At face value (no pun intended) neither of those descriptions sounds great, but one actually is. We know from scripture that sheep are symbolic of those who faithfully follow Christ and trust Him. Even in Psalm 23, we are comforted by the knowledge that the Lord is our Shepherd as He affectionately cares for us, His sheep.
In Matthew 25, Jesus explains that the day will come when the righteousness of God will prevail and all will be judged. At that time, Christ will come in His glory with all of the angels accompanying Him, and take His rightful seat on His glorious throne.
As the nations gather before Him, He will separate the sheep from the goats, placing the sheep on His right, the goats on His left. He will then say to those on His right,
Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
Those whom He was addressing, the sheep, had not been keeping score on their own as they served the Lord. In fact, they didn’t even know what He was talking about. In the verses that follow the scripture above, the sheep asked Jesus when they had done these things because they didn’t remember. He explained in verse 40,
And the King will answer them,“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Conversely, in the paragraph that follows this, Jesus turns to the goats on His left and says,
Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Jesus then accuses the goats of having ignored everyone in need, and not giving them food or drink, or welcoming them, or visiting them, or clothing them. For this they are doomed eternally.
It is the state of the heart that appears to condemn them. We know that we do not earn our salvation by our works. We don’t gain points toward paying for our sins by feeding the poor, clothing the naked, or visiting the brethren in prison. But if our hearts are right with God, we will naturally be doing these things as that goodness flows from us.
Not naturally in the human sense, but naturally in the spirit. In verse 46 the Lord states (brackets and contents within added),
And these [the goats] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life.
This is strong—how can we do this right? According to Galatians 2:16, a person is not justified by works of the Law, but through faith in Christ … because by works of the Law, no one will be justified.
As Christ followers, we do not need to be called to help the poor and needy, or carry the Gospel to unreached regions of the world—we are commanded by Jesus to do so in Matthew 28:19-20 when He said,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There is no indication that one needs to hear the call of God to carry out this commission—we just need to be obedient. Out of our comfort zone? Absolutely! Necessary? Non-negotiable! God the Father inspired this verse, Jesus the Son said it empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is not me talking, this is the heart of God.
We can make ourselves feel better for a moment by saying we aren’t called to do it, but make no mistake—it is God we will answer to on that judgment day. There is no reason to expect a mysterious calling if God has already made it a command for all.
So, I must be honest with myself and ask the questions—Where is my heart? Am I a servant who goes where God leads me—someone who, without a second thought gives a cup of water, new clothing, my best coat, my car to someone in need? Or am I a person who makes myself feel better by saying, “I am willing to go wherever God tells me to go, and give whatever He tells me to give,” but never hears Him telling me to do anything? Never hears a calling?
This is an important question because, according to Jesus in Matthew 25, this is a big deal. The final judgment we all face will be a time of separating the goats from the sheep. I’m going for the sheep. You?
Question: Has God ever called you to do something you didn’t want to do, but you were obedient anyway?