What does “the just shall live by faith” mean?

Four times the Bible uses the phrase, “the just shall live by faith.” The Bible uses that exact phrase four times. It is found first in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. The New Testament quotes Habakkuk 2:4 three times. The apostle Paul says it twice, once in the books of Romans (1:17) and once in Galatians (3:11) The author of Hebrews also uses the phrase in Hebrews 10:37.

To answer the question faith must be properly defined. Most people today think of faith as the personal acceptance of the truth of something or as an opinion held by the individual. An example of this kind of faith would be the statement, “I believe global warming is real.” Or, “I believe the Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl.” This understanding of faith falls very short of what the Bible describes as faith. The Bible describes faith as the conviction of the truth of God’s Word that leads the person to obedience. One of the classic chapters on faith is Hebrews 11 which begins just a few verses after the statement, “the just shall live by faith.”

How do the just live by faith? They believe and obey God’s Word. Abel believed God’s commands about sacrifices and obeyed His instructions on how to properly sacrifice. Noah believed God’s warning about a coming flood that would destroy the world and he obeyed His instructions to build an ark. Abraham believed God’s promises to richly bless him and to make his family great. Abraham obeyed God’s command to leave his family behind and went on a journey to a destination he had not yet been told. Moses believed God would deliver the Israelites and he obeyed God’s instructions to lead the Israelites out of the land of Egypt.

Obedience alone is not faith. Faith must never never be confused with obedience. Obeying God’s instructions to love one another, to study the Bible and go to church is not the same as faith. Real faith will always produce genuine obedience, but obedience cannot always be traced back to saving faith. Many people go to church every Sunday, but not because they are Christian’s. Many people are kind to others, but not because they are saved or even believe in God.

Some people obey God thinking their obedience will be enough to outweigh their sin and get them into heaven. This is the exact opposite of faith. Obedience with the goal of achieving salvation is disobedience because it rejects God’s Word, refuses God’s grace and denies the need of Jesus’ death on the cross. Faith accepts God’s Word and follows its instructions. One is never made righteous by obedience, but those who have truly been made right with God will live in obedience. The just will live by faith.

The Bible makes clear that faith is more than acceptance of a fact. Biblical faith if far more than a personal opinion about something. Faith is more than personally accepting something as true for yourself. Faith is believing the truth of God’s Word so fully that you completely obey God’s Word. Biblical faith always produces obedience. Thus, those who are saved by faith (the just) are also those who will live in obedience to God’s commands (live by faith). Faith is not about stepping out to do something difficult. Faith is not imagining there is a presence with you when you are scared and alone. Faith is obedience to the Bible. The Christian lives by faith after salvation by being obedient to God’s commands.

The Bible means two things when it says, “the just shall live by faith”. First, those who are just were made just and given eternal life by faith. Salvation- eternal life- is only received by faith. Second, once a person becomes just the just person will live in obedience to the Bible. This obedience is not to try to get or keep righteousness, but is the natural result of true faith. The just will live by his faith. Through faith he will receive life life and faith will direct his life.

Were the Old Testament Israelites saved by keeping the Law?

A recent answer stated that the people who lived before Jesus was born were saved by looking ahead to the promised Savior and trusting Him for their salvation. Some may wonder about the law of Moses. If people before Jesus were saved by trusting God’s promises to save, why did God give the law to the Israelites?

Historically, many Israelites believed they could be saved by obeying the Mosaic law. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day believed they were righteous because they were the children of Abraham who kept the law of Moses and the traditions of their fathers. All throughout the Old Testament the Israelites seemed frequently to misunderstand the role of the law. Even today many people look at the Old Testament and think the Israelites gained eternal life by being devout keepers of all the commands, rituals and sacrifices given through Moses. Is this true? Were the Israelites saved by obeying the law of Moses?

No Israelite was ever saved by his obedience to the law. The major theme of Romans and Galatians is the inability of the law to save. Galatians 2:16 says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” No one was ever justified- made righteous before God- by keeping the law. Old Testament Israelites were saved by trusting God for forgiveness of sin. Habakkuk 2:4 says, “the just shall live by his faith.” In Psalm 32 David rejoices in the blessings of being forgiven. He does not associate forgiveness with his keeping of the law but with the grace and mercy of God. David acknowledged his sin to God. He cried out in confession of his guilt and God gave forgiveness. Throughout the Psalms David declares that God is his salvation. The salvation that David describes is always based upon the compassion of God, not the obedience of the individual. He that could be righteous enough to earn salvation would have no need of forgiveness. In the Old Testament God never forgave because men earned His salvation. God forgave because of His great compassion. God poured out mercy on those who sought it from him.

