Matthew 25:31–46: Salvation By Works? -- By: John Claeys

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 30:59 (Autumn 2017)
Article: Matthew 25:31–46: Salvation By Works?
Author: John Claeys


Matthew 25:31–46: Salvation By Works?

John Claeys

I. The Challenge Of Matthew 25:31–46

Does Matt 25:31–46, which describes the judgment of the “sheep and goats,” teach salvation by works? According to NT scholar D. A. Carson, most Bible teachers would answer that question with an unhesitating “yes.” Carson claims that “the great majority of scholars understand” the judgment described in Matt 25:31–46 to determine “the basis of acceptance into the kingdom,” determined by “deeds of mercy and compassion” to those “who are hungry, distressed, needy.”1 Clearly, this “majority” view promotes salvation by works, a position Carson also holds.2

Carson seems to be correct in his assessment of the number of leading evangelical leaders and teachers who view Matt 25:31–46 in that way. Among the many seeing it as a works-salvation passage is popular award-winning author and speaker John Piper,3 who has had a significant influence on the church.4 Also, count Brian McLaren

among this majority assemblage,5 a prominent Christian pastor, author, activist, speaker, and leading figure in the emerging church movement who believes that one’s eternal destiny hinges on performing works of love and mercy toward others.6 In addition, the Roman Catholic Church, which influences a billion Catholics, sees Matt 25:31–46 in this same way.7 Even dispensationalists tend to fall into the works-salvation trap on this passage.8

But does Matt 25:31–46 truly teach a works-based salvation? This is a serious and critical question. For if Matt 25:31–46 teaches a works-based salvation, all of us in the free-grace community need to re-think our view of the gospel, and we need to abandon any notion of assurance of eternal life.

Fortunately, a proper understanding of

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