Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.

SUMMARY

MAN IS JUDGED BY HIS DEEDS.

This website argues that man is judged by his deeds. For example:

    • Jesus:The hour comes when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have DONE GOOD, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have DONE EVIL, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-19).
    • Paul: God … will render to each person according to his deeds: To those who by perseverance in DOING GOOD … eternal life; but to those who … OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, wrath and indignation” (Rom 2:5-8; cf. 2:9-13).
    • Revelation: “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God… they were judged every man according to their WORKS“ (Rev 20:12-13).

This principle, therefore, is well established in the Scriptures. The question is how to reconcile this principle with Paul’s other statements that about salvation, namely:

    • By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20) and
    • By grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).

WORKS OF THE LAW

That nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law” does not contradict the principle that man judged by his deeds:

    • The works of the law” refers to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God. In this thinking, grace is not required; you earn salvation through the ceremonies and rituals. Paul opposed this view and wrote that nobody will be justified by “the works of the law.”
    • The “deeds” by which people are judged, on the other hand, refer to ethical behavior, or the lack there-of. These “deeds,” therefore, are very different from “the works of the law.” Furthermore, Paul argued that all people are sinners. For that reason, if we were to be judged purely by our deeds, we would all be doomed: Nobody will be saved (justified = put right with God) by good deeds. Rather, those people that qualify on the basis of their deeds, are saved by grace:
      • Judging by the deeds determines WHO must be saved.
      • By grace is HOW they are saved.

Consequently, to say that people are judged by their deeds does not contradict the statement that nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law.” 

THROUGH FAITH

People, therefore, are judged by their deeds but saved by grace. But then, why did Paul write that people are saved “through faith?” How can a person be judged by his deeds but also saved “through faith?

Actually, these are two ways of saying the same thing.

    • To be saved “through faith” implies that the person’s faith is assessed or judged.
    • That God judges our deeds does not mean that He judges only our external deeds. He also sees and judges the “inner man.” Therefore, to say that God judges our deeds should be understood as that God judges the entire being, including his words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. These things are determined by our faith or the lack of it. Therefore, to judge our deeds is to judge our faith.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

MAN IS JUDGED BY HIS DEEDS

This website argues that man is judged by his deeds.

THIS IS WHAT JESUS TAUGHT.

For example:

    • The hour comes when all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have DONE GOOD, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have DONE EVIL, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-19).
    • Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be JUSTIFIED, and by your words you shall be CONDEMNED” (Matt 12:36-17)
    • The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to HIS WORKS” (Matt 16:27).

AND WHAT PAUL TAUGHT

For example:

    • God … will render to each person according to his deeds: To those who by perseverance in DOING GOOD … eternal life; but to those who … OBEY UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, wrath and indignation” (Rom 2:5-8; cf. 2:9-13).
    • 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 8:13).
    • 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; cf. 5:19-21; 11:15; 2 Tim 4:14).

AND WHAT REVELATION TEACHES

    • I will give unto every one of you according to your WORKS” (Rev 2:23).
    • I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God… they were judged every man according to their WORKS “ (Rev 20:12-13).

See Smashing Idols for a more complete list of examples.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

This principle, therefore, is well attested in the Scriptures. However, it is a departure from standard protestant theology. It conflicts with Reformed theology in which people are saved by grace and not by their works. In response to the works-theology of the Catholic Church, the reformers emphasized faith and grace, but they took it too far. The idea of grace and nothing else; that God decides who goes to heaven or hell, irrespective of what people are or do, is NOT consistent with the Bible. This article proposes a different perspective.

The rest of this article reconciles the principle that man is judged by his deeds with Paul’s other statements that about salvation, namely:

    • Nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law,” and
    • People are saved by grace through faith.

Paul was a complex thinker. To analyze his theology is difficult. Peter wrote:

Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you … in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

WORKS OF THE LAW

Paul wrote that nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law” (e.g., Rom. 3:20). This does not contradict the principle that man judged by his deeds. We must read these statements in their historical contexts:

In the early decades of the Church, when Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, there was a controversy in the church over whether Gentiles must observe the law of Moses (cf. Acts 15:5). To argue why they must, the Christian Pharisees said that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). In response, Paul wrote that “man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 2:16).

OF THE LAW

The difference between the words “deeds” and “works” is not important. For example, the NASB translates the Greek word ergon 65 times as “deed(s)” (e.g. Rom 2:6; Rev 20:12) and 96 times as “work(s)” (e.g. Matt 5:16).

But the phrase “of the Law” is important. Given the context in which Paul wrote,the works of the law” do not refer to good deeds in general (ethical behavior), but specifically to the external ceremonies and rituals of the Mosaic Law by which the Jews attempted to justify themselves before God. In the letter to the Galatians, the prime example is circumcision (e.g. Gal 5:2-3; 6:12-15).

