Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Judgment by works

I recently ran a question by a NT scholar. I'm reproducing my question, along with his response:


There is often thought to be a tension between justification by faith/salvation by grace, on the one hand, and judgment by works on the other. If we take Rom 2:6-11 as a representative statement on judgment by works, I wonder if one or more of the following considerations would suffice to harmonize the alleged tension:

1. Hypocrisy/dead formalism

On the heels of 2:6-11, Paul accuses many Jews of hypocrisy (2:17ff.). But judging hypocrites by works would be consistent with sola fide/sola gratia, for that would distinguish true believers from spiritual imposters who say one thing, but do another–or say and do the right things, but in a halfhearted way (e.g. Isa 1:13; 29:13/Mt 15:8).

2. Universal guilt

Paul makes a case for man’s universal guilt (Rom 1-3) as a backdrop for his presentation of the gospel. Jews and Gentiles are equally guilty before God. Equally in need of the gospel. Judgment by works would corroborate his claim by revealing the culpability of man.

3. Divine veracity

On a related note, Paul has God indict humanity for rampant sin. Judgment by works would expose and corroborate the veracity of the divine indictment (Rom 2:16; cf. 1 Cor 4:5).

4. Symmetry

Universal judgment is a complement to universal sin. All are guilty, so all are judged.

Even if some are justified (by faith), they are justified in the person of another (Christ), and their own guilt (revealed at the final judgment) accentuates their hopeless condition apart from Christian redemption.

5. Equity

Judgment by works makes the point that divine justice is equitable. God doesn’t judge anyone unfairly. God is not capricious. No one gets worse than he deserves.

In (1)-(5), the sinner isn’t saved by works, in part or in whole. Rather, works serve non-salvific functions. So judgment by works would still be consistent with sola gratia/sola fide–given their purpose.

Do you agree?


I agree. In my opinion, the principal point throughout the first part of Romans 2 is a conventional OT point: God is the righteous judge. Everyone will get what he deserves. What many commentators do not recognize is that Romans 2 is part of a developing argument. It is too early in the argument for Paul to bring in how judgment according to desert is consistent with anyone being saved. So 2:12-16 should be read as pretty much a flat general principle, not as a statement about Christians.

The consistency of God's judgment can be explained only after the doctrine of justification is introduced. And it is a complex and surprising doctrine, not a simple doctrine that falls directly out of 2:12-16. Justification by substitutionary righteousness (i.e. imputation), on the basis of a genuine union with Christ, is the only way that a full-fledged judgment by desert at the last judgment can be consistent with anyone being saved. At the last judgment (and now, because justification now is a pronouncement beforehand of the verdict of the last judgment) the works in view for Christians are pre-eminently the works of Christ. Christian good works are rewarded, but only in the light of Christ's perfection. My only issues with your formulation are (1) that the introduction of point (1) below can confuse the main point, namely that there are universal standards of judgment that cover all, not only hypocrites; and (2) over formulation of one of the last lines, where "works serve non-salvific functions." It should be, as I can see you intend it to be, "the works of Christians serve non-salvific functions; the works of Christ serve salvific functions." And, if you wish to add it, "the works of the nonelect serve at the judgment as grounds for their condemnation."


  1. Steve,

    Just wanted to let you know that I appreciated your comments here. Keep up the good work.



  2. Thanks, Wes. And we greatly value your ministry, too!

  3. Who is the NT scholar? Thielman? Kruse?

  4. So when Noah was saved ... was it his belief in God or his building an ark that saved him?

    1. Would he have been saved if he didn't believe God?
    2. Would he have been saved if he hadn't built an ark?

    Can those two even be separated?


    Abide in Me, and I in You...

    Jesus said:
    "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

    You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

    I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

    If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you."
    (John 15:1-7)

    Wow! In those seven verses, the word ABIDE is mentioned seven times. The context of those verses provides us with a lot of light as to what is required of us by GOD for our eternal salvation.

    Jesus said:
    "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:13-14)

    So we must not only ABIDE in Him but we must also strive to enter by the narrow gate. If we do not ABIDE in Him, then it is obvious that we are not on the path to the narrow gate of salvation, but on the path to the wide gate and to eternal destruction.

    So Jesus said that if we do not ABIDE in Him (the Vine) then we will be taken away from the Vine by the Father, and will be cast off only to wither, to be gathered, and then to be thrown into the fire and burned.

    Now that I have your attention, shouldn't we now find the meaning of the word ABIDE?

    The theological meaning of ABIDE is to dwell within. Jesus would come and dwell in us and we likewise in Him. So as long as we do what Jesus requests of us then we are on the path to the narrow gate to salvation.

    So to assure that we are on right path, Jesus has commanded that we must ABIDE in Him.

    What is required in order to have Jesus ABIDE in us and we in Him?

    Can we do it:

    1. By accepting Him as our our own personal Lord and Savior ?
    No. Where does the Bible say that?

    2. By the grace of GOD only? Sola Gracias?
    No. Where does the Bible say that?

    3. By faith in GOD alone? Sola Fides?
    No. Where does the Bible say that?

    It is simple common sense that since He commanded that we must do something, then doesn't it stand to reason that He would also tell us how to do it?

    Jesus was very clear in what we must do in order to have Him ABIDE in us and we in Him.

    Jesus left this command for us in John 6:53-57:

    53 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (the taken away branch);

    54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.


    57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."

  6. MICHAEL GORMLEY wrote: .. snip ..

    Michael, is your point that Faith without works is dead [James 2:17]?

    Are you fundamentally asking the question: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? [James 2:14]

    If so, you're in good company. James makes the same point, and asks the same questions.

    But surely you're not suggesting that works without faith will suffice? Or more worrisome, you're not suggesting that particular works (such as sacramental works) save?

    The value of asking such Biblical questions can only be diminished by an agenda seeking to enslave people to the ceremonial understandings of some particular church, rather than to the direct obedience required of them by their Lord and creator.


  8. Michael Gormley wrote more than once and IN BOLD CAPITALS: "HE WHO EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD ABIDES IN ME, AND I IN HIM."

    Yes we caught that, and the BOLD CAPs helped. But you must agree its figurative and not literal as Christ's actual flesh and blood ascended with Him when he did.

    If so, the FLESH AND BLOOD we are to eat and drink are subject to interpretation, so what's your interpretation, that you keep hinting at?


    You seem to expect we simply understand what you understand Christ's flesh and blood to be?

  9. John 6:48-54:

    Vs 48, A second time Jesus said, "I am that bread of life."

    Vs 49, "Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they are dead."

    This is because the manna was only a type, the symbol of the reality which was to come.

    Vs 50, "This is the bread which comes down from Heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die."

    We know that all of us will die physically, but Jesus meant the eternal life of the spiritual soul.

    Vs 51, Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from Heaven, if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. And the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

    Did He say the bread is a "symbol" of His flesh, or did He say it is my flesh?

    Vs 52, the Jews doubt even more as they said, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"

    Isn't this what non-believers in the " True Presence " say today?

    Vs 53, Jesus said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you do not have life within you."

    The very next verse 54 says that those who eat the flesh of the Son of Man, do have everlasting life.

    How then, can these verses be symbolic?

  10. Michael Gormley said "How then, can these verses be symbolic?"

    Good question. How is we come by the flesh and blood of the saviour Jesus then?