The book of Isaiah is full of promises about the coming Jewish King and Savior. The Messiah and His kingdom are described at length. Isaiah ends with a great confession of sin and a plea for God to pardon the Israelites. Isaiah 64 recognizes the righteousness of men is no righteousness at all. The only answer, the only hope for Old Testament Israel, was to be pardoned by God. Isaiah 53 describes the work of the Messiah to gain that pardon and the eleventh verse says, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” Old Testament Israelites were saved by Jesus’ bearing their sin on the cross. God’s judgment was satisfied by the suffering of His Son. Jesus makes men righteous, whether those men live now or 3,000 years ago, by carrying on His shoulders the consequences of their sin. Salvation is always, and only, by Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

How were people saved before Jesus?

Since Christian’s believe that only those who trust Jesus for salvation will have eternal life how were people saved who lived before Jesus? Since the earth is between 6,000-10,000 years old most of history happened before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This includes quite a few of the great saints in the Bible. Abraham, Moses and David, to name a few, lived before Jesus. Alexander the Great, Guatama Buddha, Confucius, Julius Caesar, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and many other greats of history lived before Jesus. Billions of people lived before Jesus’ time. The question of their salvation is an urgent one.

The answer to this question is, in one sense, very simple. The people who lived before Jesus were saved the same way as the people living after Jesus. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved by trusting Him for salvation. Understanding the the answer is a little more complicated. Those who were saved before Jesus were saved by believing God’s promise to send a Savior and by trusting that promised Savior for salvation. As soon as man sinned, God began to tell humanity about the Savior. He promised Adam and Eve to give one who would crush Satan and defeat the curse of sin. Though the Bible doesn’t record the specific promises given in the time between Adam and Abraham we know that those living during that time knew of God and some believed Him. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel was declared righteous (he was saved) because of his faith. Enoch and Noah believed God and were saved.

Through the story of Abraham more is recorded of God’s promise to save men. God promised Abraham that through his Seed all the earth would be blessed. That promised Seed is Jesus (Galatians 3:16). Abraham believed God and was made righteous. (Genesis 15:6) The same promise was made to Abraham’s son, grandson and great-grandson. Through Moses God announced the promises of salvation to all of Israel. Through Israel God made the whole world know that He is God. Through Israel God repeatedly showed pictures of salvation. God placed Israel at the crossroads of the ancient world so all the world would know He is God.

God did not just make Himself known through mighty deeds of deliverance and judgment. God spoke to the world through His faithful servants. In the years before Jesus was born God spoke to men of His promise to save. Though we do not have many examples recorded in the Bible, the testimony of men like Abel and Enoch let us know that God spoke to men in the earliest years of human history. Hebrews 11:6 declares that only by faith is anyone made pleasing to God. Romans 10 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Throughout all human history the truth of God’s promised salvation has been available. Men knew the commands of God and knew the promise of God to give a Savior. In the days of Abraham God gave the first written Scripture. Through Moses and many others the Old Testament came into existence. Though the name Jesus was not known before the angel spoke to Mary salvation has always been through faith in Him. He is the Savior of the world promised to mankind since the day man first sinned. He is the only means of salvation. God spoke of salvation to humanity thousands of years before Jesus and those who believed God’s promises were saved.

Will those in heaven ever turn away from God?

The classic doctrine of eternal security gives great comfort to the children of God. The assurance that once received salvation can never be lost brings peace to many believers. Those Christians who honestly examine their own heart and life recognize how far we fall short of the perfection required by God. Despite the great gift of salvation, the ministry of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian believers often find themselves crying out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) The comforting answer to that heartbroken cry is, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ.” (Romans 8:1)

Eternity is a very long time. The conscientious Christian may fear that at sometime in the far off future he will so completely reject God that he is cast out of heaven. Did not Adam and Eve chose the elusive promise of being like God over a daily walk with Him? Did not Satan rebel against God despite being constantly in the presence of the infinite glory of God? Will there not be an army of people who rebel against Jesus at the end of the millennium even though they have enjoyed the great bliss of His perfect reign? Who is to say that believers in heaven will never rebel against God?

The doctrine of eternal security promises those who are truly saved they will remain saved no matter what. God promises to keep His children by His mighty power. Not only does God keep His children, He transforms them inside and out. God keeps His children despite their sin and He keeps His children from sin. The transformation accomplished by God begins on earth and is finished in heaven. God’s transforming work is an entire transformation that the person’s behavior, attitudes and desires. Not only can no man pluck the redeemed out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29), the redeemed will never desire to jump out of His hand (Hebrews 10:39).

