Sunday, 3 May 2009

Judgement According to Works and the Good News

I used to really stumble over passages in Scripture which told me I'd be judged according to works. They just like, I don't know, stuck in the back of my mind every time I heard a sermon on the amazing grace of God in Christ. I could never really inwardly let go and enjoy God's Fatherly protection and care. It seemed to me that all those passages, like the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, seemed to have been put in Scripture by the Holy Spirit to stop you really resting on your laurels and enjoying full assurance.

Whenever well meaning Christian friends, who were trying to counsel me out of despair tried to impress upon me the glory of God's unconditional love, I just thought, "Have you ever read Romans 2, James 2 and Matthew 25? Probably not, because you don't seem to have a bowel problem."

When I had my Reformed conversion, I still had questions about these passages, yet I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was saved solely by "receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness through faith". Yet these 'judgement by works' passages continued nagging at me. How do these passages retain their force without gutting the gospel of good news?

First a preliminary observation, why is it that our minds are so powerfully drawn to such passages? Why not Romans 4:1-5, or Ephesians 2:8-10? It's because we are profound moralists at heart. Our reflex is to jump to the passages which seem to suggest it counts on us. The gospel really is counter-intuitive. Dare I suggest that N.T Wright's formulation of justification and those of the FV camp are pandering to the fallen Pharisee in us all?

We will be judged by works, that's not in doubt. Nevertheless, we will be judged as ALREADY glorified humans. The NT gives evidence that as soon as Christ appears, we will receive our resurrection bodies:

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:4 ESV)

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:52 ESV)

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage on another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:16-18 ESV)

As soon as Christ appears, we'll be glorified and will meet him in the air. He'll then come to earth and separate his people from the nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. When Christ judges his people, he will be judging glorified-saved-by-grace-through-faith-saints! It will be a gracious judgement, with ridiculous rewards given for merely providing a fellow Christian with a drink of water (Matt. 10:42). When Christ rewards us for all that WE'VE done for him, there will be puzzlement on behalf of the saints (Matt. 25:37-39). We'll not remember even half of the deeds that Christ will lavish reward upon.

e.g. THE LORD: "Well done Nick for giving the parched preacher a glass of water when his throat dried in 1998."

NICK: "Eh? My motives were so impure when I did that. I mean, I wanted to please you Lord, and the preacher was coughing really bad, but I also thought his daughter was really hot and she was watching."

THE LORD: "Nick, sure you had mixed motives, but it was I who worked in you to will and act according to my good pleasure. I condemned your flesh in the body of my Son and covered you with his righteousness. Now go and rule over the West End of Glasgow."

This is good news. Sin polluted idiots and failures like me need this message. Don't listen to N.T Wright or the FV moralisers. If they are correct that we'll be judged by the 'whole life lived' do you think that the dying thief will stand up to this? (I thought he was in paradise, or maybe I'm wrong?) Would Samson? Abraham? David? Peter?

Jesus paid it all because I am broke and one day, I'm going to get a big fat bonus because of, erh, I really can't think of anything...

9 comments:

Nick said...

You said: How do these passages retain their force without gutting the gospel of good news?

Nicholas: That's just it though, isn't a reasonable solution here that you've started off with a wrong foundation? The idea that you're already judged according to Christ's work doesn't mesh with these texts, and in fact does violence to them.

You said: We will be judged by works, that's not in doubt. Nevertheless, we will be judged as ALREADY glorified humans.

Nicholas: I don't see how that changes anything. The point that should not be lost sight of is you are judged according to your actions, good or bad.

You said: This is good news. Sin polluted idiots and failures like me need this message.

Nicholas: It might sound good, but this is not a joke, it's incorrect doctrine. It's "feel good" theology, which is not part of the Gospel. John Fesko's recent book on Justification went on and on about at the final judgment Christians will be judged according to the good works Christ did for them while sinners will be judged according to their works...but the amount of gymnastics and twisting of the judgment texts was astonishing because they nowhere indicated that.

JohnGreenview said...

This issue is one where like Nicky Mac I find myself at times struggling.

It seems clear to me that we are saved by faith yet judged by works.

How are we to understand 'judgement by works'? I find for myself the nearest soundbite to a biblical answer is to say , as many have said, that on the day of judgement 'works' will be the evidence of faith. How we live is the concrete expression of the reality of our faith.

James says, Jas 2:14-22 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do... You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone.

