The New Perspective: Final Judgment According to Works

newperspective.jpgIf ever a post title was calculated to draw attention, this is the one! I mean, nothing is better established in Reformation theology than sola fide, that is, “faith only.” Going back 500 years to Luther and Calvin, the very foundation of Protestant teaching has been salvation by faith.

But Wright asks us to reconsider our thinking–

The third point is remarkably controversial, seeing how well founded it is at several points in Paul. [I]t seems that there has been a massive conspiracy of silence on something which was quite clear for Paul (as indeed for Jesus). Paul, in company with mainstream second-Temple Judaism, affirms that God’s final judgment will be in accordance with the entirety of a life led – in accordance, in other words, with works. He says this clearly and unambiguously in Romans 14.10–12 and 2 Corinthians 5.10. He affirms it in that terrifying passage about church-builders in 1 Corinthians 3. But the main passage in question is of course Romans 2.1–16.

Let’s pause to consider these passages.

(Rom. 14:10-12) You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

(2 Cor. 5:10) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

(Rom. 2:3) So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

(Rom. 2:5-11) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

I have to say that I’m not persuaded. I mean, the Romans 14 passage follows–

(Rom. 14:4) Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Clearly, this says we will be judged, we’ll not deserve to stand, but for Christians, God will make us stand–by grace. Just so, Romans 2 is building a case for why we need grace–because we can’t be justified by the strength of our own merits.

But Wright is no idiot. He explains himself–

The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16.

Ahh … This I agree with. True salvation leads to the fruit of the Spirit, which demonstrates the reality of our salvation.

Why is there now ‘no condemnation’? [Rom. 8:1] Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit [Rom. 8:13-14].

Romans 8 is critically important, indeed. And I think Wright has it right, thus far–

(Rom. 8:13-14) For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Wright seems to take a particular delight at poking a stick in the eye of his Calvinist and evangelical friends–

I am fascinated by the way in which some of those most conscious of their reformation heritage shy away from Paul’s clear statements about future judgment according to works. It is not often enough remarked upon, for instance, that in the Thessalonian letters, and in Philippians, he looks ahead to the coming day of judgment and sees God’s favourable verdict not on the basis of the merits and death of Christ, not because like Lord Hailsham he simply casts himself on the mercy of the judge, but on the basis of his apostolic work. ‘What is our hope and joy and crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at his royal appearing? Is it not you? For you are our glory and our joy.’ (1 Thess. 3.19f.; cp. Phil. 2.16f.) I suspect that if you or I were to say such a thing, we could expect a swift rebuke of ‘nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling’. The fact that Paul does not feel obliged at every point to say this shows, I think, that he is not as concerned as we are about the danger of speaking of the things he himself has done – though sometimes, to be sure, he adds a rider, which proves my point, that it is not his own energy but that which God gives and inspires within him (1 Cor. 15.10; Col. 1.29). But he is still clear that the things he does in the present, by moral and physical effort, will count to his credit on the last day, precisely because they are the effective signs that the Spirit of the living Christ has been at work in him. We are embarrassed about saying this kind of thing; Paul clearly is not. What on earth can have happened to a sola scriptura theology that it should find itself forced to screen out such emphatic, indeed celebratory, statements?

Well, this takes me back to my childhood. I mean, we often spoke of earning “jewels for our crown” in heaven or simply of being rewarded for our good works. And there are plenty of passages that certainly seem to say exactly this. And yet, as grace has been more and more taught in the Churches of Christ (which I celebrate), we’ve lost the concept of reward for works done.

(Matt. 5:11-12) “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

(Matt. 6:6) But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

(1 Cor. 3:12-14) If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

(Eph. 6:7-8) Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

And so, Wright is correct, at least in my experience, that our emphasis on “faith only” and on not meriting our salvation has sometimes disconnected us from the Biblical doctrine of rewards for works done–for allowing the Spirit to use us in God’s service.

