God's Right to Separate the Just from the Unjust
There are many people in this country sitting on death row. Every year lawyers plead with the governors of states to commute the sentence of prisoners on death row to life in prison. Sometimes a sentence is commuted and sometimes the prisoner is executed. But keep this in mind. It is not the governor who caused a man on death row to be executed. The governor just decided not to commute his sentence. The prisoner deserves the death penalty for a crime he committed. Each governor is able to show mercy if he is so inclined to show mercy. It is no different with God. All men are on death row. All men have sinned and the penalty for sin is death. If God so chooses to commute the sentence of some to life, that is his right, just as it is the governor’s right to commute a prisoner’s sentence to life or leave him on death row. God is not required to commute the death sentence of every person who ever lived to eternal life. He is not obligated to do anything that is not in His will or according to His good pleasure. He can pardon those He chooses and leave the rest where they are, and that’s exactly what he did. The problem is that men cannot accept the fact that God has that right. What is even more difficult for man to swallow is the fact that God made the decision before the world began that he would save a people not because of any merit in them, but because it was his good pleasure, and leave the rest on death row. Today I want to examine God’s right to separate the just from the unjust according to his own determination. And only God is able to make that determination before a single one of is born, before we have done anything good or evil that might influence His decision. Paul says in Romans 9 that God declared while Rachel’s twins were still in the womb, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” While in the womb, neither could have done any good or evil to influence God’s decision to love one and hate the other. Man can do nothing to influence God’s decision to redeem those He has chosen to redeem and leave the rest where they are. It is God’s choice alone.
In Matthew 25:31-34 & 41 Jesus says, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: (notice here that Jesus says HIS sheep, but the goats are THE goats, not HIS goats—Jesus doesn’t claim the goats; they do not belong to him, but the sheep are HIS). And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”
From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus clearly describes those He has come to redeem. After His temptation in the wilderness, He visits His home town of Nazareth. Luke 4:16-19 says, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Here Jesus announces in the town where He grew up that the Spirit of God is upon Him, that God has anointed Him, and that His mission is to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, and the bruised. In other places in the scriptures, Jesus clearly says He has not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Those who are whole do not need a physician, only those who are sick. It is clear who Jesus is seeking. Jesus gives a clear description of those He will claim to be His. The religious leaders couldn’t understand why Jesus associated with sinners. They criticized Him for talking to them and eating and drinking with them. The Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes were sure they were the ones that the Messiah would associate with when he came to be their King.
But Jesus was looking for those His Father gave him before the foundation of the world. There are many scriptures that proclaim this fact. Jesus came into the world to seek and save the sheep God gave Him before the world began. Those sheep were among those lost in the fall. Jesus says in John 6:37 and 39, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” And in John 17:2 Jesus says, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” Jesus has been given the power to give eternal life to those the father gave him before the world began, and His mission on earth is to seek those God gave him who were lost in the Fall.
Don’t be deceived into believing that Jesus doesn’t know those who are His. He didn’t come to this earth as a human not knowing those for whom he was seeking. He didn’t come to wait and see who would choose him. Jesus said in John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus knew their heart. He knew those who belonged to him were poor (not in worldly goods, but poor in spirit), He knew they were brokenhearted, he knew they were captives (not in bondage to man, but in bondage to sin), and He knew they were blind and bruised.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day don’t fit the description Jesus gives of those He has come to minister to. The religious leaders told Jesus in John 8:33, “We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” In verse 39, the Pharisees tell Jesus, “Abraham is our Father,” and Jesus says, “If Abraham were your father ye would love me.” In verse 41 the Pharisees say to Jesus, “We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God.” The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were proud, self-righteous people who claimed their heredity gave them membership in the kingdom of heaven. But Jesus tells them, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.”
From the time Adam and Eve transgressed God’s law, there are many scriptures that describe the heart of fallen man. In Genesis 6:5, GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. So God wiped out the earth with a great flood and started over with Noah and his family. Man is given a second chance, but in Psalm 14:2-4, David says, “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” From the moment Adam and Eve fell into Satan’s trap, man’s heart has been desperately wicked. Man may think he is a good, honorable person, and he may be able to fool a lot of people into thinking he is a good, honorable person, but he can’t fool God, because God knows his heart. And the only way for a man with a desperately wicked heart to be anything but wicked is for God to change his heart. Man can clean himself up and pretend to be something he is not, but unless God changes his heart, he is like the hog who will soon return to wallowing in the mud.
Many times throughout scripture, God tells how he conditions the human heart. Solomon says in Proverbs 16:1-2, “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.” Man never sees any wrong in the things he does. He always tries to defend his actions and his thoughts, no matter how wrong they are. But God knows the human heart, and God fixes the heart of those He has chosen to redeem. God tells Ezekiel the prophet in Ezekiel 36:26, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” The Pharisees had stony hearts. They thought themselves better than anyone else. They were good, they kept the commandments, they were self-righteous, and they fasted and prayed. This attitude can clearly be seen in Luke 18:11, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” But the publican had a heart of flesh—he was poor in spirit, he was brokenhearted, he was a captive of his condition. Luke 18:13 says, “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said this publican went to his house justified rather than the Pharisee for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
The Pharisee and the publican illustrate the two kinds of people God will separate when Jesus returns to claim his bride. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus gives a clear description of those He is seeking. They are not the ones who think they can change their own hearts and become what they think Jesus wants, but they are those whose hearts have been changed by an Almighty Sovereign God, who exhibit the character of Christ and produce fruit. Jesus first describes them in Matthew 5, the part of the Sermon on the Mount that we refer to as the beatitudes. Jesus says: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Here Jesus is describing those the father has given Him. He isn’t saying, “If you accept me as your personal savior, I will make you poor in spirit and meek, and merciful, and pure in heart.” He is saying, “I’m looking for those who belong to me--those whom the Father has given me. I will know them and they will know me. Here’s a description of them. My father has taken out their stony heart and given them a heart of flesh, and I will know them because my father has already conditioned their hearts. They are the poor in spirit. They are humble. They think little of themselves. They are merciful. They have compassion for others. They hunger and thirst after righteousness. Their desire is to be clothed in my righteousness—not clothed in the fake the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, but clothed in the righteousness of God’s own Son. I will know these people when I see them, because God has already prepared their hearts. And they will know me, like a sheep knows the shepherd.
