“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:21)
Law, Gospel, Law
I cannot recall how many times I have nose-dived into despair after hearing preaching that always ended with the question, “Will you hear ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant’ when you enter Heaven?” These sermons never ended with the finished work of Christ. Never ended on grace or the Gospel. It was always the Law, Gospel, Law fight combo that would have me in a wobble-legged daze. Sometimes it was an unrelenting attack with nothing but knife-hand chops of Law, Law, Law, Law to the face.
This verse has been ripped out of context and twisted to tell me what I need to do now as a Christian in order to be growing in the faith so that I can move from the status of “Bad Christian,” “Lukewarm Christian” to “Courageous Champion Christian for Christ.” All the days of my life I have been peppered with heavy “What Would Jesus Do?” sermons. Maybe you were too.
The Welcome Line
I actually believed that the dead in Christ would receive one of two greetings as the roll is called up yonder. I imagined the Father standing at the Pearly Gates greeting folks in the Welcome Line coming in saying, “Well done my good and faithful servant! Well done my good and faithful servant!”
But I imagined that I would just get a head nod from God, which is awesome…yet nowhere near “Well done.”
I daydreamed about a line into Beulah Land with people who would receive one greeting based off of their outstanding performance as a Christian on earth and there would be others who would be greeted with an, “Oh alright. Come on in you rascal you.” All because of their slack performance as a Christian on earth. I thought it was up to me to do all that I could to make sure that I did not earn “Rascal Status” upon entering Paradise.
The Walking Dead
I am one of the most skeptical/paranoid Christians that I know of when it comes to discerning false teaching. Admittedly, I am often too critical. False teaching surely has had its role in confusing this passage in Matthew, but I lay the blame more on my own sinful heart wanting there to be a separate greeting in heaven based on my performance.
I blame my sinful desire to be in control, thinking that I can somehow merit God's favor. As if I could validate my own righteousness and live off the pride that comes from the ridiculous thought that I could earn hearing "Well done" from God courtesy of my good works. How glorious would it be to graduate from Christian Boot Camp to receive a "Faithful Servant" medal on my freshly issued Righteous Robe uniform in Glory? That is pursing my glory. Not only is that sin but that is satanic.
It is easy to get wrapped up in how holy I need to live and to use my performance as a measurement of my progress. It is easy to look for and think that I am finding assurance in whether or not I am an elect, regenerate, Christian chosen by God courtesy of my assumed Christian obedience. Old Adam is a zombie that feeds on the promised produce of faith for assurance of salvation and walks right past the object of faith, Christ.
Christ gifts us with Christ
If you are in Christ, God considers you, counts you, credits you as His good and faithful servant. If I am a resident of Heaven it is because of Christ’s righteousness poured out all over me. If it is the life of Jesus that are my credentials to be with God in Heaven then it is the life of Jesus whom God will recognize as He greets me in Heaven.
The righteousness that will be counted as yours is the righteousness of Christ. How Jesus lived his life is what is being counted in place of how you lived your life. How Jesus died, is what is being counted as your death. How Jesus obeyed is what is being counted in place of how you disobeyed. Salvation is substitution.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5) In Christ, your sins have been forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). You are justified before God and the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to you (2 Corinthians 5:21). You have been seated with God in Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).
Doesn’t sound like barely squeaking in by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin now, does it?
The power of the Gospel is like a grenade going off. The shrapnel we receive from the Gospel is faith in the one who justifies the ungodly. This faith that is given by God is counted by God as righteousness (Romans 4:5).
My hope is not in how holy I am becoming but in how holy Jesus already is.
To be crowned with the righteousness of Christ surely has to be that final moment when tears are wiped away forever (Revelation 21:3-5). The tears of a sinner who was just crowned a saint. All because of what Jesus did. Not the delusional hope in the performance for earning an imaginary acceptable righteousness courtesy of me.
If you are in Christ you will hear “Well done.” Why?—Because in Christ you are not merely given a clean slate. You are given the slate of Christ.
The Gospel is gooder than you think it is.
A rare Native Atlantien that still lives in the Atlanta area, Zachary James Cole grew up in the Bible Belt of the American South. He became a United States Marine in January of 2004 and served on Active Duty until January of 2009. He was deployed to Iraq twice during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. While in the desert conducting convoy security and nighttime security patrols, Zack was overwhelmed with the nearness and love of Christ. He has a love of history, the outdoors as well as an unwavering love of his favorite local sports teams. He earned his M.Div in Theological Studies from Liberty Theological Seminary. Zack is a co-host of the podcast: The Liberty Tree. After coming home from the Marine Corps he found a Church home at Suwannee Station Family Life Church in Suwannee, GA where he now serves as an Associate Pastor. Zack lives in Sugar Hill, GA with his wife Bonnie and their two sons, Cade and Knox.