Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Justified by Faith and Judged by Works

This blog follows from Nick's below. It is not a statement but a question, intended to further focus the dilemma.

If asked at the gate of heaven (throne of judgement), 'Why should you be allowed entrance to Paradise', the conventional evangelical answer would be, 'because I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Saviour'. If, however, the final judgement is about our works (which Scripture certainly teaches), is the evangelical answer mistaken?

Or, to frame the dilemma another way, how do we reconcile the following texts.

Rom 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

Rom 2:6-10 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

13 comments:

Nick said...

They are reconciled quite simply: They are speaking of two different time frames. Salvation is to be seen as an 'adoption' process, where first man becomes an adopted son of the family (Rom 4:5; Eph 2), then as he matures into an adult he becomes capable of taking on the inheritance (Rom 2; Mat 12:36f; 2 Tim 4:6-8; etc).

The problem is Protestantism has conflated the two, which has led to problems regarding the 'final judgment' passages. The notion that we will be judged according to Christ's works on the Last Day is not only nowhere taught in Scripture, it goes against the plain reading of those passages. Mat 25 is the big one.

Donald Ferguson said...

Nick

Your understanding of Protestantism seems rather distorted. Calvin believed that salvation was both an event and a process. It is guaranteed in Christ but fulfilled in the future.

Rom 8: 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This is a process, but what the Roman Catholic Church seems reluctant to see is that it is God’s work from first to last.

As for faith/works it seems to me that the Reformed understanding is straight forward. As was noted in a previous post, you cannot have one without the other – they can be distinguished but not separated. This applies in both directions. There can be no good works without saving faith just as there can be no saving faith without good works [Heb 11]. Our good works are the result of God’s grace and are first and foremost about bringing glory to God.

The issue is not about the process of salvation but the grounds of salvation. I am saved because of my faith in Christ. Saving faith is always accompanied by good works which glorify God

Ephesians 2: 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.


‘Not by works’ of verse 9 parallels ‘created in Christ Jesus to do good works’ of verse 10. This is clear and plain. Our salvation is not by good works but good works are a necessary consequence of salvation. This is true irrespective of the eschatological component of salvation.

When I stand before God I will claim faith in Christ as the grounds of my salvation and Christ will point to my works as proof of that faith.

Mathew 25
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Without faith it is impossible to please God but with faith [which is a gift of grace], sinners can earn the commendation of Christ but not salvation.

Nick said...

Don: Your understanding of Protestantism seems rather distorted. Calvin believed that salvation was both an event and a process. It is guaranteed in Christ but fulfilled in the future.

Nick: Distorted how? For classical Protestantism, it is only a process in so far as (in the Ordo Salutis) they distinguish between justification (instantaneous, perfected) and sanctification (lifelong, progressing). This view of justification (the 'legal' aspect) has a hard time explaining how "entrance into heaven" is based on Christ's finished work versus Mat 25's "I [Christ] was hungry and you [Christian] fed me"

Don:
Rom 8: 29-30
This is a process, but what the Roman Catholic Church seems reluctant to see is that it is God’s work from first to last.

Nick: Hmm, if this is what you're thinking, then I'd say your understanding of the Catholic faith is a bit distorted. Phil 2:12f and Gal 6:7-9 are both "God's work," without in any way saying our cooperation is detracting from His Glory.


Don: The issue is not about the process of salvation but the grounds of salvation. I am saved because of my faith in Christ. ...Ephesians 2...‘Not by works’ of verse 9 parallels ‘created in Christ Jesus to do good works’ of verse 10. This is clear and plain. Our salvation is not by good works but good works are a necessary consequence of salvation. This is true irrespective of the eschatological component of salvation.

Nick: You're still conflating the 'immediate' and 'final' aspects of salvation. Eph 2 is only describing the initial moment of adoption, it is not describing the transferring of the inheritance over to you; that comes later.


Don: When I stand before God I will claim faith in Christ as the grounds of my salvation and Christ will point to my works as proof of that faith.

Nick: This is precisely what I was originally talking about. Nowhere is the final judgment described like this, instead it's described upon how you lived. Christ's comments on "Enter Heaven because I was hungry and you fed, etc, etc" runs directly contrary to the notion of "Enter Heaven because I did it all for you."


Don: Without faith it is impossible to please God but with faith [which is a gift of grace], sinners can earn the commendation of Christ but not salvation.

