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 is 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 –

 

 

Hebrews 10:26 – If we go on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.

Jesus has offered one sacrifice for all sins of all time.  By that single sacrifice He has made His people perfect for all time.  However, they may still fall away.  Christians continue to sin; sometimes unintentional and sometimes the lust of the body makes them do things which they deeply regret.  But they remain “perfect”, to use terminology from Hebrews, in spite of such sins.  However, if a Christian goes on sinning willfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth. then it becomes impossible to renew him again to repentance. 

Hebrews was written to protect Christians against this danger.  It advises them to draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and grace in time of need.  The main aim of Hebrews is to give us confidence in God; to teach us to trust God, so that we would know that He sympathizes with our weaknesses.

Previous articles

This is the fifth and last in a series of articles on the teachings in the letter to the Hebrews on Christ as our high priest.

The first article explains How Jesus became high priest:  God perfected Jesus through suffering.  Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God, making purification of sins through death.  Jesus then sat down on His Father’s throne and became our high priest in the tabernacle in heaven.

The second article describes Jesus as a better high priest, for the Levitical priesthood was merely a copy and shadow of the tabernacle in which Jesus serves, and for that reason was unable to do away with sin.  “Perfection”—a word which Hebrews uses for being put right with God—is only possible only through Jesus.

The third article analyzes the role Jesus plays as our high priest.  He is sympathetic and merciful, appearing before God for us.  God promised, “their lawless deeds I will remember no more”.  Our high priest Jesus guarantees that promise.

The large middle section of Hebrews (4:14 to 10-31) discusses Jesus as our high priest.  This section starts and ends with similar phrases.  This was how ancient writers indicated that a portion of text forms a discrete unit.  This technique is called an inclusio.  The fourth article analyzes these two bookends, which also serve as a summary of that entire section, and which urges us to draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, for Jesus is faithful and sympathetic with our weaknesses.

Purpose

The purpose of this fifth and last article is to ask why Hebrews advises us to draw near to God through Jesus.  This may seem like a dumb question, for obviously we must seek God.  However, the writer has already indicated that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10).  What further need is there to ”draw near … to the throne of grace”?  What do we need more grace for?

A study of Hebrews 10 (actually from 9:25 to 10:22) will provide answers.  Below the principles in 9:25-20:22 are presented in a sequence which seems to be logical.

Animal sacrifices were offered time after time, but Jesus died once only.

Animal sacrifices were offered:

9:25often … year by year”;
10:1continually year by year”;
10:3year by year”;
10:11daily … time after time”;

But Jesus offered a single sacrifice:

9:28Offered once to bear the sins of many
10:10the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all
10:12He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time
10:14one offering

In the next section Hebrews argues that Jesus’ sacrifice, which was offered once only, is sufficient.

Jesus’ sacrifice does take sin away, something which the animal sacrifices were unable to do.

Animal sacrifices cannot take sin away:

10:1The Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (cf 10:2)

10:4It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”.
10:11can never take away sins

Make perfect” (10:1) means the same as “put away sin” (9:26).  Other phrases used by Hebrews as synonyms for “make perfect” are “cleansed … no longer have had consciousness of sins” (10:2) and “take away sins” (10:4).

The writer goes further and say that the fact that the animal sacrifices are offered over and over proves that they cannot take away sin (10:2-3).

But Christ’s offering does take away sin:

Put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

In 10:1 the writer states that the Law (of sacrifices) is only a shadow of the good things to come, and therefore can never make perfect those who draw near.  10:5-9 implies that Christ’s sacrifice is the reality of which the “Law” was a shadow.  This is further proof that the reality (Christ’s death) is able to take away sin.

Jesus has “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” (10:12). 

He offered one sacrifice for the sins of all ages, including sins committed prior to the first covenant, sins committed under the first covenant and sins committed under the new covenant.  His sacrifice is sufficient even for the sins of His enemies, but will benefit only “those whom He foreknew” (Rom. 8:29).

By His once for all sacrifice He made His people perfect for all time.   

10:10We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.
10:14By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:14).
10:18Where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin”.
10:2The worshipers, having once been cleansed, … no longer have … consciousness of sins

Sanctified – The word “sanctified” (10:10 – NIV “holy”) is often used with reference to spiritual growth, but Hebrews uses “sanctified” as a synonym for “put away sin” (9:26), “take away sins” (10:4) or “make perfect” (10:1). The unusual use of familiar words contributes significantly to our difficulty in understanding Hebrews.

10:2 – The statement in 10:2 is made in the context of the animal sacrifices, but the implication of the context is that this applies to Christ’s sacrifice of Himself.

But we still sin – Perfected people continue to sin, but since that “one sacrifice” is “for sins for all time”, even their future sins have been taken care of.  They remain “perfect” even when they sin.

When were they made perfect? – Since Jesus perfected them by His “one offering”, they have been perfected when He died; not when they repented.  The also applies to the Old Testament saints; they were also perfected when He died: “so that apart from us they would not be made perfect” (11:40).  “Those who are sanctified” are therefore perfected as a group; not a one by one.

