Updated: Nov 26, 2020
When I grew up, somehow I got the notion that Christian life was largely about sin management. Our job, my job, was to make sure I sinned as little as possible, especially the “big sins” like sexual sins. Oh, I knew God also required me to pray, worship him, give and do some acts of service to others. But aside from going to church, putting cash in the offering plate and volunteering, “doing good things for God” was hard to quantify. But sin was sin. When I did sin, I generally knew instantly that I’d done something wrong.
Perhaps you too were raised in a sin management home or church, as well. Where did that idea come from? Just read the Lord’s Prayer and you can see a pattern that clearly sends out sin management signals. (Matthew 6:9-13)
And of course the Beatitudes are full of thou shall not’s. There are very good biblical reasons for us to be very serious about sin.
Purpose management But, when I read Matthew 25, the story of the three servants who were given varying amounts of money and what happened to them when they reported back to the king, they were being judged by how productive and purposeful they were for the king.
And in that same chapter, we have the story of the Sheep and Goats. Those who did not care for the poor, and sick, or naked or prisoners were sent off to “eternal punishment.”
I’ve heard pastors explain that the actions of the goats showed they were not really Christians at all. Exactly! I think it is fair to assume, that if you believe yourself to be a Christian, and are reasonably good at sin management, but not generous, and a grace-giver to the people who deserve it the least, the “least of these,” you may not be a Christian at all.
I want to press this last point a bit harder. Truly born-again people go out of their way to help those who very few other people, consider worthy of helping. In The 10 Second Rule I said this;
I used to have another moral sorting mechanism. I separated people into two groups: first, victims of other people and circumstances beyond their control; and second, those who appeared to have shot themselves in the foot. Surely Jesus would favor victims!
But in the story of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, Jesus makes no distinction between visiting prisoners who are innocent or those who are truly guilty, between going to the hospital to visit a person injured by a drunk driver and visiting the drunk who’s dying of cirrhosis of the liver.
However they got broken, lonely, hopeless, poor, or jailed, for whatever reason, Jesus seems to move them to the head of the line and then says to us, “Care for them–and I’ll tell you why someday.” And when we do…
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40
So, here’s a test: think of a prisoner, homeless person, a sick stranger, a hungry or lonely person, or one without healthy water to drink, who you’ve helped in the last few months.
We may take some comfort that our church or some para-church ministry we support is doing that on our behalf, but Jesus’ rebuke to the Goats was very personal. “You gave me nothing to eat, you gave me nothing to drink,” you – you – you.
I’m dreadfully fearful for “Christians” who believe all the correct theology and do a reasonably good job of sin management, standing before Jesus someday and being sent to the left because their lack of true love for the “least of these” revealed that in the end, they were lost.
How following Jesus works in real life.
If you found this blog and are not a regular subscriber, you can take care of that right HERE.