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 –

 

 

Jesus’ teachings replaced the Old Testament commandments.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Ten CommandmentsAccording to Galatians and the Acts 15 Church Council, the Law of Christ has been nullified and replaced by “the Law of Christ.” However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”

The purpose of this article series is to explain this apparent contradiction:

All quotes are from the NASB.

THE COMMANDMENTS WILL FALL AWAY.

In Matthew 5, Jesus also said that none of the commandments will ever fall away.  In verse 19, He continues:

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven

Some might think that the “commandments” are the same as “the Law” in verse 18 and that verse 19, therefore, confirms that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of Moses.

However, as discussed in Comments on Matthew 5:17-18, while “the Law” refers to the first five books of the Bible, or to the whole Old Testament, depending on the context, the “commandments” refer specific commandments, such as the Ten Commandments.

For example, the rich young man asked Christ what he must do to obtain eternal life, Christ responded by telling him to keep “the commandments.”  Jesus continued to list five laws from the Ten Commandments, as well as the second-greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 19:16-22; cf. Mt. 22:39).  The word “commandments,” therefore, approximates the meaning of the modern English word “law.”

Different things are, therefore, said in verses 18 and 19:

In verses 17 and 18, the topic is the whole Old Testament; stating that everything in it will be accomplished.

Verse 19 switches the topic more specifically to the “commandments” that are contained in “the Law,” saying that not a single one of these “commandments” will ever be annulled.

Verse 19 functions as the opening phrase for the discussion of the commandments, such as “murder” (5:21-), “adultery” (5:27-) and “false vows” (5:33-) which continues for the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount.

DOES THIS CONTRADICT GALATIANS?

Above we discussed the apparent contradiction between Galatians, which taught that the Law of Moses has been nullified, and Jesus, who said that everything in the Old Testament will be accomplished (Matt. 5:17-18).  We solved that contradiction by concluding that the Old Testament foresaw that the Law of Moses will be nullified.

But verse 19 presents us with another challenge, for Jesus said that none of the Old Testament commandments will be nullified while, compared to Galatians, which claims that the Law of Moses has been nullified.  We can solve this apparent inconsistency as follows:

Galatians focusses on the ceremonial rituals while Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, spoke only about moral commandments.  Galatians, essentially, teaches that Christians are not obliged to comply with the ceremonial rituals while Jesus said that the Old Testament moral principles are eternal.

However, Galatians does teach that THE WHOLE Law of Moses has been replaced by the Law of Christ. That is because Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, substantially increased the standards; for example, love your enemy. He did not do away with any of the Old Testament moral commandments but He increased the standards so much that, in effect, His teachings came in the place of the moral commandments of the Law of Moses.  Therefore, Paul refers to Christ’s teachings as the “Law of Christ.

To validate these assertions, we will now continue to show that:

      1. The focus in Galatians is on the ceremonial rituals.
      2. Jesus did not talk about ceremonial rituals.
      3. Jesus did replace the Law of Moses with His teachings.

1. GALATIANS FOCUSSES ON THE CEREMONIAL RITUALS.

Firstly, the Letter to the Galatians focusses primarily on the ceremonial rituals—saying that Christians are not obliged to comply with them.

CIRCUMCISION

The first indication of this is that the main point of controversy in Galatia and in the Acts 15 Church Council, was circumcision, for example:

Those who … try to compel you to be circumcised” (6:12).

NOT ABOUT IMMORAL DEEDS

A second indication is that the controversy was not over Gentile Christians committing morally wrong deeds.  The context in Galatia was that Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem demanding that the Gentiles must DO CERTAIN THINGS.  To ‘do certain things’ does not refer to moral principles, for moral principles, essentially, are matters of the heart.  The things they wanted the Gentiles to do were, therefore, the visible and external rituals and ceremonies of the Law.

WORKS OF THE LAW

This is confirmed by the fact that the things which the Jewish Christians required the Gentile Christians to do are described as the “works of the Law.” 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, cf. 3:2, 5, 10). This is explained in the article Doers of the Law. That article contrasts the “works of the Law” with “deeds.” Since “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Rom. 2:13), the “deeds” (of the Law) refer to good deeds by which people will be judged. For example:

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. Rom. 2:5-6; 8:13; 2 Cor. 5:10; cf. 2 Cor. 11:15; 2 Tim. 4:14).

The “works” are something different. Since the focus in Galatians was specifically on circumcision, and since Paul stated that “man is NOT justified by the works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16), “works” DO NOT REFER TO good deeds but to circumcision and similar external ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses.  The Jews believed that these mechanical rituals somehow has the power to save.

PAUL INSTIGATED CHANGE.

As stated above, the church, initially, was a sect of Judaism and all Christians lived according to the Law of Moses. When the first non-Jews accepted Christ, the Jewish Christians attempted to maintain the status quo concerning the Jewish Law by ensuring that these non-Jews comply with the Law.  Paul, on the other hand, sought to change things. However, moral principles, by definition, are eternal and cannot change. It is an essential attribute of the species.  Moral principles keep the species healthy. That which Paul sought to change, and that which the controversy was over, therefore, cannot be moral principles and must be the ceremonial rituals.

