Excerpt: “A man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. Rom. 3:27), but all people will all be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God. What is the difference between our deeds and the works of the Law?
Romans 14:7 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.
14:6 describes eating meat and certain days as “for the Lord”. Verses 7 and 8 then expands this concept and describe the Christian’s entire life and even his death as “for the Lord”. Verses 7 and 8, therefore, take the minds of the opposing groups in the church away from their petty disputes about meat and days to things that really matter.
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 …
These verses repeat the words “judge” and “contempt” from verses 1 to 4. This confirms that, with respect to eating meat, there was in-fighting among the Christians in Rome. They were judging one another (v 10, 13) with contempt (v10). The GNB says they despised one another. Verses 10 to 13, therefore, continue to draw the minds of the opposing groups away from their disagreements to things which really matter. And what really matters, according to verses 10 to 13, is that every one of us will be judged before the Judgment Seat of God. Since that is true, Paul is saying, let us not focus on other people. Rather, let each person be concerned about him or herself (v12).
JUDGMENT SEAT OF GOD
Some people believe that Christians will not appear before the Judgment Seat of God, but Paul is not only clear that we will be judged; he is also specifically clear that we will be judged by our deeds. 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” (2 Cor. 5:10).
Please see the article Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters for more information on that topic.
As quoted above, all people will all be judged by their deeds, but Paul also wrote: “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27). If a man will be justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds?
WHAT ARE THE WORKS OF THE LAW?
Paul wrote that no one will be justified (put right with God) by the works of the law (Romans 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; etc.). To be justified by the works of the law is often understood as to be justified by living a sinless life. This conceptual error is caused by a lack of understanding of the context in Paul’s day and has resulted in a huge theological error.
It was Jews, who accepted Jesus as Messiah, who maintained that people are justified by the works of the law. They taught that, unless one is circumcised and observe the Law of Moses, one cannot be saved (Acts 15:1, 5). These Christian Jews brought this idea over from Judaism into the Church.
By this argument, that man is justified by the works of the Law, the Jews did not mean that one must be without sin to be saved. Far from it. They were very aware of their sins. What they meant is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision and the sacrifices, will cancel out their sins.
It was this error that Paul opposed when he taught that no one will be justified by the works of the Law. Paul was not saying that no one will be saved by living a sinless life; he was simply saying is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses will not save anybody.
The works of the Law, therefore, refer to circumcision and the other rituals and ceremonies prescribed by the Law of Moses.
WHY MUST WE APPEAR BEFORE THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF GOD?
As quoted above, all people must appear before the Judgment Seat of God to be judged by their deeds. To put the issue in the context in which Paul lived and wrote, since the sins of people are not canceled by the works of the Law of Moses, they will be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God. On that day “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16).
But, to update the question to modern thinking, if the sins of Christians are washed away by the Cross of Christ, why must they appear before the Judgment Seat of God? It is proposed that this question is based on a superficial understanding of why Christ had to die. Please see the article, Why Jesus had to die.
THE TWO LAWS
The Jews argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law”.
Paul wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13)
The word “Law” is used in both statements, and it almost seems as if Paul and the Jews agreed, but these two statements refer to two different laws, used in two different ways:
The Jews were referring to the Law of Moses and, by justified by the works of the law, they meant that man is justified by the rituals and ceremonies of that Law. For the Jews, the law was their means of justification. They taught that man is reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats. To argue against this error, Paul responded that man is not justified by the works of the Law.
In Romans 2:13, quoted above, Paul was referring to the Law of Christ. The Law of Christ is God’s eternal moral principle. Man’s “deeds”—“what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10), will be measured against that Law:
Those that sin will die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Those that “are putting to death the deeds of the body, … will live” (Rom. 8:12).
WHAT LAW IS PAUL REFERRING TO?
Paul uses the word “law” often in his writings, and it is difficult to always be sure what law he is referring to:
Often “law” refers to the five books of Moses, for instance in the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” (e.g. Rom. 3:21).
