
How do you know the difference between a sheep and a goat? They can actually appear very similar, depending upon the breed. They are hard to distinguish at times. In the same way the wheat and tares are similar in appearance although they are of different origin, the distinction between a sheep and goat can be tricky.
According to this parable, the goats believed they were sheep. As for the sheep, they were surprised to find out that these simple self-sacrificing works were so pleasing to Christ. In fact, their service to Him was so natural and normal that they were not even aware they had done anything worthy of commendation. That speaks to being moved by His Spirit instead of the flesh.
Both the sheep and goats were shocked at the judgment they received. Yet both behaved consistently with their identity (see 1 John 2:3-10 and 3:3).
Given what is seen in the Body of Christ today, sacrificial love and obedience which is wrought through ordinary works to meet fundamental needs is not highly prized within modern Christian circles. We would much rather exalt someone who has an entertaining “prophecy” or who can offer a “popular” message that tickles our spiritual ears and deludes our deceived hearts. We would much rather endorse a message that perseverates our greed in teaching us that the more we give, the more we will get. The Church today requires lots of fun “spiritual trinkets” to get us to “perform”. Yet when we all stand before Christ, this is what each of us will hear:
What you did unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto ME.
What you did not do unto the least of these, you’ve not done it unto ME.
Clearly, those who were told to depart into everlasting fire were not expecting that eternal sentence. Nor were those who were invited into everlasting life. Those final words sealed their fate, which each individual obviously chose.
How we treat other people is ultimately what Christ will judge.
It’s at the very top of His list.
Being the Difference
If what the Church is looking for is great works, then it starts with the most ordinary means and the most humble of hearts. It doesn’t start with self. It starts with the least of these. It doesn’t start with position, popularity or prophecy. It starts with obedience motivated by love.
NEWSFLASH: It’s not going to make your name great. It’s not going to demand a spiritual gift. It’s not going to make you anyone special who deserves a title. And it’s certainly not going to make you any money. It’s going to be hidden with God. It’s going to go unnoticed, unapplauded, and many times unthanked. And it’s going to demand sacrifice which is many times painful.
To the religious elite and spiritually pious, it’s going to look oddly lack-luster and perhaps even powerless. It will have zero opulence. And when you major on those things Christ esteems in giving them due attention, those with a lot of titles may accuse you of being spiritually immature, inept, dry, shallow, stagnant, and perhaps even lost or deceived.
But to Christ such service is exceptional. The cup of cold water will be rewarded, because it’s not about the work itself or the one He uses to perform it. It’s about the subject who receives it and the heart with which it is performed. That subject is made clear in this poignant parable. That subject is Christ Jesus the LORD. He teaches us that what we do and don’t do is precisely what we have done or not done unto Him. Our works are not unto man – they are unto God. He is the direct recipient of our faith — faith which is demonstrated toward the One we ultimately LOVE and serve — if He is the One whom we are truly following and obeying.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone, (James 2:14-17, KJV).
Great works are not necessarily about supernatural glory and power. We cannot dumb down clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and feeding the hungry. Great works are about supernatural love through ordinary people and the most simplistic, ordinary, and humble means. Only once we get this straight, will God entrust us with the true spiritual riches. With that said, I fear that much of what goes on in the Body of Christ (which has an appearance of godliness and power yet denies it) is nothing more than a false mockery of God being manufactured by the flesh to appease our pathetic spiritual condition. It is not borne of the Holy Spirit if it does not effect genuine and lasting change, convict of righteousness and a move toward holiness, accomplish transformation by sanctification, and initiate a move of genuine repentance. Because it if were the Holy Spirit – the Church would be weeping in the dust and ashes – not playing with strange fire and perpetuating false doctrines that elevate men, which are so contrary to God’s holy word.
We don’t need another prophetic word or more entertainment. And we don’t need to be slain.
WE NEED TO REPENT AND START LAYING DOWN OUR LIVES.
Are you a sheep or a goat? How do you know? Christ makes it clear that we will know them by their fruit – not by their title, their fame, their name, or their notoriety. It’s time the Church began prioritizing those things Christ highly prizes, esteems and elevates. I fear there will be many goats standing before Him who are aghast when they finally discover they are not sheep. There is no need for you to be one of them if you will heed the parable of the Shepherd.
When we mistreat people, Christ takes it personally.
When we treat people as we would want to be treated, Christ takes it personally.
It’s very simple. Sheep are always going to act like sheep. Goats will always act like goats. Good trees will always bear good fruit. Bad trees will always bear bad fruit. They don’t toil and strive. It comes naturally to them because that is who they are. Scripture teaches us that those who belong to Christ have been crucified with Him. They are a new creation and the old has passed away. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives through us. Don’t live under a mistaken identity. Appearances are deceiving, indeed. Christ will judge us by our works, which are a direct demonstration of our faith in Him. Our works are evidence of who we are. If we are a true Christian (a sheep), then we are going to act like one. Our lives will give evidence to the faith we profess if it is indeed real.
Is your faith in Christ demonstrated by loving service to Him toward the least of these? Or is it demonstrated in selfish vanity that exalts you within Christian circles? What is the motivation of your heart?
Christ Jesus is able to change your permanent eternal residence.
Examine yourself carefully. Prove yourself. Are you in the faith? Be not deceived. God is not mocked. And that which a man sows, that will he also reap.
Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity, (2 Timothy 2:19, KJV).
When we want to know if we’re really getting it right with God, just remember, how we treat other people is ultimately what Christ will judge, because how we treat other people is the most genuine evidence of our faith. If we have not love, regardless of what we do, then we are nothing. So when you boil it all down and shake it all out, how we treat others is really all that matters.
If you’re still asking why… He takes it personally.
Cheers & Shalom,