December 10, 2012

Sheep and Goats

The difference between the people of God and folks who are not is sometimes blurry. That is, a helpful and generous person who is not a Christian can look better than a Christian who is disobeying God and walking in the flesh. At times, my own life is more like that of a pagan than it is like one who follows the Lord Jesus Christ. 

We who are Christian might say that we are forgiven, as if that is all the difference necessary. Is this just a poor excuse? God gave us new life in Christ and we are supposed to live it, not go back to our former ways. The Bible is filled with commands to “put off” the old nature and “put on” the new nature that is created in Christ Jesus and given to us by grace through faith. We are supposed to be different from those who do not believe.

When I meet new people, their faith or lack of faith is usually obvious. That is, I usually can discern those are Christian and those who are not by the way that they talk or live. Yet at times, this is muddied for the above reasons. Only God knows for sure.

But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

God knows, yet He wants our identity as His children to be known to others also. This verse says we should leave sin behind us. Other verses says the same thing…

Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:16–18).

While a changed life is important, spending time with one another is also a mark of faith. Those who are not believers are not interested in being with Christians. While some may attend a Bible-believing church for a time, their hearts are not in it. They might find another “church” that is liberal or teaches falsely, or just stop altogether. Being ‘nice’ people is important to them, but being godly and trusting Christ for that godliness is not.

Malachi quotes the Lord’s declaration that one day He will make it clear. Like the gospel accounts where Jesus speaks of sheep and goats being separated (Matthew 25:32-46), here God speaks of making up or bringing forth those that He values, His jewels, so that the world will know who is who. At the time of judgment, the people of God will be spared and all will know who belongs to God and who does not.

As for now, perhaps the biggest distinction is about service. Whom do I serve? Is it myself? Or is it the Lord? Do I do what I do to give me pleasure and glory? Or do I do what I do to the praise of His glory? 

When I am walking in the flesh, the answer is obvious. When an unbeliever lives a sinful life, the answer is obvious. However, when the distinctions in behavior are blurry and I am not even certain what I am doing, never mind the motivations of others, God always knows. In the end, in “that day” when He gathers up His treasures, He will spare those who believe in Him. Eventually, He will make clear those who serve Him and those who do not.

Lord, even as a Christian I am aware of the many times that I do things for myself rather than for You. Forgive this disobedience, but more than that, make me deeply aware of my need to depart from sin and esteem Your name, serving You with all my heart. Far better that others can see the distinction of a sold-out, believing life now than waiting until that judgment day when You separate the sheep from the goats.  

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