However, I can’t find where Wright argues for degrees of reward. In fact, as he sees our ultimate fate as being in a merged heaven and earth, with the Lord’s Prayer being finally answered to the fullest, this seems an unlikely result.

Rather, the reward is salvation, which is a great reward. And there’s a strong argument to be made against degrees of reward. This is from Craig Blomberg

I have argued elsewhere that, contrary to one popular strand of thought, believers should not expect eternal degrees of reward in heaven. The imagery of the parable of the vineyard laborers (Mt. 20:1-16) points us away from such an expectation, as does the logic of heaven itself (how can there be degrees of perfection?). The so-called ‘crown’ passages (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Thes. 2:19; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4), as well as numerous other NT texts, speak merely of eternal life in general as the reward for Christian commitment. I do not dispute for one minute that the NT teaches that each believer will have an entirely unique experience before God on Judgment Day (esp. Matt. 25:14-30; 1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:1-10). I merely dispute whether any passages commit us to seeing such unique experiences as perpetuated throughout all eternity.

However, Wright teaches the perseverance of the saints, that is, “once saved, always saved.” And he’s wrong. But let’s pretend that he’s right.

If he’s right, and if there are no degrees of reward in heaven–we will all live on the same redeemed earth conjoined with heaven–why on earth do works matter? And, on a reward and punishment analysis, they wouldn’t.

Of course, I’ve taught for some year now that rewards and punishment should not be the primary motivator for living righteously. Rather, we should yield to the Spirit’s remaking of our hearts so that living as Jesus would have us live gives us joy. Hence, we live righteously because it’s what we want to do–we enjoy being good! And in this, there is true freedom. I mean, what could be better than getting to do exactly what you want to do, and knowing that it thrills God, whom you love deeply?

On this analysis, the reward is present. And that’s very Biblical.

However, it remains true that the New Testament repeatedly teaches that falling away is possible. In fact, if you deny it, you really can’t make sense of Hebrews or Galatians. Wright’s analyses of Galatians completely ignore the warnings against falling from grace and being alienated from Christ!

And so, a few conclusions–

* Works matter. Any doctrine that ignores works is severely flawed.

* But neither Paul nor Wright teach a works-based salvation. Works derive from salvation, as they are the inevitable result of salvation due to the working of the Spirit within the Christian.

* A Christian who fails to cooperate the Spirit–to be led by the Spirit–suffers from at least two problems. First, he can eventually quench the Spirit (the Spirit gives up) and he’ll fall away (Wright disagrees with me). Second, he fails to realize the true joy of the Christian life. It’s rather like going to a steak house and ordering just a salad. Why not enjoy the pleasures you went there to enjoy?

Doing good works is the steak part of Christianity. I know it seems backwards, as the world tells us we’ll enjoy self-indulgence more, but the world is wrong.

* There is nothing wrong with preaching and teaching and even insisting that Christians live as Spirit-led people, that is, as people who do good works. It does not in any way contradict salvation by faith. It is, in fact, very true to the preaching ministry of Jesus. When we think we’re smarter than Jesus, we’ve learned some really, really wrong.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in New Perspective, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to The New Perspective: Final Judgment According to Works

  1. Alan says:

    I lean toward the view that there will be degrees of reward in heaven. Passages like Luke 19:12-27 come to mind. Also, the passages connecting reward to specific deeds (for example: cup of water, Mk 9:41; prayer/fasting/giving, Matt 6:1-6) seem to be communicating that there is a reward associated with each particular instance of acting on faith. It's not conclusive, I know, but that is what I hear when I read it.

    I also think there will be degrees of punishment (Lk 12:47-48)

    And I really like your statement:

    Of course, I’ve taught for some years now that rewards and punishment should not be the primary motivator for living righteously.

  2. Pingback: The New Perspective: Justification, Part 4 (objections) « One In

  3. Bertex says:

    O tak pjn to kompletna porazka!