Parable of the Sheep and Goats: Matthew 25:31-46
Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats as a description and prediction of the judgment of all people.
This parable is also possibly the most clear and straightforward in making the point that actions do determine our acceptance of salvation, because we show what we believe by what we do: Our Actions Reveal the Truth.
In the context of Matthew 25, Jesus has just given a long answer to a question his disciples ask regarding his return and the end times.
Within this answer, Jesus has told these parables:
All of these parables deal with subjects regarding the end times and Jesus' return, such as the subject of being ready for his return.
Jesus then concludes his long answer with this parable of the sheep and goats.
Although the use of sheep and goats make this story into a parable, it is clear that Jesus is plainly telling his disciples what the judgment of the world will be like.
Jesus says, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats," (Matthew 25:31-32)
The sheep will be put at the right hand of the Son of Man, and the goats will be put on the left.
"Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'" (Matthew 25:34-36)
Then these sheep, called the righteous, will ask the king about when they have done these things for him. "And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'" (Matthew 25:40)
The king then speaks to those on his left, saying they are accursed and did not take care of him when he needed it. "Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw 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 tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:44-46)
This parable of the sheep and goats makes it extremely clear that it is actions that determine who are the sheep and who are goats.
Jesus teaches this subject frequently, such as by saying, "You will know them by their fruits...every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Matthew 7:16-19)
Of course, salvation cannot be obtained through 'works' and good deeds, because "For mortals it is impossible" to obtain salvation by our own strength (Matthew 19:26). However, such actions are expected of the saved. Works and good deeds are the fruit of those who have been saved by God's grace.
Our acceptance of salvation through Jesus Christ is seen through our actions. Those who accept God's gift of salvation will repent (permanent change in action and thoughts), and will serve God with their actions.
Paul speaks about this subject when he says, "They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions." (Titus 1:16)
This means you can see who is saved (and who is not) by their actions, which is why those who have recently been saved may get comments like, "What happened to you? It's like you're a different person." Their sudden change in lifestyle and decisions, which is a direct result of their acceptance of salvation, causes those they know to be surprised.
For those who struggle with truly repenting, it is good to know that a greater understanding of God and understanding of what Jesus actually teaches, has the power to make that permanent change.
The more we understand what the Bible actually says, and the more of a reality it becomes for us, the more we are changed permanently. This fact is because we begin making decisions based on the reality that the Bible reveals to be true, rather than what the world depicts as reality.
For more information on this subject, read about the Meaning of Repentance and Salvation.
There are several other parables that also communicate this idea that we show with our actions whether or not we accept God's gift of salvation, which are: