The Winning Team

Who didn’t love a good game of kickball as a kid? I still remember that red ball that would bounce the entire way to home plate and trying to time it just right so that I could kick a home run. On the playground, there was never a shortage of kids who wanted to play, and these games got intense. If baseball and dodgeball had a child, this would be it. The only negative about this amazing game? Picking teams.

I’m sure we all have memories of those moments before the game. Everyone lines up, and two “captains” have to pick their teams. As they scan the line of children just wanting to be picked, they look for the best of the best. This was the equivalent of the NFL draft for us kids. Our future was riding on this! No one wanted to be picked last. One by one, children are chosen for each team. This was usually accompanied by the typical “Yes!” either spoken out loud or under the breath and a fist pump for good measure. Finally, it would be down to the final two kids. Most times, this would be two girls or the smallest, unathletic boys. Where there was happiness and fist-pumping before, now there was the legitimate fear of being the last one picked. Again, no one wanted to be picked last. 

Also, no one wanted to be on the losing team. Everyone could tell within the first few picks which team was going to win. If you were one of the middle kids being drafted, you knew which team you wanted to be on. That was the team with the biggest, strongest, and most athletic kids. No one likes losing, and you wanted to be with the kids who were celebrating at the end of recess, not walking with their heads down in shame. If there’s one constant, even today, we all want to be on the winning team. 

In Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats. When we are finally before the Father after our lives on this earth have ended, we will learn our eternal fate. It’s a different type of draft, but we still want to be on the winning team.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31–46

When Christ tells the sheep that they will come to inherit the Kingdom, He tells them they will be there because of what they did. Then He tells the goats they won’t be there because of what they didn’t do. This sure sounds like we are saved by works, doesn’t it? But doesn’t the Bible say that we are saved by grace?

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
2 Timothy 1:8–9

If we are saved by grace, why did Jesus tell the sheep and the goats that they would see eternity based on what they do? James gives us a great example of why what we do is so important.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:14–17

Our works are the outpouring of our faith. You can always tell a fan by what they wear, or what you see them do in game situations. Kentucky fans are going to be “True Blue” and wear their UK shirts, jackets, and hats. They’ll cheer during games and talk about each game for days afterward. When we are devout Christians, people will know us by our fruit. Do we display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our everyday lives? Do we help those in need? Do we care for orphans and widows? 

There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. Our sin casts a shadow far too dark for our works to shed light on it. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. However, what we do matters for eternity. We are saved by grace through faith, and our lives should show that, but we are also created for good works.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8–10

When it comes right down to it, God created us to do good works: not good by the world’s standards, but by His. We are not, however, even capable of boasting in those, because sin has still muddied up the waters for us to the point that we desperately need the grace of God. Here’s the best part about that. He offers it up to us with only one caveat…give Him your life. Allow His will to become yours. Allow His desires to be yours. Let the love of the Creator of the Universe pour over you and through you into the world. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario. You live on this earth with purpose and power through the Holy Spirit, and when this life is over, you get eternity in Heaven with The Father and The Son. 

When the day comes, we don’t have to fear which team we’ll be picked for. God has already promised us our fate when we put our faith in Him. Admit it, it’s always more fun to be on the winning team. 

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