Nick: This seems like word games. The topic certainly is salvation, and the two options given are entering heaven or hell based on how one lived. The "commendation of Christ" is none other than "Enter Heaven because I was hungry and you fed me," versus "Do NOT Enter Heaven because you did not feed me."

John Thomson said...

Nick

We have discussed these issues in the past. It is hard to find common ground from which to progress. You have clearly thought about the issues under discussion a lot, as I have (and Donald) but have reached quite different conclusions. The reason lies, I think, in a host of previous theological streams of thought on which we differ that feed into this topic.

The question is, how we reconcile justification by faith with a final judgement according to works.

Let me make a comment and raise a query before outlining what drives me to my conclusions.

The comment. The issue for me is not really what is Catholic or Protestant teaching but what is biblical. Having so said, I am often aghast at traditional Catholic teaching that emphasises salvation through the church and (to my mind at least)invents Church dogmas about which the Bible says nothing, that seriously compromise the gospel. It is hard to have confidence in Catholic theology in the light of these.

A query. Nick, you say, and I quote, 'Salvation is to be seen as an 'adoption' process, where first man becomes an adopted son of the family, then as he matures into an adult he becomes capable of taking on the inheritance'. I confess, I cannot see how you reach this construct of biblical teaching. I cannot see how the texts you quote lead to this construct at all. Perhaps you could elaborate.

My construct. You speak of salvation having two different time frames. I accept this, though I think three time frames may be more accurate: past (we are saved); present (we are being saved); and future(we will be saved).

However, sticking for the moment to two time frames, I would wish to say that two frames does not imply there are two foundations of salvation. Both time frames are inseparably linked indeed one is but an advanced announcement of the other.

Take justification, the immediate issue under discussion. I believe the justifying verdict in the present is simply the final Day verdict brought into the present; the future verdict of justification and the present verdict are one.

Paul, makes this clear in Galatians. he writes,

Gal 5:5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.

That is, the present justifying verdict (the status of being righteous based on faith not works)that dominates Galatians is the final justifying verdict anticipated; they are one and the same.

This confidence on final justification based on present justification seems obvious from other scriptures too.

In Roms 8, justification inexorably leads to glorification. Here, clearly the justifying verdict in the present ascertains the glorifying verdict in the future.

The same logic is applied in, for example,Roms 5

Rom 5:9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Justification in the present ensures ultimate salvation.

My point is simple, there are many texts, and I have quoted three that insist the verdict in the present will stand good in the future. It seems clear to me, whatever construct we use to understand,
justified by faith and judged by works' must reckon seriously with these texts.

(Blog continued below due to word limit.)

John Thomson said...

(Blog comments cont.)

Secondly, our understanding of 'judged by works' must reckon too with the overwhelming NT emphasis on justification by faith, and to my mind the necessary implication, justification by faith 'alone'. Paul will not allow 'works' a place in our justification. So many texts express this it is unnecessary to cite examples. However, it is worth drawing attention again to Gal 5:5

Gal 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

The point that I think deserves notice here is that faith is not simply the basis of initial justification but is the continuing instrument through which he anticipates final justification. To quote Roms 1,

Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

For Paul, God's justifying verdict is ever and only through faith. Even our ongoing maturity as christians is by faith. Paul describes the fundamental mechanism of Christian living as, 'faith working through love'.

In Hebrews 11,12 the hallmark of those who receive their 'commendation' (11:1) by God is their faith.

Abraham's hope of an inheritance is predicated on faith (not a faith that is mature or immature) but on faith, even initial faith.

Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.

The promised inheritance is ours 'by faith'.

Paul comments,

Gal 3:18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise... the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.'

Other texts make the same point (Eph 1:11, 14,18; Col 1:12, 3:24;Hebs9:4; 1 Pet 1:3,4).

Faith, is ever the justifying medium, guaranteeing the inheritance.

Again, I urge, this emphasis in Scripture is so fundamental and so strenuously stressed that it must inform any attempt to understand, 'judged by works'.

Nick, I know from past correspondence, that you wish to limit justifying 'works' to 'the works of the law'. I cannot agree with this. It seems incredible that Paul would vociferously oppose law 'works' but permit other 'works'. If he opposed only law works as justifying then we might suppose he would have said so and added, 'but by the way, to save confusion, please note that other 'works' justify. No, his exclusion of 'works' in justification, while focussing on 'law works' applies to all 'works'. This is evident too on occasions where 'works' are not specifically tied to 'law works' but are cast more generically. For example when he says in Rom 4:2, 'For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.' he is clearly not speaking of 'works of the law' since Abraham exists 430 years before the law existed. Continuing from this he makes another generic comment about works, Rom 4:4, 'Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.' Works here simply cannot be limited to 'law works'. Other texts are similarly generic about works (Roms 9:11; 11:6; Eph 2:9).

