Does Jesus base a person’s salvation on his helping the needy?

I really wish those who take it upon themselves to lecture Christians on how they should behave would take the time to correctly understand what the Bible really says about how Christians are to live. The latest example of Biblical misapplication has come in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis. As thousands have flooded into Europe fleeing intense persecution in Syria the pressure on America to take in these refugees has increased exponentially. Many have taken it upon themselves to declare that Christians have an obligation to welcome in the refugees. The passage I have heard used most to press home this duty is Matthew 25:35-46.

The pertinent passage in Matthew 25 teaches that when Jesus returns He will judge mankind. Those who are given eternal life are the ones who took in the stranger, fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty. Those who are sent to eternal judgment are the ones who refused to take in the stranger, feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. The application is obvious. Since Jesus will judge men based upon their treatment of the needy, then those who claim to be followers of Jesus have a duty to care for those in need. Is this what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25?

A simple reading of the passage makes it immediately obvious that Jesus is not giving a blanket commandment for every Christian to provide for every needy person he meets. When Jesus grants eternal life to the righteous He tells them “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it (cared for the needy) unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Jesus is teaching that how His children treat their fellow Christians is how they treat Him. What is done for other believers is done for Jesus. He makes this same point in Mark 9:41. He tells His disciples, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you he shall not lose his reward.” When Jesus returns He will judge those who profess to be His followers based upon how they have served needy Christians.

When Matthew 25 is compared with the rest of the Bible one realizes this passage cannot be teaching that any one is saved by doing good deeds for others. Versees like Ephesians 2:8 declare salvation is only by God’s grace and is only received by faith without any works to merit salvation. 1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from life unto death, because we love the brethren.” A man’s love of his fellow believer does not make him righteous, it is one of the proof’s he has been made righteous. Salvation is always and only the free gift of grace. The deeds of a man in this life are evidences of salvation.

The situation in Syria is serious. Tens of thousands of refugees are in serious need. Every Christian should be deeply concerned about those needs, especially the needs of the Syrian Christians. There is a clear New Testament example of Christian’s caring for the needs of believers across the world in distress. The Christian’s love for others will compel him to do what he can to provide real help those in need. This help cannot be defined based upon a visceral or political reaction, but must be built upon Biblical wisdom. Misusing a Biblical passage to make a point may make good rhetoric, but properly applied Biblical truth is always more powerful and transformative than any sound bite.

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