Let’s talk about eternity for a minute – Part Two, sheep and goats

Let’s talk about eternity for a minute – Part Two, sheep and goats September 9, 2020

Sheep and goats, Pharisees and tax collectors – let’s talk about eternity.

So the other day, I was telling y’all about my husband who (like everyone else on the planet) had no control over his place of birth or his religious roots. He was raised as a Muslim in the Middle East.

I had the distinct pleasure of being raised as an Evangelical Christian in the U.S. of A.

I surmised, years before we met, that I had been born into not just the only true religion (Christianity), but hands-down the most theologically correct denomination (Missouri Synod Lutheran). How lucky could I be?

At roughly the same time, my husband reached the conclusion that he was blessed to be born into the only true religion (Islam), and the best branch thereof (Wahabi-style Sunni). He did prefer an American education, and that’s when we met.

After 30 years of marriage and many failed attempts to convert each other, we finally realized how narcissistic we’d been. It finally dawned on us that God desires people to seek after him and love others. Humans are the ones that care about being right, about separating into Us (those who are right) from Them (those who are wrong).

Are you thinking, “Wait a minute, I think Jesus said something about separating too.”

I’m way ahead of you, homey! You’re thinking about the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus described the sorting out of all nations as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. To the sheep, he says, “take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

Which ones got to be sheep? Which ones inherited the kingdom? The ones who…do you remember?

The  ones who cared for “the least of these” inherited the kingdom.

Not the ones who knew the most about sheep, or had memorized the names of all the sheep, or had never made a sheep-related mistake. The ones who loved others.

sheep and goats
“Sheep” by dew drop157 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We humans spun that parable into something it was not, interpreting it as, for example, “those who have lived good lives and believed in God will be put on one side and have a place in Heaven.” or “those who choose Jesus, live and become sheep.”

Making things worse

My husband and I – and zillions of other folks like us – had been relegating billions of people to an eternity in hell because they did not fit our definition of “right,” thinking we were lined up with God.

And we had actually made each other’s eternities worse. I thought that when God judged all people, he’d have mercy on those who had never heard of Christianity, hubby thought there’d be mercy for the poor schmucks who never heard of Islam. But now, we’d introduced each other to the “right way,” making each other guilty of rejecting the truth. i.e. no mercy!

We’d both have been better off, eternity-wise, if we’d never met! How’s that for a gut-punch? More to the point: is this how God operates?

See what this passage from Luke has to say:

Luke 18:9-14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.

If you know your New Testament, you know that the Pharisees were the folks who had all the answers in Judaism. They strictly observed the law and got judgy at anyone who wasn’t as holy as they were. The tax collectors were hated because they were collaborators with the Roman occupiers.

The Pharisee thought he was great because he wasn’t an evildoer. The tax collector only knew he needed mercy and forgiveness.

Every true Muslim is just seeking to serve God; every true Christian is just seeking to serve God.  Muslims’ very desire to serve God makes them our brothers and sisters.

Their belief that Jesus was a prophet and not the Son of God doesn’t make them our enemies. It makes them fellow seekers after God who see him differently—but they still seek after God just as earnestly (and imperfectly) as we do.

So, bottom line for today: God rewards those who love much and those who are devoted to God, not wrapped up in their own piety. Sheep, not goats; tax collectors, not Pharisees.

When I began to see life like this, through grace-colored glasses, everything looked different. Not gonna lie, it was a little disconcerting. Really, this shift has altered the whole trajectory of my life.

(BTW, if you missed Part One of this series, it’s here; if you want to check out my last series on pro-life, pro-birth, and pro-choice, you can find parts 1, 2, and 3 herehere, and here. Also BTW, please subscribe to my newsletter!)

Can you do me a favor? Patheos blogging etiquette suggests posts be “around 500 words,” but I tend to get gabby sometimes. (This post is about 900.) Please let me know if I’m droning on too long. Deal?


FEATURED IMAGE: “gravity” by the mad LOLscientist is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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6 responses to “Let’s talk about eternity for a minute – Part Two, sheep and goats”

  1. Kathryn you wrote, “Every true Muslim is just seeking to serve God; every true Christian is just seeking to serve God.” I think this is where you are making a mistake. It is understandable that you would want to say Muslims will be saved because of their devotion to God, even if they do not believe in Christ. However, whereas religion is humanity’s attempt at pleasing and serving God, the gospel is that God does not save us based on our works, but because God loves us he sent his Son who gave his life to save those who believe in him (Jn 3:16).

