Mormons 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 have an excellent opportunity to open the Bible and read God’s Word. Another great blessing is that Christians can teach Mormons how to interpret Scripture and how we can trust God’s Word to speak for itself. We don’t need prophets to lead us to interpret the Bible correctly.
In the case of Jesus’ parable, direct Mormons to read the entirety of Matthew 25. This allows us to learn the truth behind the parable by reading the verses in their 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 truth we learn in this chapter is that not everybody is going to heaven. There will be 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 is, “How do you know if you are on the right road?”
Jesus provides the answer in the parable of the sheep and the goats.
The Bible teaches that by faith alone, a person will enter the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus is here describing saving faith. 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 evidence of saving faith. A person with saving faith 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, Romans 11:6, Romans 3:20, Romans 3:27-28, Romans 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 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 Bible as a whole to interpret the parable of the sheep and the goats, we can make the following conclusions:
- By faith, we receive the complete forgiveness of sins. Our works play no part in being justified before God.
- Works accompany faith as evidence or signs of saving faith. God performs the impossible (salvation) by giving people faith, thereby allowing us to do the possible (works) pleasing to Him.
When we have this discussion with Mormons, we can examine key theological terms. We can allow the Mormon to discover what the Bible teaches about salvation, grace, and forgiveness and how these definitions sharply contrast to what Mormonism teaches. To assist you further, please visit the Dictionary of Mormonism on this website.