But people that have been sanctified by His blood can still fall away.

Many believe that, once a person is saved, that person will always remain saved.  But this is not what Hebrews teaches.  As indicated by the verses quoted below, Hebrews teaches that it is possible for Christians to fall away.  Each of the verses below contains either a promise (orange font) or a warning (blue font), but in each case the promise or warning is conditional, as indicated by the underlined text:

3:6 We are God’s house, “if we hold fast … until the end”.
3:14We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast … until the end”.
10:35-36 You have need of endurance, so that … you may receive what was promised”.
10:38 If he shrinks back, My (God’s) soul has no pleasure in him”.
10:39 We are not of those who shrink back to destruction”.
10:26-27 If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.
10:29 “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?

Destruction (10:39) – Consume (10:27) – Similar to Paul, Hebrews does not preach eternal punishment in hell.  See Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters.

The danger – The traditional view is that the danger, which motivated the writer of Hebrews to write his letter, was that his readers were Christian Jews and that they were in danger of falling back into mainstream Judaism, but this is never explicitly stated as such in Hebrews.  The warnings in Hebrews are always against sin in general.

Were they really Christians? – The Calvinistic explanation of these verses is that these people never really were Christians, but it is difficult to support this view from the verses quoted above.  For instance, the person, who the writer had in mind, “was sanctified” by the blood of the covenant (10:29).  This person therefore previously was in a right relationship with God; he was a real Christian.  But if this person “go on sinning willfully”, he will end up in “the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:26-27).

As further evidence that Hebrews teaches that real Christians can fall, consider 6:4-6:

In the case of those who
+     have once been enlightened and
+     have tasted of the heavenly gift and
+     have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
, and
+     have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and
then have fallen away,
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance
”.

The phrases in bold indicate that these people were once sanctified by the blood of the covenant.  Particularly the word “renew” means that the person had repented before.

The purpose of the current article is not primarily to argue against the once saved, always saved doctrine.  The purpose is simply to understand what the writer thought, for unless we understand his anxiety, namely that some of his Christian brethren might fall away, we would be unable to explain why he asks his readers to draw near to the throne of grace.

Once a Christian has fallen away, he is impossible to renew to repentance.

6:6 “It is impossible to renew them again to repentance
10:26-27If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries”.

Three kinds of sin

Willful sins – Three kinds of sin may be identified.  The word “willfully” (10:26) implies a high handed or defiant form of sin – sins that reject God’s covenant.

Unintentional sins – 9:7 refers to “sins … committed in ignorance”.  The Old Testament refers to unintentional sins (for instance Leviticus 4:1).

Sins I hate – But there remains a third kind of sin which is not willful nor intentional. Romans 7 helps us to understand the sins which Christians do not commit “willfully“, which means that they do not want to do these things.  Paul wrote in Romans 7 (orange bold emphasizes what Paul wants to do):

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.

19I practice the very evil that I do not want”.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 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. 7:21-23)

In these verses Paul distinguishes between two parts of man:

▬ the “inner man” (v22) or “mind” (v23);
▬ the “flesh” (v14) or “the members of my body” (v21)

In the case of Christians, these two parts are controlled by two different laws:

The law of my mind” (v23) is the “law of God” (v22).  In his “inner man” or “mind” Paul does not want to sin, for “I agree with the Law” (v16).

But the “flesh” or “members of my body” are controlled by the “law of sin” (v23).  This law is “waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin“.

Consequently, although the Christian does not want to, he still sins:

Rom. 7:15I am not practicing what I would like to do”.
Rom. 7:15I am doing the very thing I hate”.
Rom. 7:16I do the very thing I do not want to do
Rom. 7:19I practice the very evil that I do not want
Rom. 7:21me, the one who wants to do good

This distinguishes a Christian from a non-Christian: Because of the lusts of the body both the Christian and non-Christian sin, but the Christian, in his “inner man” or “mind”, does not want to sin.

The writer of Hebrews is not troubled by sins “committed in ignorance”.  He is also not concerned with sins which “I do not want to do” (Rom 7:16).  “Perfected” people (Heb. 10:14) remain “perfect” even when they sin unintentionally and when they do things which they really do not want to do.  But the Christian who “go on sinning willfully”, which means that, in the “inner man” or “mind”, he wants to sin, which means that he does not agree with God’s law (Rom. 7:16), thereby regards “as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (10:26, 29).  He rejects that sacrifice.  Then no sacrifice remains.  And since no means remains whereby the person can be “perfected”, there only remains “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:27).

Conclusion

This is why Hebrews was written; the writer was concerned that some of his Christian brethren might fall away.  They were in great danger.  To protect them from this danger, he advises them, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).  The word “confidence” is key to the understanding of Hebrews.  The main purpose of Hebrews is to give us that confidence; to teach us to trust God, to know that “since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered” (2:18), He sympathizes with our weaknesses (4:15).

TO: General Table of Contents