Romans 14:7-13 – The judgment seat of God

Romans14:7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 14:8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 14:11 For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore …

The phrase “for the Lord” is used twice in 14:7, after being used three times in 14:6.  In 14:6 eating meat and days were described as “for the Lord”.  The next two verses describe the Christian’s entire life and even his death as “for the Lord”.  These verses therefore take the “for the Lord”-principle in 14:6 to a higher level and elevate the minds of the warring factions in the church from their petty disputes about meat and days to the things that really matter.

Verses 10 to 13 repeat the words “judge” and “contempt” from verses 1 to 4.  This confirms that, with respect to eating meat, drinking wine and related days, the Christians in Rome were judging one another (v 10, 13) with contempt (v10).  The GNB says they despised one another.  These verses therefore continue to draw the minds of the warring factions away from their disagreements to things that really matter.  And what really matters according to verses 10 to 13 is that God will judge each of us.  Since that is true, Paul is saying, let us not focus on other people.  Let each person rather worry about him or herself (v12).

We will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (14:10).  People sometimes say that Christians will not be judged.  Perhaps people say this because Christians are saved by faith, but such thinking ignores the fact that one’s faith and deeds cannot be separated.  Our deeds demonstrate our faith.

Paul is not only clear that we will be judged.  He is also more specifically clear that we will be judged by our deeds, and that, on the basis of our deeds, we will receive either eternal death or eternal life.  For example:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation”. (Rom 2:5-8)

The doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).

 “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Cor. 5:10).

While it is clearly stated that we will be judged by our deeds, Paul also wrote that we will not be justified (saved) by the works of the Law (e.g. 3:27).  Many Bible students struggle to understand the difference.  They struggle to understand how people can be judged by their deeds if they are not be justified by the works of the Law.  That is because they do not understand what the works of the Law are:

It was the Jews, and also some important Jewish Christians in Paul’s time, that taught that people are justified by the works of the Law.  Please consider what this meant.  Through their traditions the Jews have converted God’s law into a set of rules.  While the Law of God focuses on the heart, namely concepts such as love and humility, the rules which the Jews made focus on external things; external objects and deeds that are allowed and that must be avoided.  In doing so they have they have removed the internal being from the jurisdiction of the law.

The Jews then taught that one is justified (put right with God) through strict adherence with these rules of external behavior.  And if one fails to comply with some of these rules, then one can compensate therefor by complying with the ceremonial laws, such as sacrifices, washings and rituals that are prescribed by the Law of Moses.  That means that for them the law has become their redeemer.  In fact, it means that each person has become his or her own redeemer, because each person redeems himself through his own effort.

This teaching differs in at least two ways from what Paul taught when he wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13):

Firstly, when Paul taught that the deeds of people will be judged against the Law, he had a different Law in mind.  The Law which he had in mind was God’s eternal moral principles, which do not include the enormous number of rules and regulations with respect to external behaviour which the Jews added through their traditions.  God’s eternal principles also do not include the ceremonial sacrifices and rituals required by the law, because these things had no real effect if man’s heart is not right.  The Law which Paul had in mind judged the internal being of man; his faith, motives and desires; things which people are completely unable to judge.  Only God, Who created all things and know all things, can judge man’s heart; his inner being.  The “law” which the Jews had in mind when they said that people are “justified by the works of the Law” is therefore totally different from the Law which Paul had in mind when he wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).

Secondly, the function of the Law is also entirely different in the two views.  In the view of the Jews the law was the means of justification; adherence to the rules justifies man.  Therefore Paul opposed this view often, arguing that man is unable to comply with the Law of God, that salvation is only in Jesus Christ and that He is the Vehicle through which we are saved.  In opposition to the Jews, who taught that man in reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats, Paul taught that only the blood of Christ (as a symbol of His death) can compensate for sins.  In Paul’s theology the Law only accuses; it is completely unable to redeem people.

To explain further Paul’ view of how God will judge man:

When Paul wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), he did not say that man earns redemption through his deeds.  Man is wholly unable to comply with God’s law.  Therefore man is saved by grace, which means to be saved by God’s kindness.  Eternal life is always a free gift (6:23).

The statement that “the doers of the Law will be justified” also does not mean that God will judge people by their deeds. God does not have to judge people by their deeds.  God is able to judge the heart (the inner being).  This He will do and He will save the people that have faith in Him.  But when we as humans, with our limited perception look at people, we only see what they do.  We cannot see what they think or feel.  For us, who only can see externals, “the doers of the Law will be justified”.

We are all sinners.  How God differentiates between those that are saved and those that will die (8:13) is explained by Romans 7.  In brief, the person that wants to do good, even though he often fails, will receive eternal life (7:14-25).  God will therefore judge man by his inner being.  This is the same as saying man is justified by faith.  The person that does not want to do good, will not receive eternal life.

When reading Paul, we have to realize that he had two mode of writing with respect to the Law:

At times he is arguing against the erroneous teaching of the Jews that man is justified by the works of the Law.  He would then argue that man is not justified by the works of the Law.

At other times he was preaching high moral standards.  It is in such instances that we will find statements such as that “the doers of the Law will be justified”.

Paul does not tell us when he moves from one topic to another.  Like a person that is sitting on a kayak in choppy waters, our stomach muscles must be flexible enough to shift focus with Paul.  That means that we have to be aware of and recognize his two modes of writing.

The error taught by the Jews was particularly relevant to the time of Paul, but it was also particularly relevant at the time of Luther, when the church also taught that man is redeemed by complying with a strict set of rules, and that contributions to the church and self-deprivation and even self-mutilation compensate for sins.  But this error is found in all times.  In all ages man is inclined to assume that one is saved by what you do; it is the way in which everything else works in this life, and we make the mistake of thinking that God’s kingdom is like this world.

Paul’s statements with respect to the Law superficially contradict one another.  In the previous paragraphs an understanding of the Law has been proposed that reconciles all of Paul’s statements into a cohesive unit.  However, if this understanding is correct, then an enormous amount of church theology is wrong.  You might rightly question my credentials; how do I dare go against the major schools of thought?  I have no formal teaching in theology and for many years now I have had no contact with any denomination, except what I read on internet and listen to on mp3s.  But I believe that my independence from and lack of contact with denominations and schools of thought, combined by my focus on the study of the Bible by itself, are my credentials.  My experience, given that it would be difficult to find another person that has listened to more mp3s on various subjects than I have, that pastors and even theologians, in general, with notable and admirable exceptions, never really study the Bible.  They study what other people wrote about the Bible.  When they encounter a difficult passage they go to the writings of their favorite teacher and author.  For that reason they fall into various schools of thought.  The existence of the schools of thought is the proof for what I am saying.  Pastors typically do not spend time to compare scripture with scripture until they understand for themselves what the Scriptures teach, simply because they do not have the time.  But unless they throw away the writings of their favorite teachers, and intensely study the Bible for themselves, they will never be able to escape from the trap of the schools of thought into which they have fallen.

Back to: Romans Table of Contents

Next: Romans 14:13-23 – Rather abstain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *