Getting Justification Right
A sinner is saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This is the clear teaching of Scripture. There will not be one individual that will be declared righteous through his obedience. Rather, individuals will only be declared righteous through faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. So, those who are in Christ through faith are justified, and those who are apart from Christ are condemned.
That is why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you are a Christian, you will never hear the just judge of all the earth declare you to be guilty of sin and deserving of eternal punishment. That will not happen. Rather, you hear a silent declaration of “Justified!” from the judge of the earth now, and you will one day hear a public declaration of “Justified!” on judgment day. This is our hope and it is incredibly comforting! We are righteous in Christ Jesus. Praise God for this! We are rescued from the wrath of God in Christ Jesus. Glory be to God alone! We are adopted into the family of God in Christ Jesus. Honor be to the name of Jesus!
Justification Does Not Eradicate Evaluation
With that said, there also must be an understanding that those who have been justified (judicially declared righteous) through faith in Christ will be judged according to their works. This is thoroughly biblical. Just because we will not face condemnation on judgment day does not mean that we will escape evaluation. We will most certainly be evaluated. All of our actions, motives, thoughts, and words will be evaluated on judgment day. So, our works will be judged. And, according to Scripture, this doctrine is incredibly important for how we live life now. So, let’s look at some applications that arise from a judgment according to works.
Application of This Doctrine
A judgment according to works can be applied in many ways. Therefore, it will be helpful to see how this understanding of the role of works in the judgment of the righteous can be applied personally and within Christian ministry.
The first application that arises from a knowledge of a judgment according to works is personal holiness. All throughout the New Testament, the biblical writers refer to the day of judgment and then issue appeals for lives of holiness. For example, Peter, in speaking about the importance of being holy because God the Father is holy, says, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet. 1:17). Paul, in a similar line of thought, said that all Christians will appear before the judgment seat of Christ, “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). It is for this reason that Paul says that Christians are to make it their aim to please the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9).
So, one day, we as individuals, will stand before Christ’s great tribunal and receive what is our due for both the good and the evil that we have done in our earthly bodies. There will be no partiality in Christ’s judgment. Christ will look into the inner recesses of our hearts and expose every motive, secret, intention, careless word, and action in accordance with his infinite wisdom. For the evil that we have done, Christ will withhold his commendation. For the good that we have done, Christ will give his commendation (1 Cor. 4:5). For the evil that we have done, we will not receive a reward. For the good that we have done, we will receive rewards.
This is, without a doubt, a major incentive to live a life of holiness for the Lord. Regarding this Phanton says, “No wise disciple can afford to neglect so great a mass of Scripture, or throw away so mighty an incentive to holiness. Our discovery of this truth at the Judgment Seat will be too late.” Phanton is right in his assertion. We, if we want to live lives of holiness for the Lord, will find all the incentive we need in a thorough contemplation of standing before the judgment seat of Christ on that Great Day.
This also must be applied in the ministry context that God has entrusted with us. Right now I do college ministry on college campuses throughout the triangle area. I am able to interact with numerous students throughout the week. Each of them will have to stand before Christ’s tribunal to give an account of their lives. I ought to labor with relentless zeal in order to do everything that I can so that they will stand holy and blameless before the Lord on that Great Day. It should be my aim to prepare them for judgment day. Thus, I should do everything I can to help them pursue personal holiness.
Labor For The Lord
Secondly, a judgment according to works should lead us to increasingly labor for the Lord. When we do something in faith, to the glory of God, and out of love for neighbor, it is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Rather than being in vain, it will lead to commendation and reward from my blessed Savior. This is a major incentive to gospel labor. It most certainly was for Paul, this truth led him to tell Christians in Corinth, “to be abounding in the works of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
And this idea of rewards should not make us feel uneasy. The Scriptures clearly use this truth to compel Christians to labor. Jesus, in Matthew 6, uses both rewards and loss of rewards, to compel his disciples to give to the needy, pray, and fast in a way that is honoring to the Lord (Mt. 6:1-18). He then goes on to tell his disciples to intentionally lay-up treasure in heaven with how they use their money (Mt. 6:19-24). Also, the parable of the talents teaches that those who are faithful in how they steward their God given gifts will receive rewards when Christ Jesus returns (Mt. 24:14-30).
