I suspect that I am not alone in wondering about the judgment according to works which is emphatically predicted in Matthew 25, Revelation 20, and Revelation 22. Clearly these judgments are not in agreement with the prevailing doctrine of Christianity which states that men will be judged based on their belief in Jesus as Savior and not on works. Matthew 25, in particular, shows that the separation is made in accordance with how the individuals treat their fellowmen. It is decidedly a judgment in accordance with works.
Being of an unorthodox mindset, I am still puzzled by how anyone could possibly survive a judgment based on how well we treat others. We are all a mixed bag by that measure. What could be the measurement by which some people would be sheep and others goat? Surely no one could be perfect in their treatment of their fellowmen. How good would be good enough? Seemingly, everyone would end up on the side with the goats, condemned to eternal punishment.
Thus Matthew 25 seems to be a conundrum for anyone who pays attention to the Bible. The traditionalist faces the fact that Jesus makes the consignment to eternal blessing or torment dependent on personal conduct, not faith in Jesus. A non-traditionalist, like me, wrestles with the enormity of being called to sainthood here on earth in order to escape divine rejection.
One hint, which for me offers a solution, is the fact that the Greek word translated "eternal" and "everlasting" is "aionios", which does not necessarily mean endless. In fact, the root word for "aionios" is "aion" which correctly translates "age". Furthermore, the word "aion" is the source of our English word "eon" which denotes a long period of time but not eternity.
If one then lets go of the normal understanding that this judgment establishes an irrevocable and endless sentence upon those judged, we can reach a more reasonable conclusion about what is being taught here. What if the results of judgment only last as long as the associated behavior lasts? As long as I act ill toward others, I am condemned to punishment. When and if I begin to abide by the Golden Rule, even imperfectly, I begin to enjoy the blessings promised to the sheep. In other words, we are always free to declare for the sheep or the goats, but we must live with the fruits of our actions. God doesn't even have to be involved, except to point out this reality. We save and condemn ourselves as we choose. Heaven and Hell are thus here and now realities, not some state in the hereafter.