For James, works are the outworking/expression/evidence of faith.

Like justification and sanctification faith and works cannot finally be separated. Ephs 2 makes it clear we are saved for good works God has planned.

Faith is active, it is dynamic. It works. In one sense faith is the work (Joh 6:28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."). In another sense faith produces works (plural). The obedience of faith is Pauline language.

Yet while they cannot be separated or divided they must be distinguished. My faith in Christ is where the certainty of my salvation lies - or better the Christ in whom my faith rests is the source of my salvation. In looking at him I can be confident of my salvation.

However,humble confidence in Christ should never shade over into arrogant presumption for then the warning voice of Hebrews and James (and other texts) come into play.

Again, I fully sympathize with Nicky's pastoral dilemma. It is all too easy to fall from grace into works - to look at one's failure and feel we must be damned.

A further rider for reflection is the Old Covenant distinction between unintentional sins and intentional sins. For unintentional sins grace provided sacrifices: for intentional sins judgement was certain. In the NT intentional sins (for which there is no sacrifice)seems to be equated with apostasy - the deliberate turning away to a life that rejects the gospel and Christ (Heb 10:26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin remains). It seems to envisage a set direction in life of rejecting light.

I know most of this is obvious and traditional but it helps me to try and express it. I hope it helps others.

JohnGreenview said...

PS I meant to mention too Paul's reference in 1 Thess to their 'work of faith'.

Piper is surely right, that on the last day God will open the file of our lives. In the file there will be much that will shame and be sinful. Much over which he must write Paid in Full'. However, in every believer there will be some material in that file - small or large - that will say here is the evidence of new life, the proof of my redeeming work in your life - enter into your reward.

We rely on faith, not works. Experience tells us as soon as we fall back on works we feel ourselves damned (accursed). What we feel existentially is the cosmic reality for all who finally rest on works.

Our sin should not lead to despair but to the cry 'God be merciful to me a sinner' and the assertion of faith, 'there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus'. It is the publican who cried for mercy who was justified, not the pharisee who based his relationship on works.

Nick said...

John: It seems clear to me that we are saved by faith yet judged by works.

Nick: That is true, but I would suggest that you're faith-works contrast is not what Paul had in mind. Paul was opposing "works of the Law," that is the whole Mosaic Law, not any and all works.

John: How are we to understand 'judgement by works'? I find for myself the nearest soundbite to a biblical answer is to say , as many have said, that on the day of judgement 'works' will be the evidence of faith. How we live is the concrete expression of the reality of our faith.

Nick: Even if you want to argue that it doesn't change anything. Works are still what you're judged according to, even if they were the "fruit of faith." It's still YOUR works which God judges according to, not Christ's.

John: For James, works are the outworking/expression/evidence of faith.

Nick: I still don't believe that changes anything, for it's still your works which receive the judgment. Even so, I believe your interpretation is seriously flawed. There was no question that Abraham's faith was genuine in Gen 15:6, so it's absurd for James to make a case which seeks to test whether it was. Further, the good works which James references in Gen 22 came 25 years after Abraham's Gen 15 faith, which is again absurd because it means there can be a 25 year gap between faith and works. Lastly, Gen 22 was for the sole purpose of God to see, not others. Abraham was proving himself before God, not man, so this really goes against your interpretation. Oh, and James 2:14 doesn't use the term "justify" but rather "save" in the future tense, thus James 2:24 (which is the 'answer' to James v14 question) must be about future salvation and not merely proving true faith.

John: Like justification and sanctification faith and works cannot finally be separated. Ephs 2 makes it clear we are saved for good works God has planned.

Nick: But the issue of judgment according to YOUR works still remains. The Final Judgment is based upon how you lived, not how Christ lived for you. The final judgment passages all read enter into eternal life BECAUSE YOU did good works.

Nick Mackison said...

Nick, I don't believe that this is incorrect doctrine (obviously!). You can't say that Paul was merely contrasting works of the law with faith.

When writing to Jews, Paul spoke of works of the law, yet when writing to predominately Gentile contexts like Ephesus, Paul spoke of generic 'works' contrasted with faith ala Ephesians 2.

Like it or not, works-righteousness is a heresy and I believe that it is the RC church (not guys like Fesko) that does violence to the text of Scripture in order to validate their moralism.

It's hard to take an institution seriously that, in direct violation of Scripture, venerates saints, worships Mary, does homage to the Pope, blasphemes Christ in the Mass, propogates purgatory and enforces the devilish doctrine of priestly celibacy.

