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...