Human works of any kind cannot save if for no other reason than, and there are many others, God will not allow human beings to have a reason to boast before him - 'grace you are saved through faith... not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8, Cf Roms 4:1-6)'.

To summarise this section, Scripture repeatedly asserts that faith alone is what justifies before God. Faith says, if there is salvation it must all be of God. Faith gives God his place. Any attempt to justify by works is to boast in self and displace God; it is the essence of sin.

(Blog comments continued below due to word limit.)

John Thomson said...

(Blogcomment continued.)

The above must inform our understanding of 'judged by works'.

I would love to consider this topic in more detail (questions if works justify, like how many works are necessary to justify and others)but space and time forbids at this point.

Let me simply say that it seems to me the only biblically constant way to interpret 'judged by works' texts is in the classic Protestant way of seeing works as the evidence of faith. This will hardly surprise you Nick. Yet it seems that in the prime passage that deals with justification by works this is precisely the tack taken.

Jas 2:14-18 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. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'

Works demonstrate faith. In the final assize our works exhibit/prove our faith or otherwise.

Notice, in the picture of the final Assize in Revelation, that while works are judged the reason for final exclusion, is the absence of being named in the 'Lamb's book of life'.

Rev 20:12-15 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.


In other words the verdict is already certain - the names in the book of life are safe - the works will merely demonstrate the righteous basis of that book.

In my view, other constructs I know fatally distort the biblical construct and detract from the good news Paul preaches:

Rom 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.

When I look inside myself, I can see no other basis for confidence on the day of judgement.

Nick said...

Thank you for your comments. I've been very busy the last few days but will respond asap.

Nick said...

John,

I have been either too busy (or too tired!) to get back in a reasonable time frame. I have FINALLY had the time to look over your comments some more. I apologize if you wanted this to be a longer discussion, but since it's been over a week now I don't know if it would be worth starting the discussion up again.


Here are some of my comments on what you just said:

About my comments of seeing salvation as an adoption process, two texts come to mind:
(a)Romans 4 is squarely focused upon how we become 'children of the promise', which are the true 'children of Abraham'. Sadly, most people who read Romans 4 only read up to verse 8 and stop, when Paul's main focus is only just developing (cf Gal 3:6f).
(b) Galatians 4 (esp the second half) is about the need to belong the the proper covenant family. Paul's focus is that the Jewish Covenant, the Mosaic, keeps one in bondage, while the other covenant frees. This is a continuation off of Gal 3, and I believe the heart of everything Paul says in Gal and Rom.

3) You mentioned 3 different time frames for salvation. I agree with that. You then said: "I believe the justifying verdict in the present is simply the final Day verdict brought into the present; the future verdict of justification and the present verdict are one."
This could be true, but such a notion would need some pretty solid Biblical support.

You mention Gal 5:5, but it really doesn't say there is a once and for all verdict now that is simply the future verdict (nor is the term justify even used here). It says we await the future, something we hope for but don't have yet (cf Rom 8:24). The context (eg 5:4, 19-21) is also clear we are to be on guard, lest we become alienated from Christ. This is problematic to your immediate claim and position as a whole. I would say Gal 5:5 is a one verse summary of Rom 8:9-17. Further, the 'ground' of either verdict is not the "righteousness of Christ" (this cannot just be assumed when approaching Gal 5:5).

You then said: "In Roms 8, justification inexorably leads to glorification. Here, clearly the justifying verdict in the present ascertains the glorifying verdict in the future."
Not quite. First of all, the justification mentioned there could in fact be the final day justification. Second of all, you're assuming it's a verdict being made and then simply confirmed on the final day. The term "glorified" need not mean 'glorifying verdict' but rather receiving a glorified body.

You said: "The same logic is applied in, for example, Roms 5:9-10"
Again, you are jumping to conclusions. If you read it carefully, Paul is not equating 'justified' to 'saved' in this passage, he uses the two terms and is speaking of two things. The distinction here is along the lines of (a) being hired for a job and (b) the boss giving you a paycheck. It is not the same verdict, thought (a) is required for (b) to happen.