Nick, I'm not trying to offend you, although I probably have. You're obviously such an intelligent (more than I could ever be) and humble (ditto) guy. I would love to see you embrace the simplicity of Christ alone.

God bless.

JohnGreenview said...

Nick

I believe 'the works' Paul refers to are in the first instance 'the works of the Mosaic law'. However, here he sees the principle of law as being, 'this do and you will live' that is, a system of getting right with God through works or self effort. In this sense the Mosaic Law (God-given Law and Covenant)serves as a paradigm for any other system that tries to gain salvation-merit through self effort.

The problem lay not in the law but that some were 'relying on the law' as a means of justification/salvation/a right standing with God. Much more could be said about the Law, however, this problem of seeing Law as a means of righteousness and acceptance with God is basic.

Galatians is clear here.

Gal 3:9-13 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because "the righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, "Whoever does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole."

Works accomplished simply out of a desire to please God, with no thought of being saving, are appropriate and correct. Elswhere the NT may term these works as simply obedience.

I think the faith/works contrast is precisely what Paul had in mind. However, his contrast is between gospel and law (mosaic). They represent two different covenants and two different ways of acceptance by God. Gospel is reliance on God/Christ for salvation whereas Law is reliance on self.

I do, however, think that the 'works' to be judged refer to something different from 'relying on works'. In this I agree with you. 'Works judged' is an assessment of a life, works that show a work of God has taken place in the heart. They are evidence/proof of life, necessary to enter the eternal Kingdom.

However, should these 'works' stem from a desire or belief that we can save ourselves by our effort rather than being a sign of life they will eternally damn, for they flow from the a heart that proudly trusts in its own goodness. Like the Pharisees who 'trusted in themselves that they were righteous' (Lk 18). For many 'works' the issue is not what the works are but the motive from which they spring.

I agree it is MY works that are assessed on the day of judgement. Works that will happen because God will birth them in our hearts. They are evidence of the Spirit in our lives. Evidence to both God and us.

My question to you Nick is are you sure you will be accepted on the Day of Judgement? Faith can be sure for it trusts not only that all our sins are forgiven but that God will sustain this faith to the very end and the life of faith (works) that are intrinsic to it.

Nick said...

Nick M: I don't believe that this is incorrect doctrine (obviously!). You can't say that Paul was merely contrasting works of the law with faith.
When writing to Jews, Paul spoke of works of the law, yet when writing to predominately Gentile contexts like Ephesus, Paul spoke of generic 'works' contrasted with faith ala Ephesians 2.

Nicholas: In Romans and Galatians, I believe the evidence is very clear it is "works of the Mosaic Law." In Ephesians 2 the evidence points in the same direction, this involves taking 2:11ff into account where Paul immediately begins talking about circumcision and the Law.

Nick M: "Like it or not, works-righteousness is a heresy and I believe that it is the RC church (not guys like Fesko) that does violence to the text of Scripture in order to validate their moralism.

It's hard to take an institution seriously that, in direct violation of Scripture, venerates saints, worships Mary, does homage to the Pope, blasphemes Christ in the Mass, propogates purgatory and enforces the devilish doctrine of priestly celibacy.

Nick, I'm not trying to offend you, although I probably have. You're obviously such an intelligent (more than I could ever be) and humble (ditto) guy. I would love to see you embrace the simplicity of Christ alone."

Nicholas: I realize that and I believe you are simply being consistent and honest in your position to say this. From my perspective, if Sola Fide is not Biblical, and I don't believe it is, then all those doctrines you claim are false must be reconsidered. Since Sola Fide was the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls, then it's an all or nothing game.

Nick said...

John: I believe 'the works' Paul refers to are in the first instance 'the works of the Mosaic law'. However, here he sees the principle of law as being, 'this do and you will live' that is, a system of getting right with God through works or self effort. In this sense the Mosaic Law (God-given Law and Covenant)serves as a paradigm for any other system that tries to gain salvation-merit through self effort.

Nicholas: I disagree with this, I don't see Paul advocating this. Paul is not speaking in general here but specifically, the issue is the Mosaic Law, which he shows never was designed to save, even if kept perfectly by us or Christ in our place. His argument is simple, in places like Gal 3:15-18 he shows if the Law (which came "450 years later") was the grounds of salvation then it would invalidate His previously established promise to Abraham.

