These words of Jesus are the ‘go to’ verses by anyone who wants to emphasise the importance of good deeds. Whenever someone wants to encourage us that we should be feeding the sick, and clothing the poor, they are quick to quote Matthew 25 and highlight that ‘inasmuch as you did it for the least of these, you did it to Me’.
Now, let me first make it clear, as Christians we are called to feed the hungry, and give water to the thirsty. We should be welcoming in the stranger and clothing the naked, but too often the emphasis is on our actions and we miss one small phrase in verse 37 – ‘the righteous’.
We are not made righteous by our deeds and service. Our actions and our works are not what make us right with God. We were made righteous by the loving action and deeds of Jesus when He died on the cross, took our sin and shame upon Himself and became a sacrifice and the atonement for our sin, and then miraculously and gloriously rose again. The only part we have to play in being made righteous is to accept this free gift of salvation and say “yes”.
Our works and service then flow without a moments thought. We don’t feed the poor and give shelter to the homeless out of duty, but out of an overflow of His love for us and our love for Him. It happens without us even noticing. That’s why the righteous ask, “when did we do all this for you Lord?” They are not keeping tally of every good deed, their service flows supernaturally.
The goats in this passage are those who focus all their attention on what they are doing, that they miss the more important free gift of salvation. They are quick to tell the King of everything they have done for Him, thinking that they are surely righteous, but are thrown into everlasting punishment (v46), because despite their great works, they did not accept Him as Lord and Saviour, and so did not receive righteousness.
Today, focus your attention on God, thank Him for His free gift of salvation and abundance of love and grace lavished upon you. When you dwell in His presence, and soak in His goodness, you start to do His will without realising it. Your heart for Him soon becomes His heart for the poor, and you soon start outworking your faith, not out of duty, but out of love and worship.