Jesus wraps up his teaching in Matthew 25 with the story in verses 31-46. He talks about the fact that people will be divided at the end of time based on who are His, and who aren’t, like dividing sheep and goats. The fascinating thing He points to that shows the difference is how we treat those who are the least in our culture. He doesn’t define it by who reads their Bible the most, even though that is crucial. He doesn’t base it on prayer, even though that is the lifeblood of a life of faith. He doesn’t discuss how often we go to church, even though spending time with other followers is the only way we can make it through life. So clearly, He is not trying to define how you become a Christian, or give a list of all of the things it means to be a Christian.
So, what IS He talking about here? I think He is just showing what it means to really be listening to Him, and obeying Him. God’s heart is always for the broken. We see it a hundred times in the Bible. His heart breaks for people who have broken hearts. So, if we are really following God, it will show up in our lives, specifically how we care for those He cares for.
Taking care of the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the needy, or those in prison isn’t the key to getting into heaven. That’s not Jesus’ point here at all. What He is saying is if we are truly His kids, if we are truly following Him, those things are going to happen, and we aren’t going to really even be all that aware of it. Notice the sheep in the story ask Him, “When did we do these things for you?” It’s an outflow of an authentic faith.
This is where so many of us may end up surprised. Jesus teaches that if we are truly following Him, the Holy Spirit will work in our lives, and we will obey Him. He will change things in us, and obedience will be the result. If we are not obeying, we are not following. If we aren’t following Him, we are really His. He tells us later that in the end a lot of people will say “Didn’t we heal the sick, and cast out demons, and do great miracles in your name?” and He will tell them He doesn’t know them. It seems that it may not be the “great” things you do in Jesus name, but the simple acts of humble obedience (caring for the poor and needy) which point most clearly to a life surrendered to Him.