The “deeds” by which people are judged, on the other hand, refer to ethical behavior, or the lack there-of. “The works of the Law,” therefore, are very different from the good and bad deeds by which man is judged.

BY GRACE

Another distinction is the need for grace:

    • In the Jewish “works of the Law”-thinking, grace is not required; you earn salvation through the ceremonies and rituals. Paul wrote that nobody will be justified this way.
    • Paul, on the other hand, argued that all people are sinners. For that reason, if we were to be judged by our deeds, we would all be doomed. Nobody will be saved (justified – put right with God) by their good deeds. In other words, we do not ‘earn’ justification by good deeds. Rather, those people that qualify on the basis of their deeds, are saved by grace:
      • Judging by the deeds determines WHO must be saved.
      • By grace is HOW they are saved.

People, therefore, are both judged by their deeds and saved by grace.

In conclusion, to say that people are judged by their deeds does not contradict the statement that nobody is “justified” by the “works of the law.” These are two competing means of salvation.

THROUGH FAITH

But then, if people are judged by their deeds, why did Paul write that people are saved “through faith?” Both “deeds” and “faith” define the person. While “deeds” describe the person from an external perspective, “faith” defines the person from an internal perspective. How can a person be judged by his deeds but also saved “through faith?

Actually, these are two ways of saying the same thing:

    • To be saved “through faith” implies that the person’s faith is assessed or judged.
    • That God judges our deeds does not mean that He judges only our external deeds. He also sees and judges the “inner man.” Therefore, to say that God judges our deeds should be understood as that God judges the entire being, including his words, deeds, thoughts, and desires. These things are determined by our faith or the lack of it. Therefore, to judge our deeds is to judge our faith.

ROMANS 7

Romans 7 explains this principle. Paul wrote:

I am not practicing what I would like to do,
but I am doing the very thing I hate.

I agree with the Law,
confessing that the Law is good
” (Rom 7:15-16).

The willing is present in me,
but the doing of the good is not.
For the good that I want, I do not do,
but I practice the very evil that I do not want
” (Rom 7:18-19).

I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
but I see a different law in the members of my body,
waging war against the law of my mind
and making me a prisoner of the law of sin
which is in my members
(Rom 7:22-23).

THE TWO PARTS OF MAN

Paul’s statements can be divided between the two parts of man:

    • In his “inner man” or “mind,” he concurs with “the law of God” and “would like to do” “the good.”
    • But in “the members of my body,” he is “a prisoner of the law of sin.” “I practice the very evil that I do not want.

In this, Paul serves as an example of all true Christians: They want to do good but they do evil.

SAVED THROUGH FAITH

But Paul concludes on a high note:

Wretched man that I am!
Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

(Rom 7:22-25)

In other words, despite of their evil deeds, God will free His people “from the body of this death.” If God judged us only by our external deeds, Paul would have been doomed, but God sees and judges the entire being, including “the good that I want” which reside in the mind and which is invisible to human eyes.

Paul does not use the word “faith” in Romans 7, but “the willing is present in me – the good that I want” is the result of faith. Faith, or the lack of it, is the driving force behind man’s thoughts, words, and actions. Both “faith” and “the good that I want” reside in the “inner man” and cannot be separated. Therefore, when Paul refers to “the inner man” or “my mind” (Rom 7:21-22), he is referring to faith.

We are trapped in bodies with sinful desires.  Every day we sin and fall short of what we are created to be. But if we have faith in God, we will want to do God’s will. Then God, by grace, on the basis of that faith, will accept us into His kingdom.

For a further discussion of these difficult concepts, see the article By Grace through Faith.

JUSTIFICATION
– AVAILABLE ARTICLES –

 

 

The doers of the Law will be justified but NOT by the Works of the Law.

When discussing the letter to the Galatians, we often discuss the things that Paul opposed.  We discuss the Law of Moses, circumcision, the works of the Law and the freedom that Christians have from these things.  But do we sufficiently discuss the gospel in Galatians?  The purpose of this article series, therefore, is to discuss how people are saved according to the letter to the Galatians.

That letter mentions several concepts that are related to salvation, including:

      • End-time Judgment;
      • The Works of the Law;
      • Faith;
      • Justification;
      • Grace;
      • Christ’s death; and
      • Redemption.

The purpose of this article is to explain, from the letter to the Galatians alone, the relationship between these concepts.

To prepare this article series, I did not specifically consult the theological giants of this world, but simply read the letter many times over and organized the concepts. However, while doing this, I did listen, several times, to Graham Maxwell’s exposition of Galatians.