At times “law” refers to the book which Moses wrote up, and put beside the ark, for instance, “the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10). This is also known as the Law of Moses.
Sometimes the word law refers to Christ’s teachings; the “commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:2), elsewhere called the “law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).
Sometimes the word law may even refer to the Ten Commandments (e.g. Rom. 13:10).
It is therefore difficult to always know what Paul means by the word law. All the conflicting theories about the law floating around in Christianity do not make it easier. The only solution is to read and to read again, to be aware of the various meanings of the word law, and to allow the immediate context to determine what Paul means.
DOES THIS MEAN THAT GOD’S PEOPLE EARN THEIR JUSTIFICATION?
If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does that mean that man earns redemption through his deeds?
Paul argued that man is wholly unable to comply with the Law of Christ. The only function of the Law is to accuse men of sin (3:20; 7:11). As stated by 1 Corinthians 15:56, the law empowers sin. The law is therefore completely unable to justify man.
Paul therefore also often wrote that man is saved by grace. We will be judged by our deeds, but because man is unable to comply with God’s eternal moral principles, man does not deserve to live. Man is justified by grace, which means to be saved by God’s kindness: Eternal life is “the free gift of God … in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does it contradict the indications in the Bible that God elects certain people?
Jesus, for instance, said, “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat. 24:22, cf. 24:24, 31). Paul similarly asked “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Romans 8:33)
It is proposed here that God does elect certain people, but He does not do that independent of what they are or do, as is often taught. He elects people for what they are. However, only God is able to see what people really are. Only God is able to judge the internal being of man; his faith, motives and desires; what we may refer to as ‘man’s heart’. These things people are completely unable to judge.
Job may serve as an example. He was God’s elect, but Satan refused to accept God’s judgment, and requested permission from God to test Job thoroughly. See Why Satan thought he could succeed, for further information.
HOW DOES GOD DISTINGUISH BETWEEN PEOPLE?
Since we are all sinners (Romans 3:9), how does God decide who will receive eternal life and who will die (8:13)?
Here Romans 7 help us. In brief, God will save the people that want to do good, even though they fail often (Romans 7:21-25). The person that does not want to do good, will die. God will, therefore, judge a man by his inner being. To say that man is justified by his want to do good is the same as saying man is justified by faith.
SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS FOUND IN ALL AGES.
The error of the Jews in Paul’s time is relevant in all ages. In all ages man is inclined to make a list of things that one must do or not do, to be saved.
We also see this error 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.
And we also, today, are fond of making lists of do’s and don’ts. Such lists of externals only serve to make us unloving and critical of others. What matters is the heart; whether we want to do the will of God.
WHY ARE THE THEOLOGIANS WRONG?
In this article, an approach is proposed that hopefully reconciles all of Paul’s statements with respect to the law. However, if this understanding is correct, then an enormous amount of church theology is wrong. Why is this so, and why do we find so many churches out there with so many conflicting doctrines?
The problem is that pastors and even theologians, in general, with notable and admirable exceptions, never really study the Bible for themselves without preconceived ideas. They usually study what other people wrote about the Bible. When they encounter a difficult passage, they flee to the writings of their favorite teacher and author.
For that reason, Christianity is divided into various schools of thought. The existence of these schools of thought proves what I am saying is true. Pastors typically do not spend time to compare Scripture with Scripture until they understand for themselves what the Scriptures teach. Unless they intensely study the Bible for themselves, they will never be able to escape from the trap of the schools of thought into which the church has fallen.
ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
ROMANS 9 AND 11
- 1-4 – The dispute in Rome was not over the Law of Moses.
- The meaning of the word “unclean” (koinos)
- Why new Christians feared eating meat sacrificed to idols.
- 5-6 – Is the Sabbath is optional?
- 7-13 – God will judge all people by their deeds.
- 13-23 – Rather abstain from meat than causing a brother to stumble.
For a more complete description of these articles, see the List of available articles on Romans. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.