The nation of Israel is an excellent of the transformation God will do in every one who is saved. In the Old Testament the people of Israel shows the absolute impossibility of any one obeying God. Despite their constant failure and rebellion God promises He will make them His eternal people who will serve Him in righteousness and perfect obedience. God will accomplish this by giving His people a new heart. The commands of God will no longer be inscribed on tablets of stone but will be written on the heart of the man. (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:32-34) Obedience will no longer be by external compulsion but by a new internal desire. The Israelites will be able to obey God perfectly and will desire nothing less than perfect obedience. When believers are given a glorified body they are not just given a body freed from the pain and sorrow of sin. They are given a body and a being in which all longings for sin are forever removed. The possibility does not exist that any Christian in heaven will turn from God. No believer in heaven will ever want to do anything but what that which pleases and exalts God. Christians will be eternally confirmed in righteousness, kept in that righteous condition by the mighty power of God. Eternal security is just what it claims to be, a salvation secured by God for eternity.

Why do Christians think a prayer is all it takes to get to heaven?

Some have complained that Christianity promises that just by saying a prayer anyone gets a free trip to heaven. A mass murderer can do horrible things all his life and go to heaven when dies because he said the correct words right before being strapped into the electric chair. A loving mother who worked hard all her life to raise good kids will go to hell if she doesn’t ask Jesus for forgiveness. This seems unfair, unjust and just plain wrong. Why do Christian’s teach that all it takes for even the worst person to go to heaven is saying the right words any time before dying?

This objection fails to understand two vital truths about the Bible’s teaching about salvation. Salvation is not received by saying the right words. The prayer of salvation is not a magic incantation which opens heaven’s door at the persons whim. The prayer of salvation is the outward response of saving faith. Praying the right words without saving faith will not bring salvation. The words alone have no power to give a person entrance to heaven. What brings salvation is Biblical faith.

Biblical faith is a personal conviction of the truth of God’s Word particularly the truths about sin, man’s inability to do anything to save himself, the deity of Jesus, the death of Jesus for sin and the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is the conviction that these truths are true about yourself. This goes beyond a general acceptance of a broad truth. This is the personal acceptance as fact your own guilt before God, your inability to remove your guilt and bring salvation, that Jesus died to pay the punishment of your sin, Jesus is alive forever and Jesus offers you salvation. Biblical faith obeys the commands of the gospel. Saving faith turns to Jesus trusting Him, and Him alone, for salvation. A prayer for salvation is the visible expression of that last element of saving faith. Asking for salvation is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is the massive internal conviction of that brings salvation to those who believe.

Salvation has nothing to do with anything the person does. The murderer is not going to hell for his murder. The loving mother is not going to heaven for her selflessness. Salvation is never determine by measuring a persons good against his bad. Salvation cannot be achieved by any actions of men because the standard for entrance into heaven is absolute perfection. To enter heaven one must be completely righteous without the least taint of sin. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) God’s standard of perfection is impossible for any person to achieve. Eternal life is given to those who realize their failure to measure up to God’s standard. Those who trust Jesus are promised heaven because Jesus’ perfect righteousness is transferred to the sinner. This is exactly why salvation is so difficult for many to understand. The work has been done. The one who is saved must do nothing. Salvation has been earned, in its entirety, by Jesus. Anyone who relies on Jesus to save them will be saved and have eternal life. Anyone who relies on his own goodness will not be saved.

God’s salvation has nothing to do with how much a person deserves to be saved. God justly saves the worst of men at the very last moment because He applies the infinite righteousness of Jesus to their great guilt. God justly saves the best of men any time they turn to Him for salvation because He applies the righteousness of Jesus to their great guilt. God saves all who will rely only on Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life.

What happens to those who die without ever hearing about Jesus?

Possibly one of the most difficult questions for a caring Christian to consider and answer is the fate of those who have never had the chance to hear the gospel. To many it seems an unthinkable unfairness that God would send people to hell who never had the chance to be saved. Walking carefully through the Bible’s teaching is not always easy. Despite the great emotional tensions associated with this question it can only be answered by a thorough consideration of what God has said about man, sin and salvation.

The Bible’s answer can be summed up in a very straightforward fashion. Those who die without turning to Jesus for forgiveness of sin are not forgiven and remain under the judgment of God. Only when one starts with a Biblical perspective can this answer begin to make sense. Many imagine that condemnation happens after death based upon one’s sin or refusal to believe Jesus.

