31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, he will sit upon the throne of his glory. 32 And before him all nations shall be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. 36 I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, since you have done it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it to me.’ 41 “Then he will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not take me in. I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they will also answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, since you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.” Matthew 25:31-46
On the Last Day, when Jesus Christ returns with all His holy angels to judge the living and the dead, He shall separate the believers and unbelievers from one another as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, putting the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left.
The unbelievers, those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ and His innocent sufferings and death for the forgiveness of their sins and everlasting life, “shall go away into everlasting punishment.” But those who truly trust in Christ and believe that they are forgiven and have eternal life only for Jesus’ sake – because Christ died for them and rose again – will go into “life eternal.”
If it is through faith in Christ that one goes to heaven, and if it is through unbelief that one is damned and spends eternity in hell (cf. Mark 16:16), why does Jesus here speak of the works of believers for Him and the lack of works in unbelievers?
Jesus is not saying that those on the right hand go to heaven because of their works; it is only through faith in Christ and His sufferings and death that they are acceptable in God’s sight and are given eternal life (Eph. 1:6-7). But since they have been brought to faith in Christ and are saved by God’s grace, they now love their Lord and Savior and gladly live for Him and serve their fellow man (cf. Eph. 2:8-10).
They, those on the right hand, are not depending on such works to gain God’s favor; they are not even aware of the many times they have served Christ by serving their brethren. Rather they love and serve their brethren because Christ has first loved and served them by winning for them eternal salvation (cf. 1 John 4:9-11,19).
Those who do not have saving faith in Jesus Christ cannot love and serve Him. Even when they outwardly perform many of the same charitable works as Christians, they are not done for Christ; for “without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6).
O Jesus, who my debt didst pay and for my sin wast smitten, within the Book of Life, oh, may my name be also written! I will not doubt; I trust in Thee, from Satan Thou hast made me free and from all condemnation. Amen. (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn #611, Verse 5)
[Scripture is quoted from the Revised Common Version.]