Explaining the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats


Mormons will often refer to the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) to state that all people will be judged by their works to enter into heaven. How can Christians respond?

Whenever Mormons refer to a specific verse or passage in the Bible, Christians are given a wonderful opportunity to open the Bible and read God’s Word. Another great blessing is that Christians can teach Mormons on how to interpret Scripture and how we can trust God’s Word to speak for itself. We don’t need prophets to teach us to interpret the Bible correctly.

In the case of Jesus’ parable, direct Mormons to read the entire 25th chapter of Matthew. This allows us to learn the truth behind the parable by reading the verses in its proper context. We discover in this chapter that Jesus is talking about the end of the age. He first teaches his disciples two parables about the need to be prepared (foolish virgins) and that we need to have a faithful use of our talents (unfaithful servants).

The first important truth we learn in this chapter is that not everybody is going to heaven. There will be an eternal separation. Jesus tells us earlier in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 7:13) that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction.” This verse seems to suggest that there will be more people walking toward eternal destruction than entering heaven. The question remains, “How do you know if you are on the right road?”

The answer is provided in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

The Bible clearly teaches that by faith alone a person will enter the kingdom of heaven and Jesus is telling us what saving faith looks like.  A person with saving faith will express itself by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. Those who receive grace will be gracious. Those who have received faith will be faithful. Like a healthy tree bearing good fruit, saving faith will bear fruits of the spirit (John 15). These are distinguishing marks or evidences of a saving faith. A person with saving faith joyfully carries out good works without any thought of receiving eternal rewards in return.

Can a person enter heaven based on their obedience?

The Bible gives too many answers that salvation is not by works. By following the laws and commandments, we can never be justified before God. There are many Bible passages to support this central truth (Romans 3:24, 11:6, 3:20, 3:27-28, 4:2, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:8-10, etc…).

By God’s mercy and grace, we receive faith to trust what Christ has already done for us on the cross.  Good works are an expression of thanksgiving. Besides, grace wouldn’t really be grace if there was something we can do to receive it.

When we examine the context of Matthew 25, the entire gospel of Matthew, and the entire Bible to interpret the parable of the sheep and the goats, we can make the following conclusions:

  1. By faith, we receive the full forgiveness of sins. Our works play not part in being justified before God.

  2. Works accompany faith as evidence or signs of a saving faith. God performs the impossible (salvation) by giving people faith thereby allowing us to do the possible (works) that are pleasing to Him.

When we have these discussion with Mormons, we can examine key theological terms. We can allow the Mormon to discover what the Bible really teaches about salvation, grace, and forgiveness and how these definitions sharply contrast to what Mormonism teaches. To assist you, please visit the Dictionary of Mormonism on this website.