THE CHURCH COUNCIL SET NO RULES.

The Acts 15 Church Council set only a very limited number of basic requirements that were, in any case, later repudiated by Paul.  In other words, the council assumed that the moral principles of the Old Testament are eternal and remain valid. James concluded the council with by saying:

Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). 

In those very early days, Gentile Christians still attended synagogue meetings on the Sabbath. In the quote above, James said that the Gentiles, in those meetings, would hear and learn the moral principles contained in “Moses.

CONCLUSION

in Galatians, and, therefore, also in the Acts 15 Church Council, the focus was not on the moral requirements of the Law of Moses; the controversy was only about “the works of the Law.” 

2. JESUS DID NOT TALK ABOUT THE CEREMONIAL RITUALS.

Jesus, on the other hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, did not talk about the ceremonial rituals. After Jesus said that not one of the least of “these commandments” will be nullified (Matt. 5:19), He continued to discuss “these commandments.” He mentioned several, such as murder, adultery & divorce, false vows, “an eye for an eye,” love for one’s neighbor, good deeds, prayer and fasting, but NEVER ONCE did He tell His followers, in that sermon at least, to comply with the ceremonies and rituals of the Law of Moses. Jesus ONLY SPOKE ABOUT THE MORAL COMMANDMENTS of the Law of Moses. By implication, the ceremonies and rituals are not included in “these commandments” that will never be annulled.

The apparent contradiction between Galatians and the Sermon on the Mount is therefore partly because the context and primary focus were different. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians specifically to refute the demand that Gentiles submit to circumcision and comply with the ceremonial rituals of the Law.  In His sermon, Jesus was not concerned with these rituals. 

3. JESUS DID REPLACE THE OT MORAL COMMANDMENTS

However, Paul did not only set the ceremonial rituals aside: As shown above, he set the entire Law of Moses aside. To reconcile this with what Jesus said, namely that not one of the Old Testament commandments will ever be annulled, we will show that Jesus did replace the Old Testament Moral Commandments.

BUT I SAY TO YOU

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentioned several Old Testament commandments and, for each one, said, “but I say to you” and then gave moral commandments at a much higher moral level (Matt. 5:43-44; compare with Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-39).

For example, God gave to Moses the rule “AN EYE FOR AN EYE, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt. 5:38), but Christ continued, “but I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matt. 5:39).

As another example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies” (Matt. 5:43-44).

One way to explain this is to say that Christ is merely interpreting the Law beyond mere physical obedience, making obedience to those laws a matter of one’s heart, i.e., one’s thoughts, motives, and intent.

However, Jesus explicitly contrasted His own teachings with the Law of Moses and, in practice, replaced the Old Testament moral principles with far higher principles.  Since Christians are subject to what Jesus taught, the Christian ‘laws’ are these heightened standards; not the Old Testament moral commandments. 

JESUS EMPHASIZED HIS COMMANDMENTS

To this, we can add that Jesus emphasized His own commandments as if to say that the Old Testament commandments have been nullified. He said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another” (John 13:34).

 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15; cf. 12:21; 15:10, 12).

And His final instructions to His disciples were:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you (Matt. 28:19-20).

WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY

The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for Sabbath-breaking (Ex. 31:14), murder (Ex. 21:12), striking or cursing one’s father or mother (Ex. 21:15; Ex. 21:17), adultery (Lev. 20:10), blaspheming the name of the LORD (Lev. 24:16) and various other transgressions.  But when the Jews brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, He merely said to her, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11). This is another indication that Christ nullified the system of Law in the Old Testament.

Based on these factors I propose that Jesus, through His teachings, in effect, replaced the Law of Moses with something very different.  I do not think that the Scribes and the Pharisees of His day, such as Saul (later Paul), listening to Jesus, would have agreed that He is merely interpreting the Old Testament Commandments.  I think they would say that what Jesus taught is different from the Law.

CHRISTIANS ARE SUBJECT TO MOSES’ LAW.

Jesus did say that none of “these commandments” will ever be annulled (Matt. 5:19). Christians, therefore, are subject to “these (Old Testament) commandments.

For example, when Jesus spoke about the commandment against “murder,” He said that “everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty” (Matt. 5:22). However, murder remains a sin. What Jesus explained about the various Old Testament commandments does not negate or nullify the Old Testament commandments.  However:

      1. This applies only to the moral demands of the Law of Moses for that was what Jesus discussed in the Sermon on the Mount.
      2. Christ increased the standards infinitely. Christians are subject to all that Jesus commanded, which is always more than the moral demands of the Law of Moses; never less.

It is for these reasons that the letter to the Galatians indicates that even the moral commandments of the Old Testament have been nullified and replaced by “the Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). 

Personally, I keep the Seventh Day Sabbath, but not because it is in the Law of Moses.  The weekly day of rest was instituted at creation and kept by Noah and other fathers before the Law was given at Sinai. The fact that the Sabbath was included in the Ten Commandment with 9 other eternal ethical principles and stored inside “the ark of His covenant,” is additional support for my view. But, by far, the strongest support I have for my view of the Sabbath is what Jesus taught about the Sabbath.