Condemnation does not happen after death. Men are not sentenced to hell for rejecting Jesus or for committing an excessive number of bad deeds. Men are sentenced to hell because they are born sinners who are already condemned by God. “He that believeth not is condemned already.” (John 3:18) “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) The first chapter of Colossians describes all men as separated from God and enemies against Him. The third chapter of Romans describes all men as wicked, refusing to seek after God, having no good in them and filled with all manner of wickedness. The Bible consistently teaches that all people are currently guilty before God. Romans 3:19 says all the world is guilty before God. Everyone is already condemned for sin. Men are not waiting for judgment to find out if they are guilty or not. The conviction has been handed down. Sentencing is delayed to give opportunity for salvation.

The fate of those who die in their guilt is eternal separation from God in hell. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-9 says Jesus will exact vengeance on those that do not know God and have not obeyed the gospel. Jesus’ vengeance will be unending destruction apart from the presence of God and His glory. In other places in the Bible this everlasting destruction is described as a place of fire and intense suffering. Those who do not know God will be sentenced to eternal hell.

Wrong ideas about Divine judgment are abundant. Most seem to believe that if they are better people than a lot of others then they will make it to heaven. Some believe there is no hell. A growing number believe that God will not send anyone to hell (or maybe only send the really, really bad people to hell). The Biblical truth is that hell is real and only those who have turned to Jesus for forgiveness will escape hell. Those who do not do so, whether it be because of stubbornness, rebellion, ignorance or some other reason will be punished with everlasting destruction. Into this bleak assessment shines the good news of the gospel. Salvation from hell has been purchased by Jesus and is freely given to those who will turn to Him for forgiveness.

Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a familiar sight on many doorstops. The witnesses seek to introduce others to their church and their beliefs through a series of pamphlets and Bible studies. They claim to be a Christian denomination and to uphold the major doctrines of Biblical Christianity. Are the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian belief? Are they consistent with historical orthodoxy? Are their beliefs in line with what the Bible says must be believed to be saved?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a Christian church by any historical definition of the Christian orthodoxy. None who hold to the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are genuine Christians. What is the basis for making such a bold declaration? First, and most significantly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christian because they deny truths which the Bible defines as necessary for salvation. The first and second epistles of John state in very definite language that any one who denies Jesus is the promised Savior and Son of God is not saved and is not of God. The official teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses about Jesus is that He is a great spirit being, the first spirit created by Jehovah (they also deny the Trinity). Jesus was a god (note the small “g”), but not the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is not eternal, not equal with the Father nor possessor of the infinite glories of Jehovah. In Jehovah’s Witnesses theology Jesus is the greatest of created beings. They also teach that when Jesus came to the earth, he gave up all his divine nature. In their Bible studies they teach, “He was not a spirit-human hybrid.” Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that Jesus is God, that Jesus is God made flesh and that Jesus remained fully God while taking to Himself full humanity. All of these truths are crucial for salvation. One cannot be saved without first believing Jesus is God the Son and God become man.

The errors regarding the person of Jesus are sufficient to keep from salvation any who believe their lies, but Jehovah’s Witnesses compound their heresies about Jesus with heresies about salvation. According to their teaching, Jesus’ death does not wash away all sin forever. Jesus’ death makes it possible for men to be saved, but does not accomplish salvation for them. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses salvation is gained by faith in Jesus, by participation in God’s visible theocratic kingdom (the Jehovah’s Witness organization) and by steadfastly maintaining confidence that Christ made salvation possible. They teach that none are securely saved until the survivors of Armageddon chose to turn to God and submit to His rule. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a salvation that is a mixture of faith and works. Their inclusion of lifelong good works as essential to salvation is a denial of the gospel. Galatians 1 describes this kind of gospel as no gospel and its teachers as ones who are accursed for their falsehoods.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are false teachers who must not be heeded or encouraged in their false doctrines in any way. This does not mean they are beyond the hope of salvation. Those who will repent of their false doctrines can turn to God and find pardon for their sin and eternal life through Jesus Christ.

If God wants everyone to go to heaven, why doesn’t He make it clear how to get there?

This question was posed by one who does not believe god exists as an argument against the reality of God. If God really exists and really wants everyone to go to heaven, why is there so much confusion about how to get to heaven? If God is all powerful and infinitely wise, why doesn’t He tell everyone how to get to heaven? Among professing Christian churches there is disagreement about how to reach heaven. Some teach salvation is received by faith alone, some teach good works are required for salvation, others teach baptism is necessary and still others teach that salvation is dependent on attending the proper church. Beside the disagreements between Christian churches are the many different religions in the world that teach many different ways to heaven and present many different versions of heaven. If God really wants us all to go to heaven, why are there so many contradictory opinions about to how to get there? Wouldn’t a loving God make the way to heaven very clear?

