BY: JACOB F. GRANT
Like many of my fellow Christians, I have friends and family who are very dear to me, but do not share my faith. As such, I have often struggled to reconcile my belief in a loving and merciful God with the concept of the final judgment. I do not know God’s plan for those who do not believe, and this troubles me—I cannot imagine eternal life without these people.
As members of the faith, we are called to live like Christ, and I strive to follow His example. While I understand what is required of me, I do not pretend to be perfect. Like the young monk seeking the advice of the ascetic Abba Sisoes, I fall down over and over again. But each time I do, I must get up, and must do so “until [my] death.” This “getting up”—achieved through repentance, confession, and forgiveness—plays an important role in our lives, but there is more to Christianity than just what we do.
As a Christian, I recognize that belief is an integral part of being saved. There are frequent references to the importance of faith in Christ found throughout the New Testament. From Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we know that man is “justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” That is, we cannot be saved by merely following the letter of the law, but rather through our faith. Indeed, it is this faith that serves as the foundation for our good works—that is, such works are a consequence of our faith.
And yet there are people in this world, many of whom are our close friends and family members, people who are very important to us, who do not believe. What is to become of them? Can they even be saved? If there is no hope that we will be joined by our loved ones, eternal life does not seem itself to be a reward.
I once wrote to a friend that the parable of the Sheep and the Goats both amazes and terrifies me. It demonstrates at once the power of God’s mercy and the dreadfulness of His judgment. For those unfamiliar with the story, it tells of the return of Christ and the judgment on the last day. The Lord separates the people “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,” placing 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.’”
The righteous respond to Christ by asking when it was that they ever did these things to him, and he replies “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
I think this is an incredibly powerful passage. It exemplifies the paramount role that love plays in our salvation. There is no shortage of passages from the Gospels and Epistles exhorting the importance of love; however, few of them, except perhaps the story of the Good Samaritan, show us how to practice love in our day-to-day lives. Here we see concrete examples: feeding and clothing the poor, caring for the sick, and visiting those in prison. Obviously these are not the only ways to show love in this world, but these examples serve as an excellent template for how we are to conduct ourselves even when we are outside the church—whether we are at school, home, or the office.
However, there is more to the parable. It does not end with the blessing of the righteous. We are made to see what is meant when we speak of the “dread judgment seat of Christ.”
“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.’”
Just as the righteous ask when it was that they fed, clothed, and visited Christ, the condemned ask when it was that they failed to do so. And once again, the Lord replies “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
This is what I find so terrifying. As before, there is no mention of faith or commandments. The only things that seem to matter are individual acts of charity—of Christian love—that each of us commit. We often wonder how we can show our love to God in our daily lives. Here we see that we can demonstrate our love to God by showing love to our fellow man—our neighbor.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul informs us that there remains “faith, hope and love.” We have faith that the Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior. And we have hope in His mercy, both for ourselves and those who do not profess our faith. But Paul tells us that “the greatest of these is love.” Love—God’s love for us—is what saves us. One only need to read the Passion Gospels, to imagine the pain and suffering Christ experienced at the crucifixion, to truly understand how much He loves us.
But what does it really mean for us to love? It must be more than simply a mere feeling or sensation so often referred to as love. That extraordinary “very ordinary layman” C.S. Lewis, explains that love “is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” This kind of love manifests itself in many forms, from small acts of kindness to a stranger, to a moment of patience with a sibling, to feelings of charity to our rivals and enemies. Indeed, as Christians, we are uniquely called to love not only our friends and neighbors, but even our enemies.
The most widely known biblical verse begins “For God so loved the world,” and ends with the promise of eternal life. The first two commandments tell us to love the Lord our God and our neighbors, respectively; all other commandments follow from these two. God loves us. He wants to save us. Faith is essential. Works are important. But love is the instrument of our salvation. I do not know His plan, but I must believe that God desires to save all those who have love in their hearts and choose to show it, regardless of whether or not they proclaim themselves to be Christians.
 Sayings of the Desert Fathers.
 Galatians 2:16. NIV.
 Matthew 25:34-36. NIV.
 Matthew 25:40. NIV.
 Luke 10:25-37. NIV.
 Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.
 Matthew 25:41-43. NIV.
 Matthew 25:45. NIV.
 1 Corinthians 13:13. NIV.
 John 3:16.