sheep and goats

Most of us have heard some version of the formula joke that talks about there being only two groups of people in the world. What follows is usually a humorous observation about some habit or a trendy social preference that divides the population at some level.

But when Jesus divides all humanity into two groups, it’s no joking matter. It turns out that there really are only two groups of people in the world.

Concerning the division of sheep and goats, Jesus said…

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left.” [Mt. 25:31-33, ESV]

In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of sheep and goats as spiritual categories that distinguish all humanity into one of these two spiritual groups. Every human being is either a spiritual sheep or a spiritual goat – forever.  This designation by the Lord Jesus defines our spiritual orientation not only in this life, but for all eternity.

I recently shared in a sermon that I once wrongly believed that spiritual goats could become spiritual sheep if they only believed the gospel.  Theoretically, it sounds true. But my confusion was based on a misunderstanding of the intrinsic differences between sheep and goats. I thought that the term “goats” was a general description of all lost people and that “sheep” generally described all saved people.

On the surface, this may bear some resemblance to the truth as we observe the world externally. But theologically this is never actually true. Goats never become sheep and sheep never become goats.

What is true in nature is also true in the spiritual world. Those who are spiritual goats will never become spiritual sheep.

Only Christ’s sheep will ever come to salvation by grace through faith. Goats will never come to true saving faith. Jesus died for the sin of His sheep, not for the goats of the world.

Every human being comes into this world in a spiritually lost condition; some are spiritual sheep and the rest are spiritual goats. Only the sheep will ever be saved out of their lost estate by God’s regenerating grace. Spiritual goats will never become sheep.

The fact that sheep are currently mingled together among the goats is implied by the ultimate separation by Jesus that will occur at the end of the age.

Now this raises some questions.

What about non-Christians who are devoutly religious? Isn’t this evidence that they are seeking God?  No… referring to the natural man without Christ, Scripture says “no one seeks after God; not even one” (Ps. 14; Rom 3).

So the fact that non-Christians are being herded into various false religions is not evidence of seeking God; instead it is actually evidence that they are hiding from God and His truth. True sheep within this false environment of goats eventually come out to follow Christ. The sheep ultimately believe the gospel.

Another question is: Can’t spiritual goats believe the gospel and become spiritual sheep? And again, the biblical answer is no. Goats never become sheep. There are many lost sheep who become saved; but no goats will ever become sheep.

You may observe that spiritual goats can be exceedingly religious, moral, and devout in their religious practices. They may also be happy, friendly, conservative, nice people with solid marriages. This cannot be denied, yet there is no causal link between any of these external traits and true regeneration by the Spirit of God.

Beneath the outer surface of moral cleanness is a heart that hates the God of Scripture and even the finest of hand-sewn fig leaves are a woefully inadequate covering when Christ shed His own blood to atone for the sins of His sheep.

So morality by itself apart from faith in Christ is not regeneration at all.

It’s also true that many unredeemed sheep are still lost, still wayward, not following the Shepherd and still living in the same manner as the worst kind of spiritual goats. Not all of Christ’s sheep have been saved yet.

There are true sheep, who, in their lost estate may appear to be spiritual goats. In practice they are identical to the goats… but they are actually lost sheep.

In fact, there are some goats who in their morality and religious zeal appear more like sheep than lost and wayward sheep who haven’t been regenerated yet.

Goats gather in herds. Sheep are gathered into flocks to hear the familiar voice of their Shepherd as the Bible is taught.

And when God’s truth is clearly explained, the distinction between spiritual sheep and spiritual goats becomes most clear and apparent in the responses.

I plan to come back to this in a couple of weeks with another post on the difference between being offended by God’s truth as opposed to being convicted by God’s truth and how these contrary responses characterize another difference between sheep and goats. Until then…

For the edification of Christ’s sheep,
Pastor Kevin

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