Sheep and Goats, Wheat and Tares

Joshua West

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who 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 grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ 

The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” Matthew 13:24-30 (NKJV) 

There will always be tares, or as other versions say weeds, among the wheat crop. Just because you are growing next to wheat doesn’t mean you are wheat. There will come a day when Jesus will judge things for what they actually are. He will harvest the wheat and the weeds will be bundled up and burned. 

This is obviously talking about true converts and false converts in the church. The fact that you’re in the same field, and the fact that you’re being allowed to grow, shouldn’t bring you comfort or be the gauge by which you determine the surety of your salvation. Only those who have been transformed through Christ and bear the seal of the Holy Spirit will be saved. 

It is possible to be surrounded by wheat and to be a weed. It is completely possible to hang around Jesus and still be lost. This fact is made clear by Judas Iscariot. He spent three and a half years in Jesus’ inner circle and ended up not being a true follower. He heard all the messages, teachings, and sermons. He witnessed many miracles, and saw prophecies fulfilled in the person and teaching of Jesus, but even then, he completely missed it. So much so that he chose to betray Jesus. 

The Scripture says, in the case of Judas, it would have been better for him if he’d never been born. Self-deception is powerful because our sin nature is powerful. Many people spend a great deal of time in and around church but are headed for hell. This troubles me deeply. The thought of this situation has driven me to tears on more than one occasion. 

Yet another parable that speaks about false converts and the day of separation when the Lord judges mankind, is the parable of the sheep and goats. It makes it clear that Christ himself will judge mankind and will reward those who are truly his and send those who are not into eternal punishment. 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation 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, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit 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? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire 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, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV) 

This is a perfect example of a hard saying of Jesus because it challenges our notion of fairness. It can cause some to question God’s goodness. They might wonder how does one reconcile an all-loving God with eternal punishment? 

Let’s start by understanding something. God is the creator of all things and he is sovereign, he is above all things and is subject to no one. Once we come to grips with this fact we start to understand that our notion of a so-called deserved fairness is flawed to start with. 

God doesn’t owe us anything. He is the Creator; we are the created. He can do what he pleases. If we view God through this lens we can finally understand and accept God’s grace. What makes God’s grace so truly amazing is that we do not deserve it and could never earn it. 

Sheep are the ones who choose to follow Jesus. Goats, although they look similar to sheep, are not. They will be separated from those God calls his own. 

The parable almost makes it seem as though people who did good deeds will be saved because of their deeds. However, when read in the context of the entire Scripture, we see that the good works of the ones Christ calls his own, are merely evidence of their true nature. The book of James says it this way: 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:18,19 (NIV) 

Good works or deeds are not enough to save us, but they are evidence that someone truly believes. You can say you believe something, but if you say you believe but are unwilling to act, it shows that your so-called belief was empty words. In this parable Jesus is saying those who are his will act like him. 

When we surrender to Christ and accept him and choose to follow him, he transforms us and the evidence of that begins to show in the way we act, the way we treat people, the way we live. This doesn’t mean that if you do good deeds you’re a Christian because of it. Rather it points to the evidence that you truly believe. 

There have always been false converts and there always will be until the day Jesus comes back to separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, the foolish virgins from the wise virgins. But make no mistake, the day will come. This is why we must preach the true gospel, because without being confronted by the truth and without conviction, the lost will not be saved. 

In Christ,

Pastor Joshua 

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. He is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.