The Bible clearly speaks of two groups of people throughout the Old and New Testaments. God calls his children the elect, the righteous, the just or justified, the born again, the chosen, and the sheep. They are sharply contrasted with the children of the devil who are evil, wicked, and unjust. They are the goats. The two groups are clearly contrasted by their natures. David describes God’s feelings toward those who are evil (David calls them workers of iniquity, bloody and deceitful men). He says in Psalms 5:5-6, “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” Inspired by God, David writes in the scriptures, “God hates all workers of iniquity. God abhors (hates) the bloody and deceitful man.” Paul says in the eighth chapter of Romans that God’s love is “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is consistent with what David says here in Psalms chapter 5. God’s love is not extended toward those who are not in Christ—who were not in Christ from before the beginning of the world. That’s why David says, “God hates all workers of iniquity. God abhors the bloody and deceitful man.” Solomon contrasts the just and the unjust—the righteous and wicked—in the book of Proverbs. Solomon says, “The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit. The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous. An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked.”
It is the nature of all those of Adam’s race to rebel against God, but God himself gives His children a new nature. They are new creatures in Christ. They are being conformed to the image of God’s Son. They are recognizable by the fruit they produce. Jesus said in John 15:16, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” Paul describes the fruit produced by the Spirit of God residing in the hearts of his children in Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance.” Natural man cannot produce the fruit of the spirit. It is the Spirit of God dwelling within the child of God that produces fruit. The second parable that Jesus taught illustrates this point. It is found in Matthew 13:24-30: Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
When the disciples asked Jesus to explain this parable, this is what He told them. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom (Jesus himself sows the good seed into the world—the good seed are His children); but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil (the devil sows his children among the children of God); the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. (Jesus points out here that it is the angels, under God’s instruction, who will do the separating when the harvest takes place at the end of the world. Remember, only God knows the heart; therefore, only God can tell the difference between His children and the devil’s children). Jesus says, “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (In each parable where Jesus uses the phrase “wailing or weeping and gnashing of teeth” He is describing the agony of eternal torment. Those who are cast into a furnace of fire are the devil’s children) Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
In this parable, the Lord’s angels separate the wheat from the tares. A man’s enemy had sowed tares in his field. “Tares” refers to darnel, a wheat-like plant that produced useless seed instead of grain. It so closely resembles wheat that it is known as bastard wheat. Until its seed head is mature, it is nearly impossible to distinguish from real wheat, even under the most careful scrutiny. The real wheat produces fruit while the tares are incapable of producing fruit. It is the same with God’s children and Satan’s children. God’s children produce fruit. Satan’s children may be able to talk the talk, but they cannot walk the walk. They are impostors who are incapable of producing fruit. The landowner in Jesus’ parable chose not to risk destroying any of the legitimate crop while trying to pull out the tares. Instead, he decided to let both wheat and weeds grow together until harvest, at which time the reapers would separate the good crop from the bad. How will the reapers know the wheat from the tares? The issue, as always, is the spiritual fruit they bear. Tares may look similar to wheat, but tares cannot produce wheat kernels. The mature grain clearly sets wheat apart from tares. So it is in the spiritual world. The sons of the Evil One can imitate the children of the kingdom, but they cannot produce true righteousness. Yet this parable is not saying we should be unconcerned with the difference between wheat and tares until the final judgment. It does not encourage us to accept tares as wheat. It does not sanction indifference about sin. Nor does it suggest we forget there are weeds in the field and be inattentive to the peril they pose. It simply tells us to leave the final judgment and retribution in the hands of the Lord and his angels.
Only God can really tell the difference, but he has given us characteristics or fruit to look for in His children and the Holy Spirit has given us the ability to discern a true spirit of Christ in our brothers and sisters in Christ. The children of the devil can clean themselves up on the outside; they may fool the natural eye, but they cannot produce true fruit of the Spirit. Paul admonishes Christians in 2 Corinthians to come out from among the unrighteous and be a separate people. Paul says we are not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? For Christians to be a separate people and not be yoked together with unbelievers, we must have been given the ability to discern in order to heed this command that God has given us. Jesus said in Matthew 7, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”
In the end, real wheat will inevitably be identified by the crop it produces. The children of the kingdom are like that as well. They live in the world where children of the Evil One flourish. But the children of the kingdom have a heavenly nature. The fruit they bear will be different from the fruit borne by the children of the Evil One. In the end, on the Day of Judgment, the reapers (God’s holy angels) will be able to tell the difference. On that day, many who think they are saved but live unholy lives will be shocked to discover that heaven is not their destiny. It is hard to picture a more horrifying scene than that described by Jesus in today’s text: Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Here in Matthew 7, the Lord gives us a glimpse of the coming judgement and the tragedy of those who will stand before the throne with high expectations but only a verbal profession or mere intellectual knowledge. Here the Almighty Sovereign God, who knows the heart of every creature, separates the just from the unjust, the righteous from the wicked, his children (the sheep) from the devil’s children (the goats). The decision is His and rightfully so.