You conclude this post with: "My point is simple, there are many texts, and I have quoted three that insist the verdict in the present will stand good in the future. It seems clear to me, whatever construct we use to understand,
justified by faith and judged by works' must reckon seriously with these texts."

The problem here is that you're assuming "present verdict" is equivalent to "final verdict" in these passages. They are not saying that, at least not as clear as you make it sound. Rather, they are saying 'Event-A leads to Event-B', which is a very different thing. Getting a job and getting a paycheck are not the same. I agree that passages dealing with being judged by works must reckon with the passages you gave, but I think you're approaching this backwards. The passages speaking of being judged according to works are being passed through your presupposed grid of "present verdict = final verdict", but that renders them illogical. Conflating the final verdict with the present is the problem, while seeing this as a getting hired for a job and later getting paid as God's worker is the key.

Nick said...

John: Secondly, our understanding of 'judged by works' must reckon too with the overwhelming NT emphasis on justification by faith, and to my mind the necessary implication, justification by faith 'alone'.

Nick: Well, this hangs on whether the 'final verdict = present verdict' concept is true or not. If not, then there is no difficulty reconciling the two texts because the result is simply this:
'justified by faith'
is NOT the same event as
'judged according to works'.
Second of all, I don't believe Paul's opposition to works is not in regards to 'works in general' but rather to works of the Mosaic Law. The law Paul opposes is the Mosaic Law, and that's the only reading that fits texts like Gal 3:15-18 and Acts 13:39.

John: Paul will not allow 'works' a place in our justification.

Nick: Again, this hangs on whether the final=present verdict concept is true. If not, then no works for justification is akin to no bribes to be hired for a job. That doesn't mean the work done as a hired employee cannot receive a payment at the end of the day.

John: The point that I think deserves notice here is that faith is not simply the basis of initial justification but is the continuing instrument through which he anticipates final justification.

Nick: This isn't a problem at all. The next verse, Gal 5:6 comes to mind (as does Hebrews 11:6) and fits precisely what I've been saying.

John: To quote Roms 1, "as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith." For Paul, God's justifying verdict is ever and only through faith.

Nick: Ah, but once you realize what "the righteous shall live by faith" means, then a new picture emerges. It turns out Heb 10:35ff quotes this very passage and elaborates. It shows its faithful living (faithfulness) is what the 'righteous shal live by faith' means!

John: In Hebrews 11,12 the hallmark of those who receive their 'commendation' (11:1) by God is their faith.

Nick: Yes! The thing is, works are a central part of those passages, 'faith alone' is incompatible here. 

John: Abraham's hope of an inheritance is predicated on faith (not a faith that is mature or immature) but on faith, even initial faith. Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
The promised inheritance is ours 'by faith'.

Nick: But John, do you realize what you're saying? It's Abraham's obedience here that is pleasing to God, not a 'empty hand' faith that only acts as an instrument to receive an alien righteousness.

John: Paul comments, Gal 3:18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise...

Nick: Paul is not contrasting faith to 'works in general' here, but specifically to works of the Mosaic Law, that's the only way Gal 3:15-18 makes sense. Thus, it is wrong to say Paul is indicating 'faith alone' in Gal 3.

John: Again, I urge, this emphasis in Scripture is so fundamental and so strenuously stressed that it must inform any attempt to understand, 'judged by works'.

Nick: Agreed, but think about this: how often is the subject of 'final judgment' used in the Pauline texts regarding 'faith not works'? Not often, if ever, while the topic of final judgment comes up elsewhere (eg Rom 14:10-12). This should be cause for reconsidering the present = final verdict construct.

John: Nick, I know from past correspondence, that you wish to limit justifying 'works' to 'the works of the law'. I cannot agree with this. It seems incredible that Paul would vociferously oppose law 'works' but permit other 'works'.

Nick: Well, there is pretty solid evidence for my claim, for example Acts 13:39 pretty well confirms my theory:
"Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses."
Paul not only explicitly says it's the Mosaic Law, he would really be misleading if he said this while having 'works in general' in mind.

Nick said...

John: For example when he says in Rom 4:2, 'For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.' he is clearly not speaking of 'works of the law' since Abraham exists 430 years before the law existed.

