4-2011: Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

“True religion is practical. . . . It is not so much a matter of abstaining from food as it is of sharing food with the hungry.”

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

By Lyndelle Brower Chiomenti

This month’s Synapse takes a look at service (helping others) and the role it plays in revival and reformation. In doing so we’ll study Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25:31‒46.
 
In Isaiah 58, God sends the prophet to give His people in Judah a call for revival and reformation. Their problem was hypocrisy. “They held to the external forms of religion, but neglected its basic principles. They fasted and prayed, observed the Sabbath, kept the sacred feasts, brought their offerings to the Temple, and attended solemn assemblies, while they engaged in every form of iniquity (ch. 1:11‒15).”1
 
What were God’s people lacking? The answer is in Isaiah 58:6‒11. These verses teach us that “true fasting was designed to purify the motives and reform the life. . . . The true purpose of religion is to release men from their burdens of sin, to eliminate intolerance and oppression, and to promote justice, liberty, and peace. . . .
 
“True religion is practical. To be sure, it includes the rites and ceremonies of the church, but it is in the life lived before one’s fellows that the presence or absence of true religion is manifest. It is not so much a matter of abstaining from food as it is of sharing food with the hungry. Practical godliness is the only kind of religion recognized at the judgment bar of God.”2
 
Jesus teaches us about true religion in Matthew 25:31‒46. And as in Isaiah 58:6‒11, He describes it as helping those in need. But in this parable, He emphasizes another reason why it is essential to understand the nature of true religion. It is the basis upon which people are judged (Matt. 25:31‒34). “Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God.”3
 
Now you’re probably thinking that your schedule is already full of classes, work, taking care of children, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When will you ever find time to be of service? But helping others doesn’t mean one has to spend large amounts of time or even an hour. Holding the door for someone to enter a building first, being friendly toward the cashier who is ringing up the groceries, or thanking a member of the dorm’s housekeeping staff are all examples of helping others that cost little in time and nothing in money. So as you contemplate the nature of revival and reformation along with the need for it in your relationship with God, ask Him to open your eyes and heart to the possibilities for service that exist just outside your door.
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1. The SDA Bible Commentary, 1st ed., vol. 4, p. 305.
2. Ibid., p. 306.
3. The Desire of Ages, p. 638.