So what is the final analysis? The reformers would have us believe that Jesus died to satisfy God’s wrath in a legal transaction, Jesus taking our place for our justly deserved punishment. In contrast, the early church taught that Jesus was sent to release us from the bondage of Sin and Death and turn our hearts back to God in repentance, following Jesus in loving obedience.
The reformers taught that we simply need to believe and we are saved into the pearly gates, unconditionally. The early church taught that we must repent and be baptized, fully surrendering our lives to Christ. By grace through faith we are saved—that is, grafted to the Vine. Yet that is just the beginning of salvation, the first step.
The reformers theology results in obedience to Christ being optional. Salvation is assured by faith regardless of how one lives. They go so far as to make doing good a bad thing by calling our righteousness filthy rags. (See Isaiah 5:20, Jude verse 4, and 2 Peter 3:14-18 for insight). The Scriptures and early church teach that our obedience to Christ’s commands, in love, is required for salvation. It’s not that we earn our salvation. Rather, our obedience is a direct reflection of our love and faith. We lie if we say we love and believe in Christ and do not do what He says. That’s why Paul told us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (see Philippians 2:12-13).
Likewise Peter said,
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER.” (1 Peter 4:17-18)
Now recall, the Gospel of God is to “repent and follow Jesus!”
Modern Christianity leads us to believe that to get to heaven, we simply have to have the right theology and believe the right things, often independent of how we live. However, Jesus taught directly what the Judgment will look like:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Sheep are not separated from goats based on their theology, what they believe, or whether or not they have faith. Jesus, being both the teller of the story, and the subject of the story says the sheep and goats will ultimately be separated based on how they lived—their fruit. The goats receive eternal damnation and the sheep eternal bliss based on what they did with their lives.
So who will you believe, the reformers or Jesus? If you answered Jesus, simply live out the Gospel according to Jesus: repent and follow Him! Go back and read the red letters again in light of everything we covered here, and simply obey what He said. Then reread the remainder of the New Testament in light of Jesus’ Gospel. You will see incredible internal consistency in the entire New Testament with everything taught here. The scales will be lifted from your eyes and you will be free to follow Christ unhindered.
– Marc Carrier