In certain respects, the conclusions in this article are radically different from the textbook explanations of salvation.

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the NASB and from Galatians.

SUMMARY

JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS

The Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age.” He rescues us from “corruption” to “eternal life” in the future “kingdom of God.”

Whether we will “reap corruption” or “eternal life” depends on the end-time judgment, where we will be judged by our deeds. This is what the Old Testament and Jesus consistently taught.  Perhaps to the surprise of many, Paul also taught in his letters: “God … will render to each person according to his deeds.”  The question in this article series then becomes, if we are justified by grace through faith, why will we be judged by our deeds?

WORKS OF THE LAW

A frequent refrain in Galatians is that nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law.” This leaves us with an apparent contradiction, for “the doers of the Law will be justified” but “man is not justified by the works of the Law.”  For both these statements to be true, the “deeds” of the Law must be different from the “works” of the Law.

Deeds – Since “the doers of the Law will be justified,” the “deeds” of the Law must refer to good deeds; acts of love.

Works – The controversy in Galatians was particularly over circumcision, which is not an act of love, but a legal requirement. For this reason, and because nobody will be justified by the “works,” these “works” do not refer to good deeds, but to legal requirements.

Since “works” and “deeds” are different things, it is valid to say that “the doers of the Law will be justified” but “man is not justified by the works of the Law.”

– END OF SUMMARY –

ETERNAL LIFE

This article starts with the end of salvation and ends with the beginning thereof. Galatians refers to the end of salvation as follows:

The Lord Jesus Christ …
rescue us from this present evil age
” (1:3-4).

We … are waiting for the hope of righteousness” (5:5).

But, to what does He rescue us?  And what is our hope? According to 6:8, our end will either be “corruption” or “eternal life.”  For more detail, see Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.

JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS

Paul claims that, whether we will reap “corruption” or “eternal life,” depends on a future judgment. Many denominations today teach that some people will be saved irrespective of what kind of people they are and notwithstanding their sins, but that is not what Paul taught.  Galatians states that we will be JUDGED BY OUR DEEDS:

Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary“ (6:7-9).

Those who practice such things (“the deeds of the flesh” – 5:19) will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21).

Each one must examine his own work … for each one will bear his own load“ (6:4-5).

The one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment” (5:10).

This is also what the Old Testament and Jesus consistently taught.  Think, for example of Christ’s parable of the sheep and the goats:

I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me” (Mt. 25:31-)

Perhaps to the surprise of some, Paul also taught in his other letters that we will be judged by our deeds:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:5-6).

The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13; cf. 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; 11:15; 2 Tim. 4:14).

This principle—that we will be judged by our deeds—is the point of departure in this article.  The purpose of this article can then be defined as follows: If we are justified by grace through faith, why will we be judged by our deeds?

THE WORKS OF THE LAW

A frequent refrain in Galatians is that nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law” (2:16). Let us then first ask, if nobody will be justified by “the works of the Law,” why will we be judged by our deeds?

Notice that ”justified” appears in both the following phrases:

      • The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
      • Man is not justified by the works of the Law” (Gal 2:16).

For both statements to be true, the “deeds” of the Law must be something different from the “works” of the Law.

DEEDS OF THE LAW

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34). This principle is contained in the Old Testament, but Jesus elevated it as the main principle of His kingdom. He replaced the multitude of requirements in the Law with this fundamental rule.  Because this is what Christ taught, Paul said, “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2).  (See Law of Christ.) He also wrote, “through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (5:13-14). 

Since “the doers of the Law will be justified,” the “deeds” of the Law must refer to good deeds (“doing good” – 6:9), namely, acts of love.

WORKS OF THE LAW

If the “deeds” of the Law are good deeds, then the “works of the Law” cannot be good deeds. We can define these “works” from Galatians. The opposing parties argued particularly over circumcision. Circumcision was not an act of love, but a legal requirement. “Works,” therefore, refer to circumcision and other such ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses that are not intrinsically acts of love, but legal requirements.

The “party of the circumcision” (2:12) said that Gentiles must be circumcised because “man is … justified by the works of the Law” (2:16). They taught that people are justified by compliance with these legal requirements, irrespective of what kind of people they are and despite their sins.

To oppose this teaching, Paul said that nobody will be justified by the works of the Law. In saying this, Paul was not talking about good deeds (acts of love). He was not saying that we are not now free to sin. We will still be judged by our deeds:

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).

ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

1. “The doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13). CURRENT
2. Justified through faith NEXT
3. Justification
4. Christ’s death enabled the grace of God.
Table of Contents for the articles on Galatians

Graham Maxwell, a talented Adventist preacher, explains his view of God’s use of the law from the letter to the Galatians.