So, the idea of heavenly rewards compelling us to holy zeal and fervor in going about the work of the Lord is seen in the Scripture. This leads Wayne Grudem to say, “It would be morally and spiritually beneficial for us to have a greater consciousness of this clear New Testament teaching on degrees of heavenly reward.” Grudem is right. We would do well to contemplate eternal rewards often. This will lead us to zealously labor for Christ’s sake. We should be willing to spend and be spent for Christ’s kingdom knowing that nothing we do is in vain.
Also, this idea of rewards should impact the ministry we have been given. It should impact me personally as I labor on college campuses. Each of these students that I am shepherding has the opportunity to labor for the Lord, thus, storing up treasures in heaven. I ought to do everything in my power to keep them from wasting their lives by compelling them to lay up treasures in heaven by doing bold acts of service for Christ’s sake. So, I should be helping them and encouraging them to store up heavenly rewards from a most benevolent God who is eager to bestow them.
Thirdly, a judgment according to works should also lead us to have ever increasing humility. Often times, we have haughty views of ourselves. We simply seem to regard ourselves, as well as our ministry, with greater significance than we ought to. The reality of judgment day should keep us from this.
I say this because this was Paul’s mentality. Paul knew that he was gifted by God to be a steward of the mysteries of the gospel for the sake of the church. However, when it came to examining his faithfulness as a steward, he was not concerned with the judgment of men. He says, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by any human court” (1 Cor. 4:3). Paul then goes even further saying that he does not even trust his own judgment of his ministry, even though, as far as he could tell, he had not been unfaithful (1 Cor. 4:3-4).
The reason for this is because he knew judgment day was coming. Therefore, rather than leaning on his own judgment or the judgment of men, he says, “Therefore, I do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Cor. 4:5).
Thus, judgment day led Paul to refrain from judging his own faithfulness. Rather, he humbly labored for the Lord waiting for judgment day to shed light on his ministry. The same truth mentioned above also led George Whitefield, after laboring for the Lord in an incomprehensibly glorious way, to leave his tomb stone with the words, “Here lies G.W. What sort of man he was the great day will discover.” So, the understanding of judgment day should keep us personally humble in our gospel labor as we patiently wait for that great day to reveal the genuineness of our work.
No Sinful Judging
Fourthly, a judgment according to works should keep us from sinfully casting judgment on weaker Christians. It should also keep us from causing a weaker brother in Christ to sin in how we use our Christian freedom (Rom. 14:5-23). Each Christian is going to have to give an account of their lives to Christ. Therefore, the last thing we should want is to have to give an account to Christ for how we caused a weaker Christian, for whom He died, to sin against him by how we used our Christian freedom (Rom. 14:15).
This Should Permeate Our Teachings
Lastly, a judgment according to work should be within our teachings, our discipleship relationships, and in how we raise our kids. We should not just teach justification, and we should not just teach a judgment according to works. Rather, they should both be taught. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone and a judgment according to works are both clearly in the Bible. Therefore, both of them ought to be taught. To emphasize justification by faith alone in Christ alone to the detriment of judgment according to works produces lawlessness. People will simply live however they want to live all the while claiming Christ as Savior. We see this all throughout the Bible Belt! Also, to emphasize judgment according to works to the detriment of justification by faith alone in Christ alone produces legalism. This also is seen all throughout the Bible Belt! So, we must emphasize both. To emphasize both will produce an affectionate reverence to Christ whereby we yield ourselves in obedience to the will of God. Therefore, this teaching ought to permeate our thoughts, teachings, sermons, discipleship relationships, child rearing, etc.