Nick: I believe Paul meant circumcision, which is a rudimentary work of the law Rom 4 (esp 9-10) is specifically concerned with. This is further supported by the fact Paul begins the 'circumcised vs uncircumcised' theme a few verses earlier (3:27ff) and says in 4:1 Abraham is "our forefather according to the flesh" (meaning biological lineage, the circumcised, as opposed to our spiritual father, eg 4:16). The fact you know the law came 430 years later comes from Gal 3:15-18, in which the Mosaic Law is the only thing Paul could be talking about, thus firmly establishing the Mosaic law/works he is talking about in Galatians 3 (which parallels Romans).

John: Continuing from this he makes another generic comment about works, Rom 4:4, 'Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.' Works here simply cannot be limited to 'law works'. Other texts are similarly generic about works (Roms 9:11; 11:6; Eph 2:9).

Nick: I don't believe he's making a generic comment about works, but rather about the worker and the basis by which he acts (with the intention of debt or grace), and the example he gives isn't to be taken directly across for the parallel of "wages credited as gift" doesn't immediately line up with "faith credited as righteousness" (for that would make faith the wage). Passages like Rom 9:10f and 11:6 can include more general works, but the focus there is not so much contrasting faith to works but the theme of works to grace. And even in those contexts, the theme is of the Jewish race, which I believe is where Paul's main focus is and the key to interpreting Rom 9 to 11. As for Eph 2:9, that too could mean works in general, but upon examination of the context (esp 2:11-12), the 'works of the mosaic law' theme fits better.

John: Human works of any kind cannot save if for no other reason than, and there are many others, God will not allow human beings to have a reason to boast before him - 'grace you are saved through faith... not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8, Cf Roms 4:1-6)'.

Nick: Catholics never said "human works" save, for such works are by definition apart from faith and thus of no value (John 15:5ab). Passages like Rom 6:19-22; 7:4-6; 2 Cor 3:5; and Phil 3:3 (among others) all demonstrate it's grace and the Holy Spirit working in us that makes anything we do pleasing to God.

John: To summarise this section, Scripture repeatedly asserts that faith alone is what justifies before God. Faith says, if there is salvation it must all be of God. Faith gives God his place. Any attempt to justify by works is to boast in self and displace God; it is the essence of sin.

Nick: The main issue I have with these comments is that it comes off as if Catholics don't give faith a central place in salvation, when that is the furthest thing from the truth. Rather than Paul trying to teach faith alone is the only thing that justifies, I believe Paul is more focused on how the Mosaic Law plays into salvation, which is a key distinction to make when reading him. Paul was fighting against a form of 'grace alone', but it was coming from the Judaizer angle where the Jews were boasting that they were superior to the Gentiles and the evidence was that God graciously made them born into the Jewish lineage while the Gentiles weren't 'blessed' in that regard. If Paul were focused on 'works in general', then his constant harping on the Jew versus Gentile distinction would be out of place, for the Gentiles are just as culpable.

John Thomson said...

Thanks for discussion Nick. I still don't think you are facing up to Gal 5:5 with its reference to righteousness/justification which you seem to erase from the text.

I wish you could see it is faith from first to last (Roms 1:17) and that works, important as they are spring from faith and are the evidence of a persevering faith.

Anyway thanks for taking the effort. Hope life is not too hectic.

Nick said...

John: Let me simply say that it seems to me the only biblically constant way to interpret 'judged by works' texts is in the classic Protestant way of seeing works as the evidence of faith. This will hardly surprise you Nick.

Nick: You are right, it hardly surprises me, but that's because I don't consider it wrong in itself. Even if good works are purely the fruit of true faith, purely the result of grace, the fact remains that it's those works that are what God judges in the final judgment passages. In other words, the 'grounds' in any final judgment passage is never said to be the 'imputed righteousness of Christ', but instead our actions (even if they are purely the fruit of faith, they are still the only 'grounds' ever mentioned). The basis for verdict in Mat 25:40 is absolutely incompatible with the 'active obedience of Christ' (an unbiblical concept) being the ground.

John: Yet it seems that in the prime passage that deals with justification by works this is precisely the tack taken.
Jas 2:14-18 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? ...
Works demonstrate faith. In the final assize our works exhibit/prove our faith or otherwise.

