The Day Riches Won’t Profit

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, 

but righteousness delivers from death.”

Proverbs 11:4

The great temptation in our day is to cast aside the biblical doctrine of the wrath of God. Some preachers have simply discarded it as an archaic doctrine that carries no weight for our contemporary culture. Other preachers mention divine wrath so infrequently that their hearers know nothing about it. This leaves many Christians sincerely believing that God does not burn with righteous anger against both sin and the sinner. Biblically speaking, however, “the idea that God is not angry with sinners belongs neither to the OT nor to the NT. God is a personal moral being who is unalterably opposed to evil and takes personal actions against it.” 

Because the God of the Bible is the thrice holy God, he is absolutely opposed to sin and evil (Psalm 5:5; 11:5). The culminating display of this holy opposition that God has to both sin and evil is his wrath. Though modern ears do not like hearing this, the wrath of God is the only appropriate ethical and moral response that an infinitely pure and holy being can have towards evil. Therefore, as our proverb above says, there will most certainly be a day of wrath. It is more certain than the rising up the sun tomorrow morning.

Days of Wrath

We see days of wrath all throughout the Bible. Early on in the book of Genesis, God justly judges the world by sending a flood that wipes out all but eight of the inhabitants of the earth (Genesis 6:5-8). Later in Genesis, God justly judges the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by causing fire and sulfur to rain down upon them, thus killing the occupants (Genesis 19:23-29). In Exodus, God judges the gods of Egypt along with those who worship them through a series of ten disastrous plagues (Exodus 7-11). Afterwards God judges Pharaoh and his army by causing the Red Sea to overwhelm them (Exodus 14:26-29). And space does not permit us to talk about all the other times God’s wrath consumed those who sinned against Him. 

The Day of Wrath

These days of wrath serve as microcosms of THE Day of wrath that is spoken about in Scripture. In a way, these displays of God’s wrath are meant to prefigure THE Day of God’s wrath (Matthew 24:37-39). They are minor depictions. This is not meant to lesson our view of these days of God’s wrath. It is meant to heighten our view of THE Day of God’s wrath.

One Day, both the great and the small, both the rich and the poor, and both the intelligent and the unintelligent will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ in order to give an account of their lives (John 5:27; Revelation 20:11-15). On that Day, the Lord will render to each one according to what he has done in the body (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12). For those who persist in wrongdoing, who perpetually live in ungodliness, and who constantly seek their own self-interest, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:8-9). For the “cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur” (Revelation 20:8).

The lake that burns with fire and sulfur will never quit burning (Luke 3:17). The ungodly will be forced to drink “the wine of God’s wrath” (Revelation 14:10). For all of eternity, they will be “tormented with fire and sulfur” in the presence of both angelic beings and the spotless Son of God (Revelation 14:11). Of their suffering there will be no end. Of the wrath of God there will be no end. This Day of wrath will exceed all other days of wrath.  It will be wrath unlike anything the world has ever seen. 

Riches Won’t Deliver You

As the Day of wrath approaches, our hearts are stirred to seek refuge. We want to know what will profit us on that day – what will keep us from the wrath of Jesus Christ. And because our hearts are sinful, they are drawn to riches as a source of refuge. “Somehow,” we think to ourselves, “these riches will keep me safe and secure.” And as we seek to accumulate wealth, we begin viewing our riches as an impenetrable city and as an unscalable high wall (Proverbs 18:11). “If anything can deliver me from the wrath of God,” we say, “surely it is vast amounts of wealth.”

Our proverb above, however, teaches us that riches will not help us on the Day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4; Zephaniah 1:18). Jesus Christ is a just judge that shows no partiality. He is not like worldly judges that are enticed to show favor to the rich man. No, Jesus Christ is much different. The Lord Jesus Christ has a heart that is not wooed by worldly wealth. As he judges the world, riches will not keep him from rendering a righteous judgment. 

He will judge the world in complete righteousness. He will render authoritative judicial verdicts based off ALL the evidence. Then, once he reveals all the evidence, his wrath will consume the wicked in “the fire of his jealousy” (Zephaniah 1:18). And on that Day, the wicked who are rich will fare just like the wicked who are poor.

Righteousness Will Deliver You

In light of this Day of wrath and fury, what will deliver us from Christ’s righteous judgment? And the overwhelming biblical teaching is that righteousness is the only thing that will deliver us from the looming righteous judgment that is about to happen. Our proverb above says that “righteousness delivers from death” (11:4). It is those “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality” that will receive eternal life (Romans 2:6). Those who do good are the ones that will receive “glory and honor and peace” (Romans 2:10). All that matters on the Day of wrath is righteousness. Everything else will be consumed by unquenchable fire. Righteousness alone will deliver.

But where is a sinner to go to get righteousness? How can a sinner who is both positionally and practically unrighteous become both positionally and practically righteous? And the Bible answers this with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s active obedience to the law of God, and through his passive obedience in enduring the curse of the law due sinners, unrighteous sinners can be declared positionally righteous by God, and be made practically righteous through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When a sinner turns away from sin and lays hold of Jesus Christ through faith, they are gifted with the free gift of righteousness (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 4:5; Philippians 3:9-10). Since God the Father gifts us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we sinners have been gifted with the very righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Since God the Father has graciously united us to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ has become our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30). And being found in Christ Jesus, we are now positionally righteous before God.

And just as a branch derives life from its union with the vine, so we, as redeemed sinners, derive spiritual life from our union with Jesus Christ (John 15:1-8). Though formerly we were slaves to sin, now we can live out a life of practical righteousness before God (Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 2:24). The Holy Spirit of God works within us to empower and enable us to live righteously (Romans 8:12-17). So, in Christ Jesus we are not only positionally righteous, we are also endowed with spiritual strength so that we can practically live righteously before God.

This is why union with Christ through faith is the only way that anybody will be able to stand on judgment day. If you stand before Jesus Christ without the righteousness that he procured for sinners in his atoning death, then you will endure wrath and fury. However, if you have been united with Christ through faith, then you are positionally righteous before God. Not only that, through the Spirit of God you have at least some practical righteousness as well. Therefore, the Day of wrath will not be a day of wrath for you. Just as Noah found safe refuge from the flood within the ark because he was righteous before God (Genesis 7:1), so you will find safe refuge from the wrath of God because you are positionally righteous in Christ Jesus, the very ark that delivers sinners from the impending wrath that is to come.

The Implications of a Judgment According to Works for the Christian

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.

Personal Holiness

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.

Increasing Humility

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.