This question may seem to be a strong argument against God. It is not much different from the old atheistic declaration, “If God exists, I want Him to prove it by striking me dead with lightning right now.” Arguments like this are breathtakingly arrogant. What reasonable person would expect the all powerful God to do what I want when I want Him to do it? More importantly, a thoughtful consideration of the Bible’s teaching leaves no doubt that God has made the message of the gospel very clear. Throughout all of human history God has been actively revealing Himself and the message of salvation to the world. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned God promised a Savior. As the human population expanded, the message of salvation continued to be preached. Noah’s massive building program was a platform to preach the truth about God. Later, after the flood, God called Abraham out for Himself to be the father of a nation which would be the centerpiece of the display of His power, glory and truth. Since the generation after Christ, the Bible has been the clear record of salvation declaring the gospel to all men. The problem has never been a lack of information, but a rejection of the truth.

The account of Cain and Abel gives a perfect example fo the problem. Both Cain and Abel almost certainly knew what God required of them. Cain rejected the truth about God and of what God wanted. He did not lack information, he rejected the truth he was told. Today, the confusion and disagreement among Christian churches stems from a willful misunderstanding of the truth. Man’s rejection of God and refusal to believe the gospel is not from lack of information. Men do not believe because they do not want to believe the truth. The Bible is not unclear. The message of salvation is declared with all plainness throughout the New Testament. Verses like Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”; Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”; and John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” state the gospel in crystal clear terms. God has made the message of salvation plain for any to understand. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Does God accept to Himself a Muslim’s sincere worship of Allah?

C.S. Lewis was an excellent author and noteworthy Christian thinker. The recent big screen success of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader have brought a few of his works to popular attention. The Chronicles of Narnia is a seven book series that tells the adventures of the Pevensies children and their relatives in the land of Narnia. The last book of the series tells of the overthrow of Narnia by their enemies the Calormenes. The Calormenes are a warlike people who worship the vulture headed, winged god Tash. The Narnians worship the true god and creator of their world, Aslan. C.S. Lewis very intentionally uses his work to depict some of the great doctrines of Christianity. Aslan is an unmistakeable picture of Jesus. Aslan’s death on the stone table in place of Edmund retells the death of Jesus on the cross for mankind. Likewise, Lewis includes other obvious imagery. The Calormenes are a very Turkish people obviously intended to bear strong resemblance to the Muslim countries.

In The Last Battle a sincere young Calormene soldier who devoutly worships Tash comes face to face with Aslan. The soldier is terrified because he has served Aslan’s enemy all his life and he now expects to be slain by Aslan. The Lion does not kill the young man but tells him something very surprising. All the good and sincere worship that was heaped upon Tash was accepted by Aslan as given to himself. Because Tash and Aslan are complete opposites, all evil done in Aslan’s name is actually done for Tash. All good done in Tash’s name is actually done for Aslan. Though the worshiper was mistaken in the object of his worship Aslan received all good as done for him.

The theological point Lewis appears to be making is that all those who worship in goodness and sincerity will be received by God. Though they think their worship is to a different god, the true God will accept all honorable and devout worship. This argument is still being made today. Some of those who say Allah and God are the same mean to say that it doesn’t matter what you call your god. If you are sincere in your attempts to do good and serve your god, then the true God will accept your worship. Is this true? Does God accept all sincere worship as if it was done for Him?

Recently I answered the assertion that Allah and God are really the same god. In March of last year I addressed why sincere worship is not by itself acceptable to God. God does not accept well intentioned but misplaced worship, because He accepts none apart from Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Only Jesus has done that which is acceptable to God. God does not accept any man because of sincerity or goodness. God does not accept any worship apart from Jesus. God only accepts those who have been made righteous in Jesus.

The apostle Paul confronted the Athenians for their sincere but wrong worship. Acts 17 shows that they were deeply religious. They were so careful in their worship they built a statue to the unknown god in case they accidentally overlooked the worship of a god. Paul came to Athens and taught them of the the god they did not know. He did not comfort them that God accepted their sincere worship. He told them who is the true God and instructed them to repent of their wrong worship because God would judge them. Their well intentioned worship was not acceptable to God. In fact, their rejection of the gospel showed they were not seeking to truly worship God. Their worship of another god was rebellion against God. They did not want to worship the true God. So it is with all who worship another god. Their worship is not acceptable to God because it is in fact rebellion against Him. Only those who have trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of sin are redeemed by His blood and are accepted of God.

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.