Nick: Yes works demonstrate faith, but not in the sense of being the mere fruit, for that is not what James is saying. James is not dealing with 'true faith' versus 'counterfeit faith', for that would lead to him asking the absurd question in v14 "can counterfeit faith save?" Of course counterfeit faith cannot save, such a question is absurdly obvious. Rather, he's asking if "faith by itself" (v17) is sufficient. This also ties into the issue of whether good works are guaranteed, and the plain fact is nowhere is this taught in Scripture. In fact, we see Christians turning to sin in Scripture, proving right there that good works are not guaranteed.

John: Notice, in the picture of the final Assize in Revelation, that while works are judged the reason for final exclusion, is the absence of being named in the 'Lamb's book of life'.
Rev 20:12-15 ...
In other words the verdict is already certain - the names in the book of life are safe - the works will merely demonstrate the righteous basis of that book.

Nick: This logic is problematic, for it assumes that 'faith alone' is the only component to be included in the Book of Life, and thus a disconnect between getting your name in the book of life and the books of records. Taking the passage as it stands, whether one's name is in the book of life directly corresponds to whether their track record (books of records) was good. The passage you quote repeatedly puts the emphasis of judgment according to actions, not on faith alone. And take a look at Rev 3:2-5, it specifically deals with how evil works will condemn and cause one's name to be 'blotted out' from the book of life. This is again confirmed with Rev 21:27, where the contrast is evil works to the Book of Life, meaning it's our actions that directly correspond to being written in it or not. You're saying being written in the Book of Life is dependent on faith alone, which quite simply cannot be demonstrated from the text.

John: In my view, other constructs I know fatally distort the biblical construct and detract from the good news Paul preaches:
Rom 4:5...
When I look inside myself, I can see no other basis for confidence on the day of judgement.

Nick: My response is simple: this passage is not dealing with the final judgment itself. Surely, it plays a role, but otherwise is confusing the means and the end. Contrast this to 1 Cor 4:2-5, in which Paul says there is nothing on his conscience that is cause for concern on judgement day, but none the less he says he is not 'justified' (greek for aquitted) and that this only happens on judgement day, according to life lived. He plainly says it's premature to give the final verdict now, in the context of justification and the final judgment, which is a serious blow to present=final verdict theory. The same can be said for Mat 12:36-37.

John Thomson said...

Nick

Thanks for a detailed response. Let me try to identify points of fair agreement.

Firstly, like you, I believe that faith must issue in works. I would add, probably unlike you, else it is not authentic faith. That to my mind is the point James makes when he says 'faith without works is dead'; authentic faith, living faith, is an active faith, an obeying faith.

Secondly, when Paul attacks 'law works' he is attacking two things; relying on keeping the law as a means of a right standing with God. That is,'human works' that do not spring from faith. Secondly, 'law works' specifically as a paradigm for faith-obedience; that is,Paul sees a Jewish lifestyle as unnecessary for new covenant believers.

From this, however, I deduce that Paul objects to the 'works of the Law' specifically, if used to prescribe
the lifestyle God demands. Secondly he objects to any kind of works that are intended to save apart from faith in Christ.

There is one point where we seem to profoundly disagree and that is on certainty in salvation.

I do think that the various texts I quoted argue for certainty in salvation. I think A not only leads to B but does so inevitably, inexorably; A guarantees B. The certainty of final salvation to all who have faith in Jesus lies in God's ability and reliability to do what he promises. Thus, those who come to Jesus have 'eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. (John 10:28,29). The Spirit is given as the guarantee of the inheritance (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14). It is pledged and secure and we as sealed with the Spirit are pledged and secure too. Believers can be assured of final salvation for the promises of God are sure in Christ (yes and amen). God himself is absolutely able, whoever he justifies he glorifies. Salvation, Scripture argues, is from first to last God's work and that is why believers (who trust God to save) can be confident on the day of judgement.

Yes, there is undoubtedly a balance between 'if God be for us who can be against us...nothing can separate us from the love of Christ' and 'he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel(Col 1)... For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebs 3)'. Yet the balance must never lead us to waver or doubt rather to be determined to trust and hope all the more ardently. Part of the 'work of faith' is to hold faith and confident hope (in God and his saving work) firmly, and to recognise we can do so by the grace of God himself: 'Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope'.

Confidence is strong when it is sourced and centred in God.

Thus it is quite biblical to reason from the present verdict to final verdict. It is on this reasoning that confidence is possible, whether confidence in the present to approach God or confidence in the future of acquittal.

Present verdict= final verdict if we stand firm in faith (this assumes obedient faith) and, says Paul, God will enable you to stand.