John: The problem lay not in the law but that some were 'relying on the law' as a means of justification/salvation/a right standing with God. Much more could be said about the Law, however, this problem of seeing Law as a means of righteousness and acceptance with God is basic.

Nick: The Law was not a 'problem' in that it was evil, but it was a problem in that people misunderstood it's temporary (and now abolished) and non-salvific purpose.

John: Galatians is clear here.
Gal 3:9-13 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because "the righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, "Whoever does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole."

Nicholas: Paul goes onto to explain this better in the second half of the chapter. The part which states "the law is not based on faith" is where I believe a lot of understanding can be made. Of course the Mosaic Law demanded faith in God, so how could Paul say it's not based on faith? The only coherent answer is that the faith Paul is talking about is the one that looks long term and trusts will be rewarded in the next life, this is contrasted to the rewards the Mosaic Law promises which are earthly and temporal blessings, but not salvation. The Law was literally finished with after Christ came, it no longer existed and held no force.

John: Works accomplished simply out of a desire to please God, with no thought of being saving, are appropriate and correct. Elswhere the NT may term these works as simply obedience.

Nick: I don't think there needs to be that tension. Works can be done both to please God and because God will reward, that's the essence of those final judgment passages.

John: I think the faith/works contrast is precisely what Paul had in mind. However, his contrast is between gospel and law (mosaic). They represent two different covenants and two different ways of acceptance by God. Gospel is reliance on God/Christ for salvation whereas Law is reliance on self.

Nicholas: I think this way of understanding the Mosaic Law is the heart of the problem. It wasn't "two different ways of acceptance," the problem Paul lays out is never "either you keep the law fully or trust Jesus did it for you." Rather, Paul's argument is that the Law never did make you acceptable, even if kept perfectly. The way of being acceptable in God's sight was attained 450 years before the Law even existed, so turning to the Law is a mistake in that it doesn't go back far enough. It has nothing to do with the Law being too hard or too demanding.

John: I do, however, think that the 'works' to be judged refer to something different from 'relying on works'. In this I agree with you. 'Works judged' is an assessment of a life, works that show a work of God has taken place in the heart. They are evidence/proof of life, necessary to enter the eternal Kingdom.

Nicholas: I would pretty much agree here, though I wouldn't have any tension between the pleasing aspect and the receiving rewards aspect.

John: However, should these 'works' stem from a desire or belief that we can save ourselves by our effort rather than being a sign of life they will eternally damn, for they flow from the a heart that proudly trusts in its own goodness. Like the Pharisees who 'trusted in themselves that they were righteous' (Lk 18). For many 'works' the issue is not what the works are but the motive from which they spring.

Nicholas: Sure, but since God knows the motive then there really isnt a problem. If someone does an outwardly good work but is done by false motives, then God certainly will count that as a sin at the judgment. This is what Matthew 6 is about, the Pharisees do works not for God to see but for men, and Jesus says "they have already received their reward," which is saying their reward was a passing 2 minutes of fame and no value come judgment time.

John: I agree it is MY works that are assessed on the day of judgement. Works that will happen because God will birth them in our hearts. They are evidence of the Spirit in our lives. Evidence to both God and us.

Nick: Amen. But this strikes at the heart of the notion God judges you through Christ's works done for you. At the final judgment, the ultimatel courtroom scene, God judges according to the good works you have or have not done and not on the basis of what works Christ did for you.

John: My question to you Nick is are you sure you will be accepted on the Day of Judgement? Faith can be sure for it trusts not only that all our sins are forgiven but that God will sustain this faith to the very end and the life of faith (works) that are intrinsic to it.

Nicholas: I'm only as confident as St Paul was in 1 Cor 4:3ff where he says he believes his conscience is free of anything which would condemn himself, but that this isnt the same as full assurance and doesn't make him justified (the Greek term justified is used), and that it all comes down to the final judgment.

Brandon said...

Just wanted to say "Amen!" Thanks Nick for the post. Spot on.

It boggles my mind how people get so hung up on passages that talk about the judgment (beyond a certain point). Do they even understand the Gospel? That's the whole point. There is a judgment of our lives and by God's mercy I will be judged by Christ's life, not my own.

2 Cor 5 is paradigmatic for how we should look at the issue. After mentioning the coming judgment, Paul gives us one of the most solid statements about Christ bearing our wrath.