    Christians seek to serve God, not in order to be saved, but because they have received the Spirit of Christ, they are a new creation. The Muslim’s I have spoken to have no assurance of salvation. They say, if it be the will of Allah, he will allow them into heaven. They have no personal relationship with their God (who could be a deceiving demon). No one will perish because they do no not meet your definition of “right” thinking, they perish because they reject Christ’s sacrifice for them, that is, they do not have a faith relationship with Jesus. Faith is a personal relationship term, not an intellectual acceptance of doctrines. It is not our place to judge anyone. Christ knows who are his.

  2. 500 words is too short! Too many times i read a Patheos article and exclaim “That’s it?”
    Even more than 900 is fine with me (i can understand them not wanting 2,000 every time), but you covered your topic in just the right amount. And very true also.

    This is a problem with Christianity, Jesus says a lot of things about how to be saved, including “whoever believes in “me” won’t perish but will have an eternal kind of life.” But believing IN “him” means believing in what he DOES. The God part of him is the message and deed part (child of God, Godchild), not the physical body part (child of man, human). I don’t believe that back then they philosophically separated people from their actions like we do (as i just did). We are what we do.

    If someone drives their car into a lake and a passerby gets out and pulls them out, what saved them? Not the passerby, as that person just by being a person did not save them, it was the act of getting out of their car and the pulling from the lake that saved them. The ACTION saved them.

    Elsewhere Jesus told a rich guy, “Give away everything you have and come follow me, and you will be saved.” (Please forgive if quote isn’t verbatim, i’m going by memory.) So there’s another qualification of what we have to do. Is that figurative? Either way it is different than the first thing Jesus said. We have to take the conglomerate of all the different things he said. Here exactly as you noted, the sheep are the ones who took care of the least of these. It says NOTHING about “accepting Jesus as our saviour” or “believing in him” or anything like that. But it must be included in the tapestry of things Jesus tried to explain to us about being saved.

    I agree with the first comment that “works” can’t save us, and it is the total grace of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins that does it, and that is what makes Christianity so great, it’s total grace – or was he simply expressing (Word) or embodying a pre-existing truth? It is believing in THAT TRUTH that saves us. But if we don’t do anything about it, we don’t really believe it. Or something like that.
    Sorry i rambled!

  3. Derek, thanks for your thoughts. You say, “it is not our place to judge anyone,” but you also say that Muslims “have no personal relationship with their God.” Those two statements can’t exist at the same time.

    I know many, many Muslims as close personal friends who are indeed seeking to serve God. They were taught the Islamic way to relate to God, and it resonates with them. God looks at the heart. I firmly believe he is pleased with what he sees. You can disagree, but I invite you to stick around and learn more. I will be writing a lot about Islam, and you may learn something new if you keep an open heart!

  4. Kathryn, I actually said the Muslim’s I have spoken to have said they do not have any assurance of salvation unless it be Allah’s will. My Muslim friends do not claim to have a personal relationship with God. I am not judging them. I have no idea how God will deal with them. God looks at the heart. I don’t know what God sees in another person. I know that we are all sinful. I know that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (Jn 14:6). I assume you think that Jesus will save Muslims in spite of their rejection of him because they know not what they are doing. Perhaps, but it is a more sure option to proclaim the gospel to them so that they can know they are saved.

  5. No, I don’t believe Jesus will save Muslims in spite of their rejection of him because they know not what they are doing. Here’s how I put it in my post:

    “Me: Wait a minute. What if…what if God is pleased with both of us, simply because we seek to connect with him to the best of our ability? (Sound of both of our minds blowing.) What if God doesn’t care that much about people having exactly the right theology? He is a forgiving, loving God, right? What if he really just wants us to be faithful to him in the best way we know how?”

    I know that is not standard mainline Christian belief. I know John 14:6, but I also know that there are many examples (I wrote about several) of people whose theology was not “right” being commended for their faith, and people with the right theology being condemned.

    This tells me that sometimes, people of another faith